Earth's Natural Hazards: Solving the Mystery Below the Surface

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
July 19, 2021 - August 18, 20217/19 - 8/184 WeeksOnlineOpenOnlineIsabella Gama Dantas
Majid Rashtbehesht

Course Description

Did you know that the eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia in 1815 dropped the average global temperature by 5 degrees and led to the “year without a summer” and largest global famine of the 18th century? The forces of the Earth are not only important aspects that determine Earth's processes, but also have a strong influence on climate and environment. Large volcanic eruptions can negatively impact Earth’s climate, economy, and landscape for a long period of time. Besides being catastrophic on their own, earthquakes can also reawaken volcanoes and drive eruptions. But how do scientists learn about the deep interior of the earth? How do we know the mechanisms by which the hardest rocks on earth melt under the extreme temperature and crushing pressure at depth to supply voluminous volcanic eruptions? To understand these processes and how they are tied together with various environmental issues, scientists have been developing new theoretical models and looking for cues in nature for centuries.

During this course we will focus on both quantitative and qualitative methods to understand the major processes that control some of the Earth’s most powerful natural hazards. We will use basic mechanics and Calculus to introduce the concept of Seismic Energy and learn about how scientists use earthquake energy to “look into” the hot core of volcanoes using modern seismic imaging techniques. We will discuss the formation of volcanic magma reservoirs and the factors that render an eruption explosive whereas others ooze out magma like toothpaste, such as the recent eruptions in Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano in the US. We will also talk about plate tectonics and the causes of earthquakes, in particular discuss how other powerful natural systems are related, such as glaciers and volcanoes in Alaska, and how they can cause large earthquakes. We will use computer codes that calculate and describe Earth’s phenomena to demonstrate how research has been done in the field of Earth Sciences. Together, we will work towards building an intuition about the working mechanisms of these magnificent natural phenomena. We will learn about how we can have nature at our disposal as our experimental lab and collect information to study and understand the Earth. Towards the end of the course students will work together in teams to select relevant scientific topics under lecturers’ supervision and will present an Action Plan as a result of their research to their classmates in oral presentation and essay formats.

Throughout the course students will identify and strengthen leadership qualities that may lead to improved collaboration and problem-solving. They will also learn to clearly communicate concepts in environmental studies and/or environmental justice to a variety of stakeholders or individuals. Additionally, students will acknowledge, understand, and gain tools to process the large spectrum of impacts caused by global climate change. Finally, they will develop effective, feasible, and impactful Action Plan projects that use lessons from this course to create positive change in their local communities.

Prerequisites: The only requirement for this course is an interest in geophysics. We will cover all the necessary foundational calculus and mechanics for understanding the material in this course. Class participation and student input will be heavily encouraged, so please come ready to ask questions!

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEES0935

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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