Natural Hazards & Environment (ISP-203 B - 002)

Brian Hampton

Michigan State University
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


This is a geology majors/non-majors course that addresses the science and public policy issues related to tectonic and atmospheric hazards.

Course Size:
greater than 150

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites and is typically taken by a combination of first-year science majors, as well as education majors, and many non-science majors. This is an elective science course offered at the entry college level and is part of the Integrated Studies Program at Michigan State University.

Course Goals:

  1. Understand the basic geologic and atmospheric science behind natural hazards.
  2. Place the spatial distribution of natural hazards into a global context
  3. Recognize and define what constitutes a "natural hazard"
  4. Identify what determines how "hazardous" an event is and whether humans can play a role in reducing damages associated with hazards.
  5. Objectively consider why the risk associated with natural hazards is widely debated by people depending on their roles in local and global society.

  • Students should be able to recognize linear trends in topography along convergent plate boundaries.
  • Students should be able to link trends in volcanic activity and earthquakes at plate boundaries with trends in topography (e.g. mountain belts)
  • Students should be able to determine general directions plate motion by using hot spot topographic/bathymetric trends as well as ages in hot spot volcanoes.
  • Students should be able to recognize earthquakes and volcanoes in interplate regions (interior of plates)
  • Students should be able to use topography in interplate regions as a proxy for possible locations of ancient plate boundaries.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

This course balances in-class activities with more formal lecture and homework assignments that take place outside of class. Each activity, lecture, and assignment typically consists of a linked common theme (e.g. plate motion) so that students are exposed to the same topics multiple times but under different formats. In-class assessment typically takes place using iclicker questions/exercises and/or in-class small-group activities that are turned in for review. Out-of-class homework assignments allow me to assess the individual progress of each student.

Skills Goals


How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:


Attitudinal Goals

  • Expose students to the general science behind natural hazards
  • Increase students' awareness of the human impact and public policy issues that surround natural hazards.
  • Develop students' perspectives and understanding that locally humans (as global citizens, taxpayers, etc...) can be impacted from natural hazards that occur around the world
  • Demonstrate to intro and non-science students that science does not have to be complex and should be very approachable.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Throughout this course, each activity, lecture, homework, and exam addresses both science and public policy issues related to natural hazards. Each example of natural hazards that are addressed in this course is linked to a current public policy issue/example.


All activities for this course (exams, homework, in-class activities) include an initial scientific theme that is linked to a public policy theme. For homework exercises, students are asked to write up a summary on the scientific aspects of the exercise as well as human impact/policy implications of the hazard.


Course Syllabus (Microsoft Word 49kB Mar7 10)