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Natural Hazards



[BSc] S

Admission Requirements



Human exposure to natural hazard events is inevitable given the ongoing dynamical Earth system processes. Natural hazards develop from a various (interconnected) earth systems (tectonic, volcanologic, atmospheric, hydrologic, oceanographic, extraterrestrial, biological), and where they intersect with human systems the impact can be dramatic.
This is a 100-level course introducing students to the major types of natural hazards and their causes (physical background, basic concepts of understanding hazard risk). The overview embraces natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, climate-driven hazards (severe storms, floods, droughts), mass wasting, and biophysical hazards (e.g., wildfire, insect infestations).
As most disasters that develop from hazard events are characterized by a complex intertwinement of natural and human processes (political, social and economic systems), this course also touches on but not necessarily focuses on the intersection of natural hazard and human systems.

Course Objectives

  • To introduce fundamental concepts of understanding natural hazard risk

  • How the main types of natural hazard arise from ongoing dynamical geological, geomorphological, atmospherical, and biological Earth system processes

  • To understand different natural hazards and their impact on environment and society by using disaster cases from localities around the world

  • To learn of past natural hazards and catastrophes and their significance to assess current and future hazard risk

  • To shed light on complex relationships that exists between natural hazard events and human systems

Still, the course touches on but does not encompass in-depth analyses of risk analysis, managerial aspects, economics, law and polities of hazard management.
This course is aimed at students interested in problems of environmental sustainability, international development, and public health (BSc study programme).

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). Thereby, case-based student presentations complement introductory lectures on earth-science based information on natural hazards. Depending on the number of participants, some of the assignments may be accomplished as group work.


Assessment formats include reading assignments, reading-based quizzes, in-class participation, a final exam, and a field trip report (see table).

Assessment overview
Assessment: In-class participation (ungraded)
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Ongoing

Assessment: Nine reading assignment based quizzes (in class, graded)
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Ongoing

Assessment: One in-class oral presentation and hand-out on a disaster case (graded)
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Ongoing

Assessment: Final exam (graded)
Percentage: 35%
Deadline: Week 8 (Oct. 14, 2013)

Assessment: Field trip report
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Oct. 21, 2013

In-class participation
Participation points are accumulated over 14 sessions (Week 1 to Week 7 sessions including the field trip) to a maximum score of ‘14’ equalling 10% of the final course grade.

Class preparation: reading assignments and in-class quizzes
There will be six reading-based quizzes, a session that introduces a new subject starts with a reading-based quiz. Each quiz comprises three to five questions and will be graded. The accumulated grades of the best six reading-based quizzes are worth 15% of the final grade. Still, three quizzes may be missed or – in the case that all quizzes were done – the lowest grades will not be considered.

In-class oral presentation and hand-out
Assessing application of course content involves preparing one 15-minutes presentation (including a one-page long hand-out) on a particular disaster case. Each student will be assigned a particular natural hazard event in Week 1 (including information on the thematic focus and further readings to start with). The presentation and hand-out are due via Blackboard at 23:59 on the Friday prior to the Monday class and on Tuesday prior to the Thursday class. The grade for this assignment equals 20% of the final course grade. Late presentations and hand-outs incur loss of class participation credit. Note, the presentation and hand-out have to be turned in anyway in order to pass the course.

Final exam
There will be a graded final exam in Week 8 (Monday) equalling 35% of the final grade. The exam will refer to course materials and contents (including the field trip), suggested readings, student presentations, reading-based quizzes.

Field trip report
Provided that the proposed field trip takes place (Week 6, October 3rd, 2013), each participant is required to write a field trip report. The minimum word count is 3000 words, the report must include a variety of visuals like sketch maps, schematic drawings, diagrams, plots, etc. The deadline for submitting the field trip report is October 21st, 2013 at 23:59. The field trip report is worth 20% of the grade. The grade will be reduced by 15% per day late.


Required textbook to be purchased:

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

Further recommended reading:

  • Alcántara-Ayala, I., Goudie, A.S. (Eds.), 2010. Geomorphological Hazards and Disaster Prevention. Cambridge University Press, 304 p.

A number of specific readings can be found in the Syllabus and on BB as the course goes on.

Contact Information

Peter Houben,

Weekly Overview

Week – Date – Topic

  • 1 – 26 Aug – Course Overview, Hazard in the Environment, Definitions

  • 1 – 29 Aug – Dimensions of Disaster, Complexity in Hazard and Disaster

  • 2 – 2 Sep – Risk Assessment and Management, Disaster Mitigation Strategies

  • 2 – 5 Sep – Tectonic Hazards: Earthquakes

  • 3 – 9 Sep – Tectonic Hazards: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Volcanoes

  • 3 – 12 Sep – No class

  • 4 – 16 Sep – Tectonic Hazards: Volcanoes

  • 4 – 19 Sep – Severe Storm Hazards

  • 5 – 23 Sep – Hydrological Hazards: Floods

  • 5 – 26 Sep – Hydrological Hazards: Droughts

  • 6 – 30 Sep – Mass Movement Hazards (Landslides, Debris Flows, Avalanches)

  • 6 – 3 Oct – Field Trip (Volcanic Disaster Site; one day; Leiden Holiday, no other class sessions)

  • 7 – 7 Oct – Meteorite Impact, Biophysical Hazards

  • 7 – 10 Oct – Course Wrap-up (incl. outlook on Environmental and Technological Hazards)

  • 8 – 14 Oct – Reading Week: Final Exam

  • 8 | 17 Oct – No Class (Working on Field Trip Report, due on Monday 21st)

Preparation for first session

  • Smith 2013, chapter 1

  • Paul 2011, chapters 1.1 and 1.2 (see information posted on BB)