Initial Publication Date: May 29, 2015

Course profile: Earth Hazards

Paul Bierman, University of Vermont

Entry level geologic hazards course, more than 150 students

Information for this profile was provided by Paul Bierman in 2007. Information is also available on the course website.

Jump down to Overview and Context * Course Content * Connecting to the Future of Science * Goals and Assessment * References and Resources * Additional Materials

Overview and Context

This is a general education course for students at all undergraduate levels. We cover the major Earth hazards in a one-a-week format. It is a "lecture" format, introductory course with no prerequisites. The course does not currently count toward the Geology major but feeds large numbers of students into Geology 1. Very few students go on from the course to major in Geology. The course has a required discussion section weekly to supplement classroom instruction.

Course Content

The course meets twice a week. We cover plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tsunami, bolides, nuclear hazards, climate change, landslides, debris flows, and avalanches. Students learn through lecture, videos, think-pair-share, and experiments and discussion in sections as well as in-class demonstrations.

Connecting to the Future of Science

I have always taught this course as a way to interest and involve students in science who would otherwise say, who cares. At the center of the course philosophy is the idea that science matters and that by knowing the ways and some of the facts of science, people can make a difference in their own life and the lives of others.

Goals and Assessment


Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:
  • recognize how scientists think and learn about Earth,
  • improve your understanding of how geologic processes shape human cultures and how human cultures modify the Earth,
  • think and work like a scientist,
  • gain practical knowledge of Earth Hazards and how to avoid them as best you can,
  • recognize that science is fun, interesting, and relevant to your life, and
  • practice discussing with your peers scientific and moral issues of political, societal, and personal importance.


We use a scored and narrative course assessment that includes direct responses to each of the goals listed above. We use weekly quizzes to assess student comprehension of material during the semester.

References and Resources

There is an extensive list of weblinks on the course web-site. The reading list is as follows:
  1. The Control of Nature, John McPhee, ISBN 0374522596
  2. The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger, ISBN 006101351X
  3. Tsunami!, May 1999, Scientific American, p. 56-65.
  4. Tsunami: Wave of Change, 2005, Scientific American, p. 56-63.
  5. Infamy and honor at the atomic cafe, Oct, 1999, Scientific American, 42-43.
  6. The great radium scandal, August 1993, Scientific American, p. 94-99.
  7. Dissecting a hurricane, March 2000, Scientific American, p. 80-85.
  8. Wrath of the gods, July 2000, National Geographic, p. 32-70.
  9. Abrupt Climate Change, Scientific American, November 2004, p 62-69.
  10. "Avalanche!" Discover, December 1999, p. 88-93.
  11. Nor'easters, American Scientist, volume 81, September/October, 1993, p. 428-439.
  12. After the deluge, National Geographic, November 1999, p. 108-129.
  13. Rain of Iron and Ice, Introduction and several chapters.
  14. Reviews of Dr. Strangelove and Atomic Caf途various authors, various dates.
  15. The triumph of fringe science, Salon, 8/03.
  16. The human impact on climate, Scientific American, p. 98-105.

Additional Materials

Download the daily schedule (Excel 30kB Apr11 07) of class topics, course syllabus, (Microsoft Word 38kB Apr11 07) or description of discussion sections. (Microsoft Word 22kB Apr11 07)

Download an Eos article about the course: (Acrobat (PDF) 970kB Apr11 07) Butler, Bierman, and Gajda, 2003. Investigation-Stimulated Discussion Sections Make Geoscience More Relevant in Large Lecture Class. Eos, vol. 84, no. 47, pp. 517, 522.