These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

By Attila Nagy on at

Knowledge is the key to survival when nature turns hostile, whether because we're living on trembling ground, building homes along vulnerable coasts, or navigating through dangerous water. That's why scientists study nature's greatest acts of destruction — by recreating them. Here are ten labs where they do it.

They do it to help firefighters, rescue workers, and even civilians in the fight for survival. These scientists study the geologic and meteorologic phenomena behind natural disasters — and to do that, they must stage them in controlled environments. Welcome to the labs that are designed for disaster, where researchers unleash the devastating forces of nature, cataclysms, accidents and giant balls of fire. 


The FloWave Ocean Energy Research Facility, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, lets engineers easily test their new wave turbines for tidal power in a controlled facility. FloWave is a 25-metre-diameter pool and it is circular—so complex waves, fast currents and large water spikes can come in any direction rather than just one.

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Edinburgh University

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Callum Bennetts


A 75-metre-long ice pool at Aker Arctic Technology Inc's ice laboratory, in Helsinki, Finland. The company specialises in the design, testing, evaluation, simulation and development of icebreakers and other ice-going vessels as well as structures for arctic oil and gas field operations.

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Aker Arctic Technology Inc

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Aker Arctic Technology Inc

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Aker Arctic Technology Inc

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Aker Arctic Technology Inc


The US Coast Guard's new Rescue Swimmer Training Facility, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The training pool is 50 metres by 25 metres, 3.5 metres deep, and holds more than one million gallons of water.

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: PO2 Walter Shinn/DVIDS


The 9D6B Modular Egress Training System, at Aviation Survival Training Center Jacksonville, Florida.

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Adam K. Thomas/U.S. Navy

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Shannon Renfroe/U.S. Navy

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Aircrew In-Flight Technician Airman Scott Beach/U.S. Air Force

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Shannon Renfroe/U.S. Navy


The US Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division's newly renovated "Indoor Ocean", called the Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin (MASK) facility, helps the Navy to understand extreme maritime circumstances. MASK was built in 1962, and it’s still the Navy’s biggest wave pool: 360 feet long (110m), 240 feet wide (73m), and holds approximately 12 million gallons of water.

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Gif and image source: Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division/U.S. Navy


The Oregon State University's O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory is a key facility for coastal and ocean engineering research, including programs for tsunami research and coastal hazard mitigation.

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: OSU

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: OSU


A large scale indoor model of the Yangtze River at the Hydraulics Lab of Changjiang Water Resources Commission in Wuhan, China.

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: CSCE


The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety Research Center, a $40 million hangar of destruction in South Carolina, is where experts can destroy full-scale model houses with rainstorms, hail, tornadoes and wildfire. The 21,000-square-foot (1,950 sq. m) test chamber is as tall as a six-storey building, and big enough to accommodate nine 2,300 square foot (213 sq. m) model homes at the same time.

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Gif source: IBHS Research Center

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Gif source: IBHS Research Center

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: IBHS Research Center


The Iowa State University’s Tornado/Microburst Simulator can generate a translating microburst-like jet and a tornado-like vortex for model testing, in order to understand the effects of tornados on buildings and other structures.

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Gif source: ISUengineering

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Iowa State University


This is the world's largest shake table earthquake simulator in Miki City, near Kobe, Japan. Measuring 20 metres by 15 metres, the table can support 1:1 scale building experiments weighing up to 1,133 tonnes, like the 453-tonne seven-floor block of flats below, subjected to a simulated 6.7 magnitude earthquake.

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Photo: Colorado State University

These Insane Labs Recreate Frightening Forces of Nature

Gif source: Simpson Strong-Tie


Top photo: Fire scientists at the IBHS Research Center recreate an ember storm in the lab’s large test chamber [Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety Research Center]