Quiz: What You Don't Know About Nature's Forces of Energy


Photograph by Joshua Roper, Alamy

You've seen the havoc that nature can wreak, but have you ever considered how much energy is generated by hurricanes, volcanoes, or lightning? Try this quiz and see how much you know about nature's forces.

How much oil would it take to produce the energy in the earthquake that rocked Japan on March 11, 2011?

  • As much as Japan consumes each day
  • As much as the world consumes each day
  • As much as the world consumes over four days
  • As much as the world consumes in a year

The Tohoku earthquake in the northwest Pacific Ocean likely produced energy equivalent to 326 million barrels of crude oil, or 3.7 days worth of world consumption in 2011. It's the force of 475 megatons of TNT, according to estimates U.S. Geological Survey has developed.

How much energy had Hurricane Katrina gathered at its peak, about 17 hours before landfall in August 2005?

  • As much as the capacity of all Louisiana's power plants.
  • Nearly twice as much as the capacity of all Louisiana's power plants
  • Nearly 100 times as much as the capacity of all Louisiana's power plants
  • Nearly 1,000 times as much as the capacity of all Louisiana's power plants

Katrina was producing about 20 million megawatts, calculates Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That approaches 1,000 times the capacity of Louisiana's entire fleet of power plants (26,000 megawatts, as measured during peak summer months).

How hot is the air heated by a lightning bolt?

  • About 5,000°F (2,760°C), half the temperature of the sun's surface
  • About 10,000°F (5,500°C), the temperature of the sun's surface
  • About 20,000°F (11,000°C), twice the temperature of the sun's surface
  • About 50,000°F (30,000°C), five times the temperature of the sun's surface

While brief, the voltage of lightning is intense enough to quickly heat the air to nearly 50,000°F (30,000°C), five times the temperature of the surface of the sun. The rapid expansion of the heated air generates a shock wave that is heard as thunder.

A typical lightning bolt might release energy of 1,000 megajoules. How much gasoline would it take to produce as much energy?

  • 1 gallon (3.79 liters)
  • 8 gallons (30.3 liters)
  • 80 gallons (303.2 liters)
  • 800 gallons (3,032 liters)

It would take 8 gallons (30.3 liters) to produce energy equivalent to a lightning bolt that released 1,000 megajoules of energy.

Which coast of the United States has the most wave power capacity?

  • Alaska's Pacific Coast
  • Alaska's Arctic Sea Coast
  • The East Coast from Maine to Florida
  • The West Coast from Washington to California

Alaska's Pacific shoreline has more available wave energy than all of the other coasts of the United States combined, partly because it is the longest U.S. coastline, and also due to the vast area of open water over which the wind works to create the waves.

The tsunami that devastated Japan's east coast on March 11, 2011 far exceeded the destructive power of the atom bombs that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Calculations of its force take into account the tsunami's length, height, and velocity, but one other key factor remains uncertain. What is it?

  • The water temperature
  • How far it traveled to shore
  • Its duration
  • The area of impact

University of Illinois geologist Susan Kieffer, an expert on geological fluid dynamics, estimates that tsunami's duration was 100 seconds to 1,000 seconds. As a result, her estimate of the tsunami's energy ranges from the explosive power of one megaton to 10 megatons of TNT.

An F-5 tornado like the one that hit Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011, tops the five-level enhanced Fujita intensity scale. How much energy does one of these massive twisters have compared to one at the level just below, an F-4 tornado?

  • 25 percent more
  • 50 percent more
  • 75 percent more
  • 100 percent more

The energy of an F-5 tornado, with wind in excess of 200 miles per hour and a third of a mile wide, could be estimated at 300,000 kilowatt-hours, double that of the F-4 tornado that hit Harrisburg, Illinois, on February 29, 2012, says Dr. Joseph T. Schaefer, director emeritus of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center.

U.S. government scientists are studying a new hurricane rating system that better measures a hurricane's “integrated kinetic energy.” What do they hope to be able to better predict through this measure?

  • The extent of the storm surge
  • Where hurricanes are likely to make landfall
  • Where hurricanes are likely to develop
  • The intensity of winds on shore

By better measuring a hurricane's integrated kinetic energy, scientists hope to be able to better predict the storm surge, the extent of the swell of water pushed ashore by a storm's winds, which causes the most deaths in hurricanes.

The Yellowstone National Park wildfires of 1988 were estimated to have produced 77.9 billion megajoules of energy over the fire's 71-day life. Based on their power demand in 2011, how long would it take the residents of California and Oregon to consume as much energy in the form of electricity?

  • An hour
  • A day
  • A week
  • A month

The 1988 Yellowstone wildfires' energy was equivalent to 22 million megawatt-hours, nearly as much as California and Oregon consumed in December 2011.

At its peak, the energy of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano in March 2010 reached 6 gigawatts, more than the capacity of most power plants. That heat was lost to the atmosphere, but how much of Iceland's electricity comes from geothermal energy?

  • One third
  • One half
  • Three quarters
  • All of it

Geothermal energy provides about one third of Iceland's electricity, but it also directly provides most of the building and water heating in this nation of high volcanic concentration.





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