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Volatile Planet

Module titleVolatile Planet
Module codeGEO2316
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Ewan Woodley (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Geo-hazards are an ever-present threat to the World’s population through the human and social costs of natural disasters. This module provides a comprehensive examination of geo-hazards, focusing on the physical processes behind their occurrence and attempts to model the frequency, intensity and impact of these catastrophic events. The module also examines the social and economic impacts of natural disasters through exploring the ways in which scientists and disaster managers calculate risk and the ways in which such risks are communicated and perceived by publics. The module ends with an exploration of the range of management and adaptation strategies used to mitigate against the impacts of natural disasters.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module aims to provide an inter-disciplinary understanding of relationships between natural and human systems that govern the triggers for and management of natural disasters. In so doing, the module will build on themes covered in stages 1 and 2 to provide detailed and theoretically-informed case studies of the intricate and often poorly understood interactions between the physical and social systems. Accordingly, the module will introduce you to a range of debates within the current geo-hazards literature related to:

  • current understandings of the physical processes and triggers that underlie a range of natural disaster events,
  • techniques employed to monitor and predict natural disaster events,
  • the ways in which scientists communicate the risk of geo-hazards to a range of stakeholders, and
  • the ways in which communities and wider publics manage and adapt to the consequences of natural disaster events.

In this way, the module will draw on a range of literatures within Geography that have explored the relationships between science and society and the role of science in public engagement.

This module will help you develop skills to enhance your employability potential and career development through:

  • giving you an appreciation of the contested and provisional nature of knowledge,
  • encouraging you to think critically about the ways in which knowledge is applied in a range of research and management contexts,
  • providing you with the opportunity (in preparing for examination 2) to engage in enquiry-led learning in the local environment, and
  • providing you with the opportunity to develop communication skills through formative in-class group work and independent study.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe the relationships between natural and human systems and their relationship to contemporary geo-hazards
  • 2. Identify the physical processes and triggers of a range of natural disaster events
  • 3. Explain the ways in which Geography and Geographers approach the inter-disciplinary challenges posed by natural disasters and their management

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Adopt a cross-disciplinary perspective for the development of knowledge and understanding
  • 5. Illustrate and discuss the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding
  • 6. Identify a diverse range of approaches to the generation of knowledge
  • 7. Outline the nature of change within natural systems and their relationship to human societies
  • 8. Discuss reciprocal relationships between physical and human environments
  • 9. Explain the significance of spatial relationships as influences upon physical and human environments

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently
  • 11. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 12. Identify, acquire, analyse and synthesise information from a range of sources
  • 13. Undertake independent/self-directed study/learning (including time management) to achieve consistent, proficient and sustained attainment
  • 14. Work as a participant or leader of a group and contribute effectively to the achievement of objectives
  • 15. Appreciate the practical applications of research methods in inter-disciplinary settings and reflect on these within the context of student employability and professional development

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Theme 1: The geography of natural hazards

An introduction to the format of the module, examining the importance of studying hazards from a physical and social science perspective. This section of the module introduces students to the geographies of risk and the scales at which hazards are studied. Emphasis is placed on the importance of understanding the spatial and temporal dimensions of hazards and the interconnectivity of Earth system processes.

Theme 2: Prediction and modelling of hazards and the landscapes of risk

An examination of the importance of prediction and modelling in different areas of hazard research, focusing on the relationship between physical mechanisms, our understanding of environmental processes and the potential to accurately model a range of systems. An analysis of the social science of risk focuses on the range of theoretical perspectives adopted to study sociological and psychological dimensions of risk.

Theme 3: Physical impacts, vulnerability and resilience

This section involves a close examination of several hazard types and through a range of case studies and explores the importance of ‘scale’ in determining vulnerability to the physical impacts of hazards. In so doing, it explores the ways in which individuals and communities are vulnerable to natural hazards and how they might become more resilient.

Theme 4: Communication and agency in risk management

This section examines the role of physical social factors in determining risk, assessing the frameworks that have been employed for managing risk, how risk is communicated and innovations in risk and resilience research. A pragmatic example of local resilience-based research is used to illustrate the ways in which natural and social scientists can work collaboratively to address the risks posed by hazards.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching24Lectures, workshops and outside guest speakers
Guided Independent Study12Preparation for workshop sessions
Guided Independent Study57Reading for examination 1
Guided Independent Study57Reading for examination 2


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Workshop group presentations3 hours total preparation as a group and individual per workshopAllIn-class feedback from lecturer

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination 15090 minutes1-13Written
Examination 25090 minutes1-13, 15Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExamination1-13August Ref/Def
ExaminationExamination1-13, 15August Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you have been deferred you will be expected to complete all deferred assessment(s). The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination. The reassessment will be the same as the original assessment. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Alexander, D. 2000. Confronting catastrophe: new perspectives on natural disasters. Terra Publishing, Harpenden.
  • Ayothiraman, R. and Hazarika, H. (Ed.). 2008. Earthquake hazards and mitigation. IK International, New Delhi.
  • Beer, T. (Ed.). 2010. Geophysical hazards: minimising risk, maximising awareness. Springer, London.
  • Bell, F.G. 2003. Geological hazards: their assessment, avoidance and mitigation. Routledge, London.
  • Coch, N.K. 1995. Geohazards: natural and human. Prentice Hall, Harlow.
  • Dilley, M., Chen, R.S., Deichmann, U., Lerner-Lam, A.L., Arnold, M., Agwe, J., Buys, P., Kjekstad, O., Lyon, B., Yetman, G. 2005. Natural disaster hotspots: a global risk analysis. World Bank Publications, Washington DC.Kusky, T. 2008. Volcanoes: eruptions and other volcanic hazards. Infobase Publishing, New York.
  • Lupton, D. (Ed) 1999. Risk and sociocultural theory: new directions and perspectives. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Pidgeon, N (1998) Risk assessment, risk values and the social science programme: why we do need risk perception research, Reliability Engineering and System Safety, 59: 5-15.            
  • Okuyama, Y. And Chang, S.E. (Eds.). 2004. Modelling spatial and economic impacts of disasters. Springer, Berlin.
  • Slovic, P. 2000. Perception of risk. Earthscan, London.
  • Sassa, K., Fukuoka, H., Wang, F., Wang, G. (Eds.). 2005. Landslides: risk analysis and sustainable disaster management.
  • Smith, K. 2004. Environmental Hazards: assessing risk and reducing disaster, 4th Edition. Routledge, London.
  • Taylor-Goody, P. and Zinn, J. (Eds.) 2006. Risk in Social Science. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Natural hazards, science and social science of risk, disaster management, adaption strategies

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date