Geologic Hazards Geos 355

Jochen Nuester, Geological and Environmental Sciences
California State University-Chico


This course melds the scientific basis of natural phenomena that become deadly hazards with the geopolitical climate that shapes culture. Explores the imbalance of energy on the Earth vs. human fallacy in misappropriation of technological advances as potential causes of geohazards. This course places the collision of science and human values on the international stage.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an upper division, natural sciences, general education course and is embedded as a natural science requirement in the "diversity", the "international studies", and the "ethics, justice and policy" pathways. Typically, 90 to 95 % of students are non-science majors and minors. This course is very popular and 5 sections of this course (up to 49 students in each section) are offered every semester including one online course.

Course Content:

The primary goal of this course is provide a background in the natural processes that give rise to geologic hazards such as volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods, droughts, etc. Even though only a small proportion of geologic hazards reach the headlines of major newspapers, almost every day some hazardous events takes place somewhere that was driven by some natural process. The number of catastrophic events reported today is also increasing. The reason for this is not necessarily an increase in geological activity, but with an increase in the Earth's population, the number of people affected by natural hazard events is also increasing and therefore the number of catastrophic events is increasing. During this class we will discuss how much of a disaster can be explained by natural phenomena and how much is the result of human activity. Students will learn to analyze and interpret data and to perform simple mathematical calculations to assess the risks.

Course Goals:

This course has several goals: (1) to educate students about the natural processes that lead to natural hazards, (2) to emphasize that human actions have to potential to multiply the consequences of natural disasters, and (3) to expose students to technological innovations that enables us to monitor, predict, and warn society about natural disasters and impending disasters.This course gives students the foundation for critical evaluation of future approaches to managing hazards. Case studies, newspaper reports, google earth, and primary research articles will be used to analyze the geological context of a hazard. In addition to the geological context, discussions during this course will include information about potential technological advancements and personal responsibilities to mitigate risks.

Course Features:

An important feature of this course is to make students aware that natural disasters are occurring almost everyday somewhere around the world. Students are required to keep a natural hazard monitoring book and provide information about 10 events that happened during the semester.This will necessitate students to collect information from newspapers and online resources. through this process students have to dissect information provided by agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric

Course Philosophy:

This GEOS 355 Geologic hazard course is designed for students without extensive science background. Materials and information provided during lectures are reinforced during in-class assignments and exercises that deal with natural hazards, e.g. consequences of El Nino years in California, policy decision regarding mitigation of the current drought in California. In-class assignments will not be graded, but will be integrated in exams and quizzes during the term.


Assessment of students performance and perception of the material will encompass the following:
a) a midterm (30% of total grade)
b) final exam (20 % of total grade)
d) monitoring book (15% of total grade)
e) Pecha-Kucha style presentation (18% of grade)
f) weekly quizzes (12% of total grade)

The Pecha-Kucha style presentation is a team project, where groups of 3 to 4 students can choose a topic at the beginning of the course and have to develope a presentation about this topic containing a total of 20 slides. Each group has only 20 seconds to present information on each slide. To present data in a concise visual accessible way will help students to improve oral communication skills.
Midterm and final exam will have a combination of multiple choice questions, short answer questions, simple mathematical calculations, and data analyzes and interpretation.
Overall, this course attempts to improve students oral and written communication, critical thinking, and mathematical reasoning.


Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Natural Hazards & Disasters 4th ed., Hyndman & Hyndman, Cengage learning