Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Geoenvironmental Hazards and Related Risks

UM LEVEL 03 - Years 2, 3, 4 in Modular Undergraduate Course



DEPARTMENT Geosciences

DESCRIPTION The term "geoenvironmental hazards" will be explored in its widest meaning, namely those hazards originating from all spheres of the Earth, and encompassing geological, hydrological, meteorological and environmental hazards, discussing also anthropogenic influences. The study-unit will expose the students first of all to the concepts and definition of the terms hazard, exposure, risk and mitigation, as applicable to hazards originating from environmental and geological sources. It will explain these concepts through the discussion of a number of natural hazards, such as earthquake, volcano, tsunami, flooding, hurricanes, storm surges, landslide, etc, as well as hazards associated with climate change, such as coastal impact of sea level rise, ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms and precipitation runoff etc. The study-unit will rely heavily on the discussion of a number of case studies.

The structure of the unit will include:
- distinction between natural and anthropogenic hazards; geological and environmental hazards;
- definition of terms (hazard, exposure, vulnerability, risk, mitigation);
- general principles of the probabilistic vs deterministic estimation of hazard and risk where applicable;
- the origin, formation and consequences of geohazards, meteorological hazards and environmental hazards, including:

(i) earthquakes: earthquake prone regions, earthquake magnitude and intensity, factors affecting ground shaking, Shake Maps, building vulnerability, risk maps, Earthquake Early Warning systems etc.;
(ii) tsunamis: formation, tsunami modelling, tsunami warning systems, community awareness and response, tsunami risk maps;
(iii) volcanoes: types of volcanic eruptions, seismic activity; monitoring, flank stability and collapse; underwater volcanoes, ash cloud hazard;
(iv) landslides and mass movements: types of mass movements, monitoring; underwater landslides and their exploration, evaluation and associated tsunami hazard;
(v) hurricanes and storm surges: formation and evolution;risk on society by extreme winds and sea;
(vi) Environmental/anthropogenic and climate change derived hazards, including:

- sea-level rise and its impact on coastal communities; the human engineering response to projected sea level rise resulting in the ‘coastal squeeze’ of habitats and species of conservation importance;
- ocean acidification and its consequences on food security and marine ecosystems; link to increased fossil fuel combustion;
- desertification, dust and sand storms and their impact on terrestrial and marine environments;
- anomalous Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) and toxic Invasive Alien Species (IAS) : their relationship to increasing maritime merchandise transportation in a globalised economy, ballast water discharge, transportation routes; effects on human mortalities and morbidity;
- runoff of fertilisers in coastal embayments and to the increasing incidence of eutrophication events; links to agricultural practices;
- international frameworks and reports, eg UN Sendai framework for Disaster Risk Reduction; specialized UNEP and UNESCO reports;
- important case studies eg Hurricane Katrina 2005, Tohoku earthquake 2011, Sumatra tsunami 2004; Mt St Helens volcano eruption 1980, Indonesia floods 2020, Venezuela landslides 1999, etc.;
- mitigation, awareness and preparedness strategies;
- local applications and case studies.

Study-unit Aims:

- Instil in the students a sense of the scale of geoenvironmental hazards and the associated damage/destruction;
- Provide the students with a broad knowledge of how different hazards originate;
- Instigate discussion among the students about hazard, risks, their mitigation;
- Provide the students with a sound understanding of the probabilistic approach to hazard, where appropriate, in a way that can be communicated eg to the media;
- Make the students aware of international efforts at mitigating risks and prepare them to contribute to local awareness and preparedness plans.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- distinguish between, and explain terms such as hazard, exposure, vulnerability, risk and mitigation;
- explain the origin and progression of the main geoenvironmental hazards;
- discuss the impact of geoenvironmental hazards on society, giving examples from notable case studies;
- show familiarity with international framework efforts, such as the Sendai framework.

2. Skills
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- provide clear explanations about geoenvironmental hazards affecting today's society;
- put forward arguments for the increasing impact of geoenvironmental hazards and the necessity for their mitigation;
- discuss case studies of geoenvironmental hazards and analyse the causes and impacts;
- prepare reports and assessments;
- prepare statements for the public and the media;
- discuss possible methods for public awareness, preparedness and mitigation.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

- Telford, W.M., Telford, W.M., Geldart, L.P., Sheriff, R.E. and Sheriff, R.E., 1990. Applied geophysics. Cambridge university press.
- Milsom, J. and Eriksen, A., 2013. Field geophysics. Wiley.
- William, L., 2007. Fundamentals of geophysics. Cambridge university press.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Seminar

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Sept. Asst Session Weighting
Presentation SEM1 No 40%
Assignment SEM1 Yes 60%

LECTURER/S Sebastiano D'Amico
Alan Deidun
Anthony Galea
Pauline Galea (Co-ord.)
Aaron Micallef


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It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2022/3. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.