Martin Pepper on location in Japan. “For me the biggest thing is kind of spreading the passion and excitement of learning new stuff nobody else knows,” he says.

Courtesy of Matt Hodgkins

University of Arizona graduate student Martin Pepper knows a thing or two about near-death experiences.

There was the time he was caught in a blizzard on the southern tip of Patagonia while riding his dirt bike through South America on a research trip and endured winds of 18 degrees below zero, frozen clothes and hypothermia.

On the same trip he was almost struck by a tractor-trailer before being run off the road.

And in the Peruvian Amazon he had a machete held to his throat, threatened with death if he crossed a roadblock made by coca farmers during a cocaine revolt.

Now, as co-host of “How the Earth Works,” a show to debut on the Science Channel Oct. 9, Pepper, 39, takes viewers to sites around the world to explore various geological topics and worst-case scenarios.

“It’s ‘let’s show you how this works and how it could kill you,’ ” Pepper said.

In Hawaii, the show focuses on volcanic instability and the possibility it could cause a tsunami that could destroy Los Angeles.

Another episode delves into the mass extinction caused by a giant asteroid that struck the Yucatan Peninsula and the likelihood of a similar event in the future.

The six other episodes were filmed in Japan, Indonesia, Italy, Iceland, Colorado and Northeast America, and topics include tsunamis, volcanic activity and the ice age. Liz Bonnin co-hosts the show with Pepper.

“Pretty much all these shows were looking at major dampeners on human civilization,” Pepper said. “It was everything that could cause either huge civilization problems or mass extinctions.”

Pepper shot the show, a spinoff of “How the Universe Works,” in the summer of 2012.

And it was the first time the self-described “science geek” was in front of the camera.

He answered an email from a camera company looking for a host for the show. His brother, Seth, who runs an entertainment company, shot and produced the test reel that got Pepper the gig.

“It was a vertical learning curve and baptism by fire,” Pepper said about his hosting experience.

The geology doctoral student is no stranger to pressure.

In 1996, Pepper won the NCAA title for the 100 butterfly, the same title his brother won in 1993. Both brothers were inducted into the UA Hall of Fame.

And even though Pepper remains active and enjoys extreme activities, some of which he got to do for the show — mountain climbing, scuba diving and free diving are among his hobbies — it’s the teaching opportunity presented by the show that he’s most excited about.

“For me the biggest thing is kind of spreading the passion and excitement of learning new stuff that nobody else knows, so it’s just kind of like preaching on the gospel of science,” Pepper said.

“I love teaching, I love getting students excited either here on campus or wherever. … That’s the beauty to me. It’s almost like having a classroom with millions of people learning instead of 30.”

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at or 573-4224