Natural Hazards

Course description Natural Hazards
Year: 2014-2015
Catalog number: 8001EES06Y
  • Dr. P. Houben
Language: English
Blackboard: Yes
EC: 5
Level: 100
Period: Semester 1, Block I
Hours of study: 35:00 hrs
  • No Elective choice
  • No Contractonderwijs
  • No Exchange
  • No Study Abroad
  • No Evening course
  • No A la Carte
  • No Honours Class


[BSc], EES, S

Admission requirements


Course description

The Earth is a dynamical planet marked by tectonic, volcanologic, atmospheric, hydrologic, and oceanographic (and extraterrestrial) processes of transfers of matter and energy. Human exposure to natural hazard events, therefore, is inevitable, and where Earth processes intersect with human systems unexpected hazard strikes can may dramatically impact human societies. Every year more than 100000 people are killed by earthquakes, cyclones, and floods, and often discussed in context with climate change the number of occurrences of natural disaster events seems increasing. Which events pose the highest risk to human lives? What causes the biggest property losses? How do we measure the intensity and impact of various hazard events? Why are different types of hazards and actual impacts of disaster events unevenly distributed across the Earth surface and societies? Do occurrences of hazard events increase or not? How do societies respond to the threat of hazardous events?

This is a 100-level course introducing students to selected types of natural hazards, their causes (physical background, what, why & where) and their impact on human systems (hazard risk). The overview embraces natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and selected climate-driven hazards (severe storms, floods, droughts). As most disasters that occur are characterised by a complex interdependency of hazard exposure, potentially harmful impacts, and human processes (governed political, social and economic systems), this course also touches on but not necessarily focuses on the intersection of natural hazards and human systems. This course is aimed at students interested in problems of environmental sustainability, international development, and public health.

Weekly overview

Week 1 Course Overview, Definitions
Week 2 Tectonic Hazards: Earthquakes and Tsunamis
Week 3 Tectonic Hazards: Volcanoes
Week 4 Climatic Hazards: Severe Storms
Week 5 Hydrological Hazards: Floods
Presentations: Group work hazard analyses
Week 6 Hydrological Hazards: Droughts
Week 7 Overview of further Hazard Types and Compound Disasters (Meteorite Impact, Biophysical Hazards, Technological Hazards)
Course Wrap-up
Week 8 Reading Week: Final Exam

Learning objectives

Upon the completion of this course students will be able to:

  • Define what a natural hazard is and understand basic concepts of hazard risk management (vulnerability, mitigation, prevention, adaptation, resilience)
  • Understand fundamental concepts of Earth Sciences explaining cause, geographical occurrence, frequency, and range of magnitude of natural hazard events
  • Provide examples of natural hazards in general as well as significant disaster cases
  • Develop a basic interdisciplinary understanding how human-environmental risk emerges from the complex interaction between the dynamic Earth processes and human systems

Mode of instruction

Working on course contents will advance mostly along a conversational path in seminar format. The course also involves lecturing and structured and open discussion formats. A thematic session typically includes and/or reviews basic earth system processes, exemplifies historic to recent disaster cases, and highlights cross-connections between natural hazards and human systems (sustainable use of resource, economic development, public health). To be prepared for class, students are required to accomplish mandatory readings. Depending on the number of participants, some assignments will be accomplished as group work and involve own research and presentation of relevant hazard information and drafting disaster prevention plans.


Assessment 1: In-class participation
Learning aim: Interactive engagement with course material
A point is for actively contributing, volunteering points about the readings, responding to questions by the instructor or classmates, group cooperation etc. during a session. A zero means that a student did not constructively engage with the course at all. There will be no credit penalty imposed on those who erroneously or incompletely answer or contribute. Participation points are accumulated over 14 sessions (Week 1 to Week 7 sessions including the field trip) to a maximum score of ‘14’ equalling 15% of the final course grade.
Weight: 15%

Assessment 2: Quizzes, class preparation
Learning aim: Individual engagement with course material
Reading assignments are basic to prepare course content. There will be two reading-based quizzes giving students the opportunity to demonstrate that they have read and understood the readings so that they can add to our course. A quiz comprises about five questions and will be graded. A quiz will be assessed satisfactory if questions are answered in a manner consistent with the course goals. The accumulated grades of the quizzes are worth 10% of the final grade.
Weight: 10%, deadline/dates: ongoing weeks 1-7

Assessment 3: Take-home project
Learning aim: Holistic understanding of the course contents
Group work: Independent case study (written report and in-class presentation involving hazard analysis, exposure, risk, hazard map, fundamental protection and adaptation measures)
Weight: 35%, deadline: week 5

Assessment 4: Field-trip report
Learning aim: Understanding of field trip content
Weight: 10%, deadline: week 8

Assessment 5: Final exam (Week 8)
Learning aim: Understanding of course content, synthesis and integration of hazard analysis concepts
There will be a graded final exam in Week 8 equalling 35% of the final grade. The exam draws upon course materials and contents (including the field trip).
Weight: 30%

Make-up assignments or make-up exam
At the discretion of the instructor, make-up assignments or a final make-up exam may be given if a student misses a deadline or exam because of extenuating circumstances, two or more final exams on the day of the final exam, or participation in a LUC-sponsored activity. In any case advance notice is required whenever reasonably possible. If a make-up exam is warranted, it may differ from the regular exam.

Note, in the case a field trip cannot organized, assessments will count towards the final grade as follows: Assessments 3 = 40%, Assessment 5 = 35%.

Compulsory textbook

The required textbook for this course is:

Smith, K., 2013. Environmental Hazards – Assessing Risk and Reducing Disaster. 6th Ed., Oxon, Routledge, 478 p.

Publisher website:
(paperback, ISBN 978-0-415-68106-3) or eBook EUR ~39; hardback EUR ~128)

Note that there are also earlier editions of this textbook, but for this course, we use the most recent version. Perhaps, used copies are available from LUC students who attended the course in 2013.

Further readings will be available from the course’s BB site.

Contact information