GEOL-0820 Natural Disasters Spring, 2018

Instructor: Prof. Michael Ramsey
Office: SRCC, room 509/511
Office Phone: 624-8772
Office Hours: Mon/Wed, 1:30 - 2:30pm

2017 California Wildfires

TA: Ian Flynn
Office: Thaw 209
Office Phone: 624-8572
Office Hours: Th, 11am-12pm & Fr, 10am-12pm
Tu, 10:00 - 10:50am **(29) - nearly FULL
W, 10:00 - 10:50am **(23) - nearly FULL
W, 12:00 - 12:50pm **(27) - nearly FULL
W, 1:00 - 1:50pm **(29) - nearly FULL
TA: Memphis Hill
Office: Thaw 209A
Office Phone: 624-7304
Office Hours: Tu, 4pm-5pm & Fr, 1pm-2pm
Tu, 5:00 - 5:50pm **(20)
W, 5:00 - 5:50pm **(15)
Th, 12:00 - 12:50pm **(29) - nearly FULL
Fr, 12:00 - 12:50pm **(12)

**( ) number of students enrolled in each recitation section. Students in full (30) or nearly-full (> 25) sections are encouraged to consider switching into a lower-enrolled section. Typically, students do much better in smaller recitations with more TA one-on-one time. Those of you interested should talk with your academic advisors and your current TA for the class to explore the possibility of changing recitiation sections. But please do so before the first recitation, which begins the week of Jan 15th.

1. Objective: To understand the natural Earth processes that affect human lives and their environment in catastrophic ways. Natural disasters are commonly made worse when intensive human activity expands into hazardous zones. Each type of hazard will be examined in terms of the science, prediction, mitigation, and public policy/safety issues.

2. Required Textbooks:

"NATURAL DISASTERS (10th edition)," by P.L. Abbott. McGraw Hill Publishing (ISBN 978-0-07-802298-2), 2017.

"NATURAL DISASTERS: Recitation Manual" (3rd edition), by M.S. Ramsey. Kendall Hunt Publishing (ISBN 978-1-52-49480-8), 2018.

3. Lecture Times: Tu, Th from 1:00 - 1:50 pm in LAWRN 121. Attendance is strongly encouraged at all scheduled class meetings. Much of the exam material will be derived from the class notes and video presentations; therefore attendance is beneficial to your grade.

4. Course Requirements: This course should be an interesting and interactive experience. Knowing the science fundamentals and learning to think objectively will give you a much better understanding of the landscape around you and the natural disasters that impact our lives. However, this class does require effort to do well, so don't treat it as a blow-off class. You will need to memorize information and work in pairs/groups during the recitation.

  • Exams: There will be two mid-term and one final examination (each being non-cumulative). Each exam will be multiple-choice questions, which will be based on material covered in the lectures, videos, and recitations. Make-up exams will NOT be given for the mid-term exams because you are allowed to drop your lowest score. If there is an extreme circumstance, please come talk to me beforehand. (see grading policy below)!

  • Recitations: Students will meet for an additional one hour per week in recitation classes run by a Geology Department graduate student teaching assistant (TA). Each recitation TA will lead in-depth discussions relating to the material covered in lecture, as well as administer weekly assignments and laboratory exercises. Grades compiled for each recitation section will be submitted to the course instructor and comprise 35% of your total for the course (see below). You MUST sign up for a recitation section and recitation attendance IS mandatory!!


5. Grading: Your final grade will be based on your performance on the three exams, the score in the recitation, and in-class participation. The grade will be calculated using the following break-down: Mid-term Exam = 30%, Final Exam = 30%, Recitation = 35%, Class Participation = 5%. I will drop the lowest of the two mid-term exam grades, but not the final. This will give you the chance to recover from a poor performance and minimize the need for any make-up exams. If a curve is needed, it will be based on the final average of the entire class and equal to a median score of a C+/B-. Therefore, the curve (and thus the letter grades) will not be decided until the end of the term. So, please do not ask me what the curve was after each exam.

6. Web Site: The site is located at and will contain the syllabus, announcements and assignments for the class. I tend to revise the class schedule as the term progresses, so please check there for the most current class information.

7. Disability Resources: If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and the Office of Disability Resources and Services, 216 William Pitt Union, 412-648-7890 / 412-383-7355 (FTY), as early as possible in the term. Disability Resources and Services will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.

8. Academic Integrity: Cheating/plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students suspected of violating the University of Pittsburgh Policy on Academic Integrity, noted below, will be required to participate in the outlined procedural process as initiated by the instructor. A minimum sanction of a zero score for the quiz, exam or paper will be imposed.

9. E-mail Communication Policy: Each student is issued a University e-mail address ( upon admittance. This e-mail address may be used by the University for official communication with students. Students are expected to read e-mail sent to this account on a regular basis. Failure to read and react to University communications in a timely manner does not absolve the student from knowing and complying with the content of the communications. The University provides an e-mail forwarding service that allows students to read their e-mail via other service providers (e.g., Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo). Students that choose to forward their e-mail from their address to another address do so at their own risk. If e-mail is lost as a result of forwarding, it does not absolve the student from responding to official communications sent to their University e-mail address. To forward e-mail sent to your University account, go to, log into your account, click on Edit Forwarding Addresses, and follow the instructions on the page. Be sure to log out of your account when you have finished (for the full E-mail Communication Policy, go to:

10. Other Links:

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