Summer 2014 - Perilous Earth (Geology 303) - Session 1 - Online - Syllabus

Introduction | Grading | Contact Information | Objectives | Holidays | Final | Schedule of Readings and Exams

Important changes or notifications will be posted here. Please check here daily.

Posted May 16, 2014 @ 11:00 am.

If you live out of town, and will not be able to take the exams at SDSU, then you must provide me a name and official address of

  1. a school teacher, principal, or vice-principal
  2. a pastor, minister, priest, or rabbi
  3. a librarian
  4. a policeman or lawyer, or
  5. a test center associated with a local community college or institute of higher learning.

You must send me their name, e-mail, phone number, and a professional address. The exam schedule is provided below. I recommend that you tell your potential proctor that the exams will be mailed to them via registered mail about 3-4 days prior to the scheduled exam date. Please note that I will not send any exams to home addresses, and that your proctor may not be related to you in any way. After I receive the contact information from you, then I will contact your chosen proctor via regular mail, phone, or email.

Exams that you will be taking are not open book exams and you may not use your notes nor receive any phone calls during the exam. In addition, I will post a video review prior to each exam at this web site (see Readings and Exams schedule). 

All of the material that you are responsible for is contained on this web site under the menu items Contents, Practice Exams PDF Format, and Lecture Videos.  These items are found on the home page. Upon reaching the home page click on each button with these labels to expand the menu items. 

If you live in San Diego, then I will be monitoring your exams which will be taken at SDSU (see Readings and Exams schedule) in SSW 1500 from 11:00 to 12:30 am. See the Readings and Exams schedule for specific dates.

Meanwhile all of you should make sure that you read the following syllabus carefully, and especially the Schedule of Readings and Exams.

If you have any questions about the structure of this class, then please contact me as soon as possible.

Posted May 16, 2014, 11:00 am - Essay Question for Exam 1. On Tuesday, January 12, 2010 a major earthquake struck the island of Haiti. Given the plate tectonic setting of Haiti, in a one page essay, please address the question of whether or not the world community should, or should not have expected this disaster. In your essay you must provide the plate tectonic setting, the kind of plate boundary, and the lithospheric plates involved in the January 12 earthquake. A Google search should provide you plenty of information. Use 1.5 spacing for this and all other essays.

Posted May 16, 2014, 11:00 am - Essay Question for Exam 2. Your best friend from back east has decided to move to Seattle, Washington.  Please describe to your best friend in a one page essay (1.5 spacing) some of the dangers that she/he should be aware of in moving to a location along a convergent margin. Use 1.5 spacing for this and all other essays.

Posted May 16, 2014, 11:00 am - Essay Question for Exam 3. Imagine that you are sitting at your desk writing the answer to this question on your computer on Sunday April 4, 2010.  Suddenly you hear a rumbling noise that seems to get louder and louder and closer and closer, and then it hits you – it’s an earthquake!  Recall that the various types of seismic waves travel at different speeds.  Based on your understanding of earthquakes, describe in no more than a single page what you would feel as the various seismic waves reach you, and then move on to disturb other students more distant from the epicenter then you are.

Posted May 16, 2014, 11:00 am - Essay Question for Exam 4. At 10:37 am, Saturday, March 22, 2014, a major landslide occurred 6.4 km east of Oso, Washington. As of about April 30, 41 people were known to have been killed by the slide. What was the cause of the slide? What readily available evidence suggested that such a disaster was imminent?

The reading and exam schedule provided below will be followed strictly.

You do not need a scantron for any of the scheduled exams.


The surface of our planet is in a constant state of change. Though these changes are commonly slow and imperceptible they are nevertheless real. In contrast, at various times the surface may be drastically altered as for example, during a large earthquake, tsunami, or volcanic eruption. When such dramatic events occur, lives are sometimes lost and communities destroyed. Hence, it is important that the citizens of Earth gain a sound basic understanding of why, where, and when such events might occur.

In this course, we will review the processes behind common natural disasters. As you will learn, plate tectonics is the fundamental process behind the development of island arcs, faults, and earthquakes. In addition, it exerts a major control on the locations of mountainous terrains, and the distributions of oceans and landmasses. These latter features in turn influence the development of landslides and the distribution of cyclones respectively.

We will begin our study by first reviewing in Chapter 1 the basic types of rocks exposed at the land surface and plate tectonics. We will then focus on volcanoes and their hazards in Chapters 2 and 3, and in Chapter 4 we will review the Mount St. Helens eruption. We will then move on to faults, earthquakes, and earthquake hazards in Chapters 5, 6, and 7. In Chapter 8 we will consider landslides and review the infamous Mount Soledad and La Conchinta landslides. Finally, we will end our review of natural disasters by looking at the development of cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes.


There will be four exams.  Each exam will be worth 20% of your total grade and will consist of about 100 questions which will be in the following format: multiple choice, fill-in, labeling of illustrations, short answers, and a few true/false. In addition, there will be one essay question, requiring a 1 page typed response. These questions are provided in this syllabus under the section entitled Important changes or notifications will be posted here. Please check here daily. Each essay is worth 5 points toward your final grade and is due the day of each exam.

Finally, all exam scores will be posted on Blackboard, generally no later than 48 hours after you have taken the exam.

Grades will be determined based on the following scale.

100 – 93.3 A
93.3 – 90 A-
89.9 – 86.7 B+
86.7 – 83.3 B
83.3 – 80.0 B-
79.9 – 76.7 C+
76.7 – 73.3 C
73.3 – 70 C-
69.9 – 67.7 D+
67.7 – 63.3 D
63.3 – 60.0 D-
< 60 F

Contact Information

My office phone number is 594-2552 and my e-mail address is My office is GMCS 120. If you have any questions, then please do not hesitate to call or e-mail me. I will answer emails from about 8:00 am until 8:00 pm at night.  If you email me after 8:00 pm, then don’t expect an answer until the following morning.

I have office hours Monday through Friday, but will be spending considerable time in the field with my graduate students. Hence, it is best to email prior to coming in.


This course has several overarching and content goals.

I. Overarching Goals/Outcomes
After completion of this course students will be able to:

1. Articulate the multidisciplinary integrated nature of the Earth Sciences and the importance of its role in their and others everyday lives

2. Articulate how technological advances along with the collection of a myriad of observational and analytical data over the last 200 years have lead naturally to the interpretation that the Earth's surface is broken into seven major plates, and that the interactions of these plates often directly or indirectly produces profound changes in Earth’s land surface and claims the lives of hundreds to thousands of its inhabitants

3. Articulate how laboratory experimentation and observation has lead to an enhanced understanding of dynamic earth processes such as faults and earthquakes, and, as a result, how the Earth Sciences have impacted their and others quality of life

4. Articulate how the scientific method is used to infer the causes of naturally occuring events that have affected planet Earth over time

5. Articulate examples of everyday observations that indicate that the Earth is dynamic and ever changing, and how these observations impact their daily life

The above overarching goals are intertwined with the following specific content goals.

II. Content Goals/Outcomes
To meet content goals students will be able to:

1. Convey the idea that modern day plate teconics and the structure of the atmosphere indicate that the Earth is a constant state of change

2. Articulate the role that convergent margins play in the development of island arcs and composite volcanoes

3. Distinguish the differences between the various types of volcanic hazards, including lahars, pyroclastic flows, debris avalanche, and tsunami

4. Identify the different types of faults and demonstrate an understanding of their origin, distribution, and relationship to earthquakes and tsunami

5. Convey an understanding of the historical record of past natural disasters around the Pacific Rim of Fire, and articulate the dangers of living in this area

6. Distinguish the differences between the various types of landslides, including falls, slides, and flows

7. Articulate an understanding of the historical record of landslide activity, and how one might recognize the potential danger of such an event occuring

7. Convey that the Earth's atmosphere is stratified and that the weather of the planet is confined to the troposphere

8. Articulate the role that the Hadley, Ferrel, and Polar cells play in distributing the radiant heat received from the Sun

9. Convey an understanding of the differences between the terms cyclone, typhoon, and hurricane and the role of the Coriolis and pressure-gradient force play in their formation

10. Articulate the differences between a tropical and mid-latitude cyclone



Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 11:00 am to 12:30 am in SSW 1500

Schedule of Readings and Exams

Below is the schedule that we will follow during the first session of Summer 2014. Please adhere to it.  


Date - weekly reading assignments


(1) Introduction - Review of Rocks & Plate Tectonics

May 21 - 29

Understanding the basic types of rocks exposed at the land surface and plate tectonics

Exam I

May 30 Friday

Room # SSW 1500, 11:00 am – 12:30 pm, covers Chapters (1)

(2) Volcanoes

May 31 - June 2

Island arcs and composite volcanoes

(3) Volcanic Hazards

June 3 - 6

Eruptions, lahars, tsunami, landslides

(4) Mt. St. Helens - A case study June 7 - 8

A fascinating story

Exam II June 9 Monday Room #SSW 1500, 11:00 am – 12:30 pm, covers Chapters (2), (3), and (4)
(5)Faults June 10 - 12 Breaking the Earth's crust

(6) Earthquakes

June 13 - 15

Seismic energy - a shaking and vibration

(7) Earthquake Hazards June 16 - 19 Building collapse and tsunami
Exam III June 20 Friday Room #SSW 1500, 11:00 am – 12:30 pm, covers Chapters (5), (6), and (7)
(8) Landslides June 21 - 26 Steep slopes are unstable
(9) Cyclones June 27 - July 1 Atmospheric disturbances in the troposphere

Exam IV

July 2 Wednesday

Room #SSW 1500, 11:00 am – 12:30 pm, covers Chapters (8) and (9)