Title Natural Disasters
Description Lecture, three hours; discussion, one hour; one field day. Global urbanization together with historical demographic population shift to coastal areas, especially around Pacific Ocean's "Ring of Fire," are placing increasingly large parts of this planet's human population at risk due to earthquakes, volcanos, and tsunamis. Global climate change combines with variety of geologic processes to create enhanced risks from catastrophic mass movements (e.g., landslides), hurricanes, floods, and fires. Exploration of physical processes behind natural disasters and discussion of how these natural events affect quality of human life. P/NP or letter grading.
Units 5 units
Course Days Monday Wednesday Friday
Time 2:00 PM - 2:50 PM
Location 3656 Geology
Level Undergraduate
Course ID 178039200
Type Lecture
Instructor William Newman
Email win@ucla.edu
Phone 310-825-3912
Office Hours T 2:00 P.M.; R 3:00 P.M., and by appointment
Location 4640 Geology



Global urbanization together with a historical demographic population shift to coastal areas, especially around the Pacific Ocean’s “ring of fire,” are placing increasingly large parts of this planet’s human population at risk due to earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunami (commonly called “tidal waves”). While physically and economically attractive, these and similar geographic regions were formed geologically by plate tectonic processes that make them the home of more than 70% of terrestrial seismic activity, including earthquakes and volcanoes as well as tsunami. In addition, global climate change combines with a variety of geologic processes to create enhanced risks from catastrophic mass movements (e.g., landslides), hurricanes, floods, and fires. Finally, we know that impacts with space objects, especially asteroids and comets, have played a major role in the evolution of life, and have resulted in mass extinctions over geologic history. The purpose of this course is to channel the interest that has emerged among UCLA students in how these natural events affect the quality of human life and convert that interest into an understanding of the physical processes that produce these events. Moreover, recent events have demonstrated that we need to understand the role of the media and political forums as well as science education in our ability to deal intelligently with these topics. In addition, humans have had a profound influence on this planet ranging from various forms of pollution and excessive resource usage to the threat of pandemics and even limited-scale biological and nuclear warfare. The world today is dramatically different from what it was during the height of American influence. In addition to the science underlying natural disasters, we need to address questions of emergency preparation and emergency response. This course, unlike most GE physical science courses, could have a very direct impact upon your lives. This will be a primarily lecture-based course, with 3 hours of lectures per week. The course will also include a mandatory one-day geology field trip to visit sites within 50 miles of Los Angeles where the effects of these dynamic physical processes can be better appreciated and understood. The field trip is a formal requirement for the course and attendance will be taken; “hands on” instruction is the most-effective way of learning. The date of the field trip will be established during the first week of lectures and will be facilitated by forming car pools. For those individuals who cannot come, a 10-page single-space research paper (including references and diagrams) will be accepted; from past experience, you will learn more from the field trip and have fun in the process, so participation is strongly encouraged. (Students who do not participate in the field trip or write a satisfactory paper, will have 10% deducted from their overall grade.) This course is available for letter grades or P/NP; please make certain that you have registered using the grading scheme that is most appropriate to your situation and major.


Performance in the course will be evaluated on the basis of a mid-term examination (tentatively set for Friday, February 10 in class) for 10% of the overall grade, a final examination (set in stone for Monday, March 19 at 11:30 a.m.) for 30% of the overall grade, five assignments for 10% each (given every 10-14 days), and group research projects (6-9 students per group; also worth 10% of the final grade) that will be presented in class on March 5 and 7, with 8-10 minutes allocated per group presentation. Details of the project and presentation will be presented in class during the first ten days of the quarter. Some possible topics for your projects include (a) the role of the media in addressing natural disasters and how the media can play a more informative role; (b) the influence of political agendas in dealing with natural disasters/hazards plus related environmental/health issues; (c) the role of science education in our ability to educate and inform the public; (d) emergency preparation, e.g., for earthquakes, volcanoes, forest fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.; (e) emergency response, both nationally and internationally; (f) the dangers of “predicting” natural catastrophes, e.g., social and legal, and what should be done; (g) the development of effective public policy to address and mitigate natural hazards, e.g., building codes; (h) the potential for pandemics, e.g., H1N1 influenza, SARS; and (i) environmental catastrophes, e.g., water shortages and contamination, bio- and nuclear hazards, etc. These issues are very real and will provide the formal lecture topics a sense of urgency not often encountered in physical science courses; moreover, they will help integrate what you learn scientifically with the human dimension. You are encouraged to interact with Professor Newman in developing your presentations.


Our textbooks (required) are available through the ASUCLA bookstore (bundled together at a low price) or from many online vendors. Our principal textbook is Keller, E.A. and DeVecchio, D.E. 2012. Natural Hazards, 3rd edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall and Mann, M.E. and Kump, L.R. 2009. Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming, New York, NY: Dorling-Kindersley. (Keller and DeVecchio provides free access to online materials, described in their book.) As an optional textbook, that could be especially helpful to those of you interested in this topic relative to urban planning geography, etc., you will find useful the (optional) textbook by Abbott, P.L. 2012. Natural Disasters, 8th edition, Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. In addition, I have requested that a variety of books be placed on reserve in the EMS library on the 7th floor of Boelter Hall—presently, that library is open Mondays through Thursdays from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Friday, and from 1-10 p.m. on Sunday. (Be sure to checks online for possible changes in the library schedule.) In addition, I am preparing a password-protected website and will provide you with login information shortly.


Abbott, P.L. 2012. Natural Disasters, 8th edition, Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

Belton, M.J.S., Morgan, T.H., Samarasinha, N., and Yeomans, D.K. 2005. Mitigation of Hazardous Comets and Asteroids, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Camassa, R., Hyman, J.M., and Newman, W.I., eds. 1994. Modeling the Forces of Nature, Amsterdam, Holland: Elsevier.

Decker, R.W. and Decker, B.B. 1991. Mountains of Fire: The Nature of Volcanoes, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Emanuel, K. 2005. Divine Wind: The History and Science of Earthquakes, New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Freedman, B. 1989. Environmental Ecology: The Impacts of Pollution and Other Stresses on Ecosystem Structure and Function, San Diego, CA: Academic Press, Inc.

Gere, J.M. and Shah, H.C. 1984. Terra Non Firma: Understanding and Preparing for Earthquakes, New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Hough, S.E. 2004. Finding Fault in California: An Earthquake Tourist’s Guide, Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company.

Iacopi, R. 1981. Earthquake Country: How, Why and Where Earthquakes Strike in California, Menlo Park, CA: Lane Publishing Co.

Keller, E.A. 1992. Environmental Geology, 6th edition, New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Keller, E.A. and DeVecchio, D.E. 2012. Natural Hazards: Earth’s Processes as Hazards, Disasters and Catastrophes, 3rd edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Levy, M. and Salvadori, M. 1995. Why the Earth Quakes: The Story of Earthquakes and Volcanoes, New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Macdonald, G.A., Abbott, A.T., and Peterson, F.L. 1983. Volcanoes in the Sea: The Geology of Hawaii, 2nd edition, Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.

MacKay, D.J.C. 2009. Sustainable Energy—Without the Hot Air, Cambridge, UK: UIT Cambridge Ltd. (http://www.withouthotair.com/download.html makes available PDF versions of the book at no cost.)

Mann, M.E. and Kump, L.R. 2009. Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming, New York, NY: Dorling-Kindersley.

Murck, B.W., Skinner, B.J., and Porter, S.C. 1998. Dangerous Earth: An Introduction to Geologic Hazards, New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Nichols, M.D. and Young, S. 1991. The Amazing L.A. Environment: A Handbook for Change, Los Angeles, CA: Living Planet Press.

Richter, B. 2010. Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Robinson, A. 1993. Earth Shock: Hurricanes, Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Tornadoes and other Forces of Nature, London, UK: Thames and Hudson, Ltd.

Rundle, J.B., Turcotte, D.L., and Klein, W., eds. 1996. Reduction and Predictability of Natural Disasters, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Schmidt, G. and Wolfe, J. 2009. Climate Change: Picturing the Science, New York, NY: E.E. Norton & Company.


We primarily be using Keller and DeVecchio’s Natural Hazards as well as other materials (including Mann and Kump as well as Abbott), covering nearly 2 chapters each week. I am adopting this rapid pace to give us sufficient time to address the “human” elements detailed in the course description. I may restructure the order of presentation in response to current events. Please remember that this is primarily a lecture-based course.

Week 1. The dimensions of natural disaster, and their impact upon the quality of life and economic well-being. How do we study such phenomena?—the scientific method and quantitative reasoning.

Week 2. Concepts of energy, force, work, power, and heat. Earth’s internal engine, radioactivity, earth systems and cycles, and plate tectonics. Introduction to earthquakes and volcanic events.

Week 3. Earthquake geology and seismology. Why and how they happen? Earthquake cycles, forecasting and mitigation—survival in earthquake country. Earthquake statistics. Case histories.

Week 4. Plate tectonics and volcanism. How North America was formed and the role of earthquakes and volcanic events. Case histories.

Week 5. Tsunami events and addressing the risk. Flooding events and severe weather. Case histories and statistics.

Week 6. Mass movements (e.g., landslides) and forest fires. Case histories and statistics.

Week 7. Forecasting natural disasters—risks, benefits, and lessons learned.

Week 8. Atmosphere-ocean interaction and long-term climate change. Paleoclimate and the fossil record. Glaciation and coastal evolution. The impact of humans: emergent anthropogenesis. Short-term climate change and severe weather.

Week 9. Impact events and extinctions. Biological evolution and the Permian-Triassic and Cretaceous-Tertiary extinctions.

Week 10. Living in the face of uncertainty. How do we address these risks, and where do we go from here?