Tulane University, Dept. Earth & Environmental Sciences

Natural Disasters

EENS 3050  & EENS 6050

Fall 2016

Prof. Stephen A. Nelson

Course Description

An examination of the causes, effects, and options available to mitigate natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, landslides, subsidence, flooding, severe weather, and meteorite impacts.

Follow the links below to material related to this course. New links will be added and updated throughout the semester, so check back with this page often.

Click on the Topic of Interest Below

Course Announcements

Syllabus 3050

Syllabus 6050

Disaster Summary Information

Lecture Notes

Homework Exercises



Announcements - Look here  for announcements concerning this course

December 17, 2016

Final exams have been graded and scores have been posted to Canvas. Grades have been posted to Gibson.  If you want to see your final exam or have any questions about your scores or grades, please feel free to come by my office, Room 208 Blessey Hall, or you can send e-mail.  It is probably best to make an appointment, as I am in and out of my office now that the semester is over.

Have a great Holiday Break!

What truly is amazing is that many of the comments below are the same comments I posted after the previous semester's final exam and have been posted on this site during the entire semester. 

Here are some general comments on the exam:

Two primary goals that I have in this course are to provide information that will help save your lives and to bust myths people have about historic events or the way things operate. 

  • Some general advice - when a professor explicitly tells you that certain questions are going to be on an exam, it is always in your best interest to believe that professor and take actions so that you do not miss those questions when they actually do show up on the exam.
  • 2 people still think that the levee breaches that occurred in New Orleans during the Katrina event all happened the day after Katrina made landfall.  This is absolutely false.   All levee breaches occurred on the same day that Katrina made landfall (August 29, 2005).  I am still puzzling over how I can get this myth out of people's heads. 

  • 3 people still think that New Orleans flooded because the Mississippi River Levees failed.  All levees that failed in New Orleans were on human made navigation and drainage canals. 
  • 4 class members still think that magmas come from the liquid outer core of the Earth.  THEY DO NOT!   Will someone please tell me how I can convince an entire class that magmas don't come from the core?
  • Many of you still think that the amount of damage that an earthquake causes depends on the time of day.  The amount of casualties certainly does, but the damage will be the same no matter when the earthquake occurs. This exact question was on the midterm.

  • Although large earthquakes in China and floods in Bangladesh usually result in a large number of casualties, an impact with a large space object (> 1 km) could potentially kill everyone, and thus is the worst possible disaster we discussed in the course.

  • 25% of the class thinks that the eruption of cinder cone in a large city would be the worst possible volcanic disaster. Cinder cones are small.  What about eruptions from volcanoes like Yellowstone or Long Valley? 

  • New Orleans does not have anywhere near a 40% chance of getting hit by a Category 5 hurricane in any given year.  Yes, it has a 40% chance of getting hit by a tropical storm or hurricane, but CAT 5 storms are very rare.

  • The best evidence that global warming is occurring is that average global temperatures have increased over the last 150 years.  The evidence does not come from metling ice or the amount of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere. The evidence comes from measuring temperatures and cannot be disputed.

  • The best way to determine what type of behavior a volcano will have in its next eruption is by its past behavior as determined by the study of deposits produced by previous eruptions. (An answer to a question that was word for word from the midterm exam).

  • 7 class members need to go back to kindergarten and relearn the alphabet. The letter I, as in Isaac, is not the 5th letter of the alphabet, it is the 9th, and thus Isaac was the 9th tropical storm or hurricane of 2012.

Life or Death Questions

Several questions on the final exam were designed to see if you learned some valuable life or death lessons.  The results are discouraging.

  • 6 people died from the plinian volcanic eruption because they failed to realize that the most dangerous aspect of such an eruption is pyroclastic flows not the falling ash.

  • 3 people died when the second wave of the tsunami hit because they thought that tsunami came in single waves.

  • 2 people died from the tsunami by doing something other than running up the hill when they felt an earthquake on the California beach.

  • 1 person died from the Category 4 Hurricane as their beach house, where they went for refuge, was destroyed by the storm surge from the hurricane.

  • 3 deaths resulted from opening windows in the house during a hurricane under the false assumption that it would relieve pressure, but instead resulted in furniture crashing into their heads.

  • 1 of you died from getting struck by lighting by running out in an open field to protect yourself from lightning.
  • 1 person died in a tornado for failing to go into an interior room on the first floor of the house. 

  • 4 people died in a tropical cyclone (hurricane, typhoon, or cyclone) because they thought that the wind was the most deadly aspect of such storms and failed to consider the storm surge.

Some people died more than once, but I did not keep track of those statistics.  Hopefully those of you who potentially died in these situations will read about your errors here before reality strikes. 




October 25, 2016

I found some errors in the write up for the homework on Flooding.  The may have prevented you from reaching the proper web sites in problems 2 and 5. The errors have been corrected so that versions on the site with today's date are correct.  Because this may have caused a delay in getting your homework done, the due date for this homework has been extended to November 3.

October 20, 2016

I have graded the midterm exam and will pass it back in class today.   To see the results and some comments on the exam, click HERE.


September 2, 2016


The date and time for the final exam on the initial posting of the syllabus was wrong. The version now on the Natural Disasters web site and on Canvas show the correct date and time of the final exam.


August 23, 2016


After exams, I post here in the announcement section some of the issues I found while grading the exams.  These comments may be helpful and you can find these old announcements from previous semesters by clicking HERE.

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Lecture Notes

Note:  Two versions of each set of lecture notes are shown in the table below.  The first is in html format, optimized for viewing on the Web.  You can print this version directly from your Web browser, but there is no guarantee that the pages will break where they are supposed to, since each person's browser can be set up differently (margins, fonts, font sizes, etc.).  

The PDF (Portable Document Format) versions of the lecture notes are optimized for printing.  All page breaks should occur correctly.  If your web browser has the proper plug-in installed, clicking on the PDF will bring the file into your web browser from which you can then print the notes.  If the plug-ins are not installed, your web browser will either attempt to download the PDF files or offer to send you to the Adobe web site to download the plug-ins for your browser.  If you choose to download the PDF format lecture notes you will still need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and print the files.  This and further information about the browser plug-ins can be obtained by clicking on the icon below.

getacro.gif (712 bytes)

Special Note on Fonts-  Some web browsers use a different method to display the Symbol font which I used for creating Greek Characters like - Δ Σ α β etc. If these characters do not show up as Greek characters, your browser has this problem.   The alternative is to use a different browser to view the html files or to use the PDF files where all fonts are rendered correctly.

Note: Only Files with the Red Asterisk * have been updated for the Fall 2016 Term.

 Natural Disasters & Assessing Hazards and Risk*

PDF File*

Earth Structure, Materials, Systems, and Cycles*

PDF File*

Earthquakes: Causes and Measurements*

PDF File*

Earthquake Hazards & Risks*

PDF File*

Earthquake Prediction, Control, & Mitigation*

PDF File*

Earthquake Case Histories*

PDF File*


PDF File*


Volcanoes, Magma, and Volcanic Eruptions*

PDF File*

Volcanic Landforms, Volcanoes & Plate Tectonics*

PDF File*

Volcanic Hazards, & Predicting Eruption*

PDF File*

Volcanic Case Histories*

PDF File*

River Systems & Causes of Flooding*

PDF File*

River Flooding*

PDF File*

Flooding Hazards, Prediction & Human Intervention*

PDF File

Mass Movements*

PDF File *

Slope Stability, Triggering Events, Prediction, & Mitigation*

PDF File*


PDF File*

The Ocean-Atmosphere System*

PDF File

Tornadoes & Other Severe Weather*

PDF File*

Tropical Cyclones*

PDF File*


Coastal Zones*

PDF File*


Meteorites, Impacts, and Mass Extinction*

PDF File*



References to works cited in Lecture Notes

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Homework Exercises

Note: Both HTML and PDF files are available from the list below.

Note: Only files with an asterisk (*) have been updated for the Fall 2016 Term.

I. Disaster Info on the Internet*

Assigned - Aug. 30

Due Sept. 8

PDF File*

II. Seismological Exercises*

Assigned Sept. 8

Due Sept. 20

PDF File*

III. Volcanological Exercises*

Assigned Sept. 27

Due Oct. 11

PDF File*

IV.  Flooding Exercises*

Assigned Oct. 20

Due Nov. 3

PDF File*

V. Mass Movement Exercises*

Assigned Nov. 3

Due Nov. 15

PDF File*

VI. Weather Exercises*

Assigned Nov. 17

Due Dec. 1

PDF File*

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Links to Natural Disaster Information on the Internet
Note: This list is not exhaustive, but it contains some important links that will also contain other links to natural disaster information.

Plate Tectonics


Natural Disasters in General


Volcanic Eruptions




Weather Related Disasters

 Meteorite Impacts

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