Hazards and Resources (ENVS 105)

Christine Metzger,
Whittier College


Hazards and Resources provides an introduction to Earth science, emphasizing the role of geology in environmental issues. The course focuses on geohazards (including floods, landslides, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, and climate change) and resources (mineral, water, soil, air, and energy).

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This course is an introductory environmental science class, with lectures, a weekly lab, and optional weekend field trip. ENVS 105 is a prerequisite for an upper-level Soils class as well as an Energy Resources seminar. Some students are environmental science or studies majors, but the course also fulfills the science breadth liberal education requirement.

Course Content:

Earth Surface Environments (ENVS 105) provides an introduction to Earth science, emphasizing the roles of geological and atmospheric science in environmental issues. Students explore plate tectonics, sedimentary environments, atmospheric science, soil science, and surficial processes. Topics include mineral and energy resources, water resources, land use and planning, and waste disposal and pollution, with special emphasis on geohazards, including floods, landslides, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, and climate change.

The first part of the course focuses on natural geologic hazards. The second part of the course examines resources and pollution (with an emphasis on energy and climate change), and the course will close on the topic of hazard mitigation and management.

Course Goals:

From class, students will be able to:
  • weigh the benefits and risks of traditional and alternative energy
  • evaluate how resources are used in their life and community
  • discuss hazard records and mitigation techniques
  • understand the major framework of modern Earth science
  • learn the tectonic and geologic setting of Southern California
  • realize the connected and complex nature of environmental science
From lab exercises, students will be able to:
  • identify hazards in the field
  • identify basic minerals and rocks
  • gather information from topographic and geologic maps
  • convert map scales and calculate distances
  • construct topographic profiles and simple geologic cross sections
  • interpret data and make recommendations for landuse

Course Features:

The labs are a major part of this course, where students learn to apply what they've learned in class, to interpret data, and to draw conclusions based on observations. Students also complete a multi-part project (proposal, annotated bibliography, paper, and presentation) on a geologic event of their choosing. Past topics have included environmental issues like the Exxon Valdez spill and Love Canal as well as historically significant geohazards like the 1964 Good Friday earthquake and the 1815 eruption of Mt Tambora.

Course Philosophy:

I spend about 3 weeks talking about energy resources, opening with coal, oil, and natural gas. I then discuss nuclear energy, as well as other alternative sources (wind, water, biofuels, etc.). Students are very curious about the benefits and disadvantages to each type of energy resource, and it prepares them for an upper-level course on energy.


Student grades are based on labs (30%), quizzes (10%), exams (45%), and a project (15%). Several labs have a writing component which demonstrates how well they are able to synthesize and apply new information to real-world scenarios.


Syllabus for Hazards and Resources (Microsoft Word 111kB May8 09)

Teaching Materials:

ENVS 105 Hazards and Resources (Microsoft Word 42kB May8 09)

References and Notes:

Introduction to Environmental Geology (Keller); Control of Nature (McPhee)