Initial Publication Date: October 2, 2017

Instructor Materials: Overview of Surface Process Hazards

Module Goals
  1. Students will use geodetic data to analyze landscape characteristics and use them as indicators of mass wasting hazards
  2. Students will articulate the societal effects of mass wasting events and consider the role of natural and human-caused changes in the mass wasting potential for a given landscape.
Summative Assessment

Unit 5: Mitigating future disasters–developing a mass wasting hazard map is the summative assessment for the module. Using geodetic, geologic, and geographic data, students assume a consultant role to construct a mass-wasting hazard map and report for an area susceptible to mass wasting. Case study area is Boulder Creek, Colorado.


Unit 1Slip-sliding away–case study landslides in Italy and Peru

How have mass-wasting events affected communities, and what lessons have we learned from these natural disasters that might help us mitigate future hazards? In this unit, students answer these questions by being introduced to the landscape and societal characteristics that contributed to loss of property and life during the 1970 Nevado Huascarán (Peru) and 2010 San Fratello (Sicily, Italy) events.

Unit 2Reading the landscape

How do geologic, hydrologic, biologic, and built-landscape features manifest themselves on maps? In this unit, students will use topographic maps, hillshade maps, and aerial imagery to learn to recognize a variety of landscape features and subsequently identify as many of these features as they can on a map of a new study area. They will also construct a topographic profile from their map data and use their profiles to understand the concepts of slope, aspect, and relief and how these landscape characteristics are important in hazard assessment and land-use planning.

Unit 3Understanding landslide factors

How do slope characteristics and magnitude of forces dictate whether or not a slope will fail? Can environmental and built characteristics change the magnitude of these forces? In this unit, students qualitatively and quantitatively consider the impact of slope angle, driving force, and frictional force on mass-wasting potential. A map activity prompts students to think about how climatic, tectonic, and geologic factors, as well as population and land use characteristics can influence mass-wasting potential.

Unit 4Anatomy of a tragic slide–Oso Landslide case study

Landslides can have profound societal consequences such as the slide that occurred near Oso, Washington in 2014. Forty-three people were killed and entire rural neighborhood was destroyed. In this unit, students consider the larger-scale tectonic and climatic setting for the landslide and subsequently use lidar and SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission) hillshade images, topographic maps, and InSAR (interferometric synthetic aperture radar) to determine relationships between landscape characteristics and different types of mass wasting events. They conclude by considering the societal costs of such a disaster and ways that communities in similar situations may mitigate their risk.

Unit 5Mitigating future disasters–developing a mass-wasting hazard map

This unit serves as the summative assessment of the Surface Process Hazards module. In September 2013, the Boulder area of Colorado experienced an extreme rain event that led to mass wasting in many areas. This has led to greater scrutiny of landslides hazards in the area. In this case study of the Boulder Creek catchment, students act as scientists, using geologic, climate, and anthropogenic data to evaluate an area's vulnerability to mass wasting and potential societal impact. They use aerial imagery; topographic maps; bedrock and surficial geologic maps; slope/aspect maps; hillshade imagery; stream maps; and population density maps to evaluate mass wasting hazard and risk in the Boulder Creek, Colorado watershed. Using what they have learned about landscape feature recognition, factors that contribute to mass wasting, and the impacts of mass wasting, they construct a hazard map for the study area and consider the impacts of a mass wasting event on the area's inhabitants.

Assessment levels

Note that we define Level-1, Level-2, and Level-3 assessments throughout the module based on Bloom's Taxonomy levels and examples of skills/tasks/actions involved in answering the question. Level-3 corresponds to higher level cognitive tasks. Additional details in the Guide to GETSI Assessment Levels 1, 2, and 3 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 304kB Jun11 17)

Making the Module Work

To adapt all or part of the module for your classroom you will also want to read through