Students hit with hurricanes, tsunamis

"The Catastrophic Earth" gives undergrads a close-up look at the natural disasters that shake up our planet

by Don Wells staff writer
the earthquake that hit Nisqually, south of Seattle, in February was a wake-up call to area residents and a call to arms for instructors in the Earth and Ocean Sciences Department (eosc) at UBC. At the time of the quake, faculty members were already refining a first-year survey course on natural disasters, but hastened the pace so that it could be offered for the first time this fall.

Made up of five sections, eosc 114, "The Catastrophic Earth -- Natural Disasters," examines processes affecting the atmosphere, ocean and earth.

"The Shaking Earth" covers earthquakes, fault lines, volcanic eruptions, pyroclastic flows, lava and ash.

Hurricanes, thunderstorms and tornadoes are featured in "The Turbulent Atmosphere" section, and "The Violent Ocean" examines tsunamis, storm surges and rogue waves.

Landslides, debris flows, mud flows and floods are included in "The Unstable Ground" section, while meteors are covered in "Impacts from Space and Mass Extinction Events."

"We are particularly enthused about this course, especially since we have internationally recognized experts in all these fields," says lead instructor Prof. Roland Stull.

eosc won a Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund grant to develop innovative labs for the course.

"We will include current event discussions about new disasters, and movie critique nights to view and discuss the realism of Hollywood disaster films such as `Dante's Peak,' `Twister' and `Deep Impact,'" says Stull.

"We want to do more than teach the basic scientific tools and methods. We also want to share the excitement of the field."

The course also offers optional field trips to study local evidence of past disasters, and students will discuss the likely chain of events if a meteor were to strike near Vancouver.

The eosc 114 Natural Disasters course is one of three new courses offered this fall by the Earth and Ocean Sciences Department.

The various sections of thecourse will be taught by Stull, associate professors Oldrich Hungr and William Hsieh, and instructors Francis Jones, Mary Lou Bevier and Stuart Sutherland.