Earth and Planetary Sciences 131: Risk

Course Syllabus - Fall Quarter 2021

Lecture Times:     MWF 12:10 pm - 1:00 pm

Room:      Earth and Physical Sciences 1316



Instructor:                  John Rundle, Professor of Physics and EPS

Office:                        534B  Physics & 2131 EPS

Office Hours:             By Appointment


Course Text:


Patrick Abbott, Natural Disasters, McGraw-Hill (any recent edition: "Reference" edition is 8th edition)

I strongly recommend that you rent an e-text, rather than buying,
although in fact the lecture slides are basically self-contained, and no textbook is really necessary.

Text can be obtained from the following vendors:



Barnes and Noble


Much of the course material is taken directly from Wikipedia and a variety of US and International Web sites (see below)


Web Sites We Will Use

Open Hazards Site

Open Hazards Media Site

(IRIS) Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology

(NCAR) National Center for Atmospheric Research

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

NOAA News and Reports

NOAA National Weather Service Flood Forecasts

NOAA National Hurricane Center

NASA Earth Observatory

US Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center

Japan Meteorological Agency

US Geological Survey

Earthquakes (USGS)

United Nations Relief Web

Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS)






Standard prerequisites for admission to UC

General Comments:

              We live in an uncertain world.  Hazards and risk are common.  The world is a complex system.  How can we understand and manage our exposure to hazards and risk?   How can we recover when the worst happens? The world wide web offers many new possibilities.  In this course, we will discuss many examples, drawn from the field of natural hazards -- earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and the like -- as well as other types of hazards.  We will also discuss new ideas using internet technologies to anticipate, mitigate, respond, and recover from disasters of various types. Forecasting and data-driven analyses are  important, along with social networking to build resilient communities.  Many of these ideas originate from discussions at the Santa Fe Institute.  We will also be using several recently developed web sites focused on risk from natural catastrophes and disasters. These include: and .  One of the major goals of the course is to teach students how to use the online resources that are available to understand the level of risk that populations face, as well as how to develop the skills and tools to mitigate and respond to these risks. There will be an elementary discussion of probability and statistics and how these are used to understand hazards and risk. We will also cover some new topics relating to how risk is managed and transferred through the use of financial securities such as Catatstrophe Bonds and other forms of insurance and re-insurance.



Course Content


Topics to be Covered Include:


                                                                        1.    Introduction: The concept of risk
                                                                        2.    Plate tectonics and earthquakes
                                                                                3.    Tsunamis
                                                                        4.    Volcanic Eruptions
                                                                        5.    Weather:  Tornados and severe storms
                                                                        6.    Hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical cyclones
                                                                        7.    Floods     
                                                                        8.    Wildfires
                                                                        9.    Society and its response
                                                                              10.    Forecasting
                                                                              11.    Risk management and how it is currently practised
                                                                              12.    The role of new technologies in managing and mitigating risk


Homework and Grading:

                                                                       1. Class Participation -- 20%
                                                                       2. First Paper -- 40%
                                                                       3. Second Paper -- 40%



Class Papers/Projects


           The papers should be 4 to 7 pages single spaced (see paper guidlines) researching and discussing some topic on hazards and risk, possibly involving some computer calculation/graphics, demonstrating and understanding the basic ideas about the occurrence of hazards and/or the management of risk.  It can also be an application to a real system such as a survey of risk for houses or businesses in Davis or elsewhere. The first paper should be on a topic related to solid earth hazards, the first part of the course. The second paper can be on any topic relevant to the second half of the course: climate, wildfires, floods, bolide impacts, etc. Another possibility is the current pandemic, and how lessons that we are learning are relevant to other types of hazards and risk.


Examples might include: 

                                               1.  A discussion of earthquake, tsunami, or hurricane/typhoon forecasting

                                               2.  A survey of hazards in California and how these might affect people you know

                                               3.  A research project to model and manage risk through the development and use of new methods

                                               4.  A discussion of how wildfires are contatined and the consequences of current policy

                                               5.  A discussion of the recent hurricanes Irma and Harvey and their impacts

                                               6.  A paper on floods and how the national flood insurance program is implemented

                                               7.  A paper on the current pandemic and how lessons learned can be applied to other hazards