Tulane University, Dept. Earth & Environmental Sciences

Natural Disasters

EENS 3050  & EENS 6050

Fall 2013

Prof. Stephen A. Nelson
snelson@tulane.edu

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

 


 

 

Web Links

 

  

Announcements - Look here  for announcements concerning this course

December 14, 2013

Final exams have been graded and scores and final grades have been posted to Blackboard. 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.

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.
  • 10 people (18.9% of the class) 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. 

  • 24 people in the class (45%) 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.  Did we go to any breaches on the Mississippi River on our field trip?
     
  • 3 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.

  • 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.

  • Although Carbon Dioxide gas is the greenhouse gas that is causing global warning, water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

  • New Orleans does not have anywhere near a 40% chance of getting hit by a Category 5 hurricane in any given year. 

  • 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 Dioxidein 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).


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.

  • 11 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.

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

  • 6 people died in the desert because they thought that flash floods are not common in the desert, but one of the common desert flash floods caught them unprepared.

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

  • 6 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.

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

  • 10 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 28, 2013 - Because of the recent change to the schedule caused by my absence last Thursday, I have changed the due date for Homework IV to November 5th.

October 16, 2013 - I have graded the midterm exam and will pass it back in class on Thursday 10/17).  To see some general comments on the exam and to see how you did in relation to the rest of the class, click HERE.

September 13, 2013

Homework II Problem 3 issue.  It turns out that the web site you need to access to determine the shaking potential in Homework II, problem 3, is down for repair and will not be available again until Sept. 18. Thus, I am providing the Modified Mercali Intensity for expected shaking for the properties in the assignment.

50 Oxford Av - IX

75 Avon Av - VII

5 Catalpa Av - VIII

This should allow you to complete the assignment.

 

December 14, 2012

Below are annoucements I posted after the final and midterm exams in this course the last time I offered the course in the Fall of 2012.   

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. 

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. 

Here are some general comments on the exam:

Two primary goals that I have in this course is 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.
  • 3 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)

  • 13% of the class still thinks 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. 
     
  • 10% of the class still think that magmas come from the liquid outer core of the Earth.  THEY DO NOT!
     
  • 27% of the class needs to go back to kindergarten and learn your alphabet. The last time I checked, the letter I was still the ninth letter in the alphabet.  Tropical Storms and Hurricanes are always named alphabetically, thus Isaac was the ninth storm of this Hurricane season, not the 5th.

  • 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.

  • 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) would result in many more casualties and is thus the worst possible disaster we discussed in the course.

  • Although Carbon Dioxide gas is the greenhouse gas that is causing global warning, water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

  • New Orleans does not have anywhere near a 40% chance of getting hit by a Category 5 hurricane in any given year. 

  • The best evidence that global warming is occurring is that average global temperatures have increased over the last 150 years. 

  • Earthquakes cannot be predicted.  Thus, there are currently no precursor events that would enable a warning for an earthquake as 4 of you still believe.


Life or Death Questions

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

  • There were no deaths from tsunami, wherein a person did something other than run up the hill when they saw the ocean retreat way off the coast. Thankfully you all survived the tsunami.

  • Only 1 death from the Category 4 Hurricane that resulted from staying in the beach house when the storm came ashore.

  • No 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 heads.

  • 6 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. 

Hopefully those of you who potentially died in these situations will read about your errors here before reality strikes. 

October 24, 2012 - I have graded the midterm exam and will pass it back in class on Thursday.  To see some general comments on the exam and to see how you did in relation to the rest of the class, click 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 to Firefox and Safari users -  Firefox and Safari web browsers use a different method to display the Windows Symbol font which I used for creating Greek Characters like - D S a b etc. If these characters do not show up as Greek characters, your browser has this problem.   The alternative is to use Internet Explorer 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 2013 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

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

Tsunami

PDF File

The Ocean-Atmosphere System

PDF File

 

Tornadoes & Other Severe Weather

PDF File

Tropical Cyclones

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

Subsidence

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 2013 Term.

I. Disaster Info on the Internet

Assigned - Aug. 27

Due Sept. 5

PDF File

II. Seismological Exercises

Assigned Sept. 5

Due Sept. 17

PDF File

III. Volcanological Exercises

Assigned Sept. 19

Due Oct. 1

PDF File

IV.  Weather Exercises

Assigned Oct. 17

Due Nov. 5

PDF File

V. Flooding Exercises

Assigned Oct. 31

Due Nov. 14

PDF File

VI. Mass Movement Exercises

Assigned Nov. 19

Due Dec. 3

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

Earthquakes

Volcanic Eruptions

Tsunami

Landslides

Floods

Weather Related Disasters

 Meteorite Impacts

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