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The Earth is a living, breathing object: heat from radioactive decay in its interior drives circulation of the mantle and constant, tiny movement of the crust: plate tectonics. This movement creates earthquakes, builds mountains, drives volcanic eruptions, and leads to the generation of tsunamis.
Growing populations on Earth are increasing the exposure of humanity to these hazards. Many large cities are located near active faults and could be hit by destructive earthquakes; huge populations in low-lying regions are vulnerable to tsunamis; and volcanic eruptions can not only devastate nearby populations but also ground air travel over vast regions. The last decade has seen many large natural disasters associated with these types of events: the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami (>200,000 deaths), the 2010 Haiti earthquake (>300,000 deaths), and the 2010 Iceland volcanic eruption (air travel shut down for 8 straight days in northern Europe and longer in some places; US$1.7 billion in losses) provide examples of how damaging these events can be.
In this course we will answer basic questions like: Why are there earthquakes? What is earthquake science? What can we do to reduce earthquake losses? What are volcanoes? Why are some eruptions explosive and dangerous, and others mild and entertaining? Why are there so many volcanoes in southeast Asia? Why do tsunamis occur? Where might we expect these events to occur in the future?
Understanding natural hazards is key to reducing their impact, through land-use planning, building codes, monitoring, and evacuation. This course will provide a framework for understanding why and where natural hazards exist, and what we can do to reduce death tolls and property losses.