Videos take a deep dive into our future worries about water 

Image: Water cycle
The water cycle is the subject of one of the videos in the "Sustainability: Water" series, presented by NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation.

For years, experts have been warning about looming shortages of drinkable water — not only in hot spots such as the Middle East, but in the United States as well. Now a seven-part video series from NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation delves deeply into the scientific and social issues surrounding one of the world's most important resources.

"Sustainability: Water" starts out with a tutorial on the global water cycle, which transports water through the air, land and seas. The series takes a closer look at the places in America where worries about water are already rising:

  • The Ogallala aquifer, where farmers in Kansas and other states are pumping out water for crop irrigation faster than it can be replenished.
  • The Sierra Nevada mountain range, where scientists have set up wireless sensors to monitor the snow pack and the snow melt.
  • The Rocky Mountains, where the damage done by bark beetles is imperiling a watershed that supports more than 60 million people in the West.
  • Los Angeles, where researchers are studying how the water supply can be made more sustainable and less dependent on snow melt "imports" from hundreds of miles away.
  • Chesapeake Bay, where the watershed for Baltimore is endangered due to nitrate pollution in run-off from a variety of sources.
  • Lake Erie, an important source of drinking water that suffered an unprecedented bloom of toxic blue-green algae in 2011.

The videos, which are available via the NBC Learn website and NSF's Science360 website, feature scientists who are working on projects aimed at paving the way for more sustainable water supplies.

“Most Americans take water for granted,” Roger Wakimoto, assistant director for NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences, said in a news release. “We have occasional water restrictions, but for most of us, when we turn on the tap, water is there. This series with NBC Learn aims to help people become more conscious of the threats to our water supply and understand the steps that need to be taken to maintain it.”

"Our new series with NSF is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about the challenges to our environment,” said Soraya Gage, who is general manager of NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News. "By exploring the challenge of sustainable water, we hope to raise awareness and spur dialogue about managing the water system and conserving Earth’s most precious resource.”

Watch the first video in the series, "Sustainability: Water - The Water Cycle." This version of the video requires Flash software.

More about NBC Learn's videos:

Alan Boyle is's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the NBC News Science Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding +Alan Boyle to your Google+ circles. To keep up with's stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.