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GEOSC 402Y - Natural Disasters

This is a sample syllabus.

This sample syllabus is a representative example of the information and materials included in this course. Information about course assignments, materials, and dates listed here is subject to change at any time. Definitive course details and materials will be available in the official course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.


This course will treat a branch of science which is often forgotten - that of natural disasters. This topic is timely and important as major disasters continually occur (such as the Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan). The course is built on "hands-on" experience through the analyses of case studies to help develop skills in evaluating the causes and consequences of natural events. The case studies cover the issues from both the scientific and societal sides. Not only will the underlying causes of natural hazards be discussed, but through readings and case studies, the impact of such hazards on society (and the role of societal actions in enhancing or mitigating the hazards) will be examined. Project reports vary in content and structure for each topic. Each is written for a target audience and includes a range of formats such as news reports, congressional briefings, technical reports for government agencies, proposals, and more.

In addition to these case-study reports (approximately 5 through the semester), you will keep abreast of current natural disaster events, reporting periodically on what has been happening. Finally, you will be able to apply these studies of natural hazards and disasters to a topic of particular interest to you through a term paper that is due at the end of the semester.

Accommodating Current Events

Each year it is possible that a major natural disaster will occur in the U.S. while the course is in session. Therefore, in order to apply the concepts and skills from the course to such a natural disaster as it develops, it may be necessary to deviate from the sequence of lessons as they appear in the syllabus. In such cases, the instructor will announce any deviations and make accommodations for managing the sequence of lessons accordingly. Such updates and accommodations will be communicated through announcements on the course welcome page and via emails to the class. As such, you should monitor these announcements regularly.


Students who excel in this course are able to:

  • Demonstrate a sense of the historical scale of natural disasters, the rate at which they occur, the 'hot spots' for major disasters, and the degree to which the recent past is representative of the overall record;
  • Compare and contrast the scientific causes and impacts of major categories of natural disasters (e.g. tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcanos, and mudslides);
  • Analyze any given natural disaster from a scientific, historical, and social perspective;
  • Articulate key considerations in planning and decision making related to managing the impacts of natural disasters.

Required Materials

The materials listed here represent those that may be included in this course. Students will find a definitive list in the course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.

Hyndman D.  Bundle: Natural Hazards and Disasters, Loose-Leaf Version, 5th + MindTap Earth Sciences, 1 term (6 months) Printed Access Card
| 9781337348775

Hyndman, D. MindTap Earth Sciences, 1 term (6 months) Printed Access Card for Hyndman/Hyndman’s Natural Hazards and Disasters, 5th
| 9781337092388




We have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. How much and how well you learn is dependent on your attitude, diligence, and willingness to ask for clarifications or help when you need them. We are here to help you succeed. Please keep up with the class schedule and take advantage of opportunities to communicate with us and with your fellow students. You can expect to spend an average of 8 – 10 hours per week on class work.

Major Assignments

Grades will be assigned based on the following assignment types.

  • 5/6 Project Reports (55% of total grade)
  • 1 Term Paper (20% of total grade)
  • 5 Earthwatch Reports (15% of total grade)
  • Participation (10% of total grade)

Course Schedule

Course Schedule
1History and Geography of Disasters
  • Creation of an annotated list of web links that can be shared with others in the class
  • An analysis of historical disasters
  • A 3-5 page report on what you have learned in this lesson
  • Complete your first Earthwatch activity of the course.
  • Tsunami Analysis - Part 1
3Tsunamis cont.
  • Tsunami Discussion
  • Tsunami Analysis - Part 2
  • Quantifying the Hurricane Katrina Storm Surge
  • Complete your second Earthwatch activity of the course.
5Hurricanes cont.
  • Complete the Katrina Storm Surge Exercise
  • Hurricane Katrina Brief
  • Discuss the consequences of the Mississippi River flooding in 1927.
  • Complete your third Earthwatch activity of the course.
  • Complete the lesson overview worksheet
  • Propose a topic for your final paper
  • Complete What does an earthquake do to a city? exercise.
8Earthquakes cont.
  • Complete the How vulnerable is Seattle? exercise.
9Volcano Hazards
  • Mt. Pinatubo Discussion
  • Mt. Pinatubo Report: Synthesize the lessons to be learned from the Mt. Pinatubo response.
  • Complete your fourth Earthwatch activity.
10Global Volcano Hazards
  • Complete Orting Exercise
11Global Change
  • Summarize a specific country's position vis a vis global change
  • Complete your fifth and final Earthwatch activity of the course
12Global Change cont.
  • Participate in a simulated "world conference" to develop a global plan for addressing global change
  • Submit the Final Report