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Volatile Planet

Module titleVolatile Planet
Module codeGEO2316
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Professor Stewart Barr (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Geohazards are an ever-present threat to the World’s population through the human and social costs of natural disasters. Drawing on interdisciplinary research, this module explores the key concepts which underpin the study of natural and anthropogenic hazards, including risk, vulnerability and resilience. Instead of studying the workings of specific natural hazards such as volcanoes or earthquakes, the module uses the aforementioned concepts to provide an innovative and critical exploration of the ways in which geohazard knowledge is constructed and framed, an important consideration in an area of research which operates at the nexus of the natural and social sciences. The module goes on to look at the ways in which hazard risk has been governed and provides a critical examination of a range of historical and contemporary approaches to managing and mitigating hazard risks. Building on these ideas, it explores both the communication of hazard risks to publics and risk perception, questioning the more traditional top-down modes of deficit-based communication and evaluating recent attempts to co-produce hazard risk knowledges. Overall, the module is designed to encourage and enable a deeper thinking about novel and effective ways of engaging with current and future environmental challenges.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module aims to provide an inter-disciplinary understanding of natural hazards including, the relationships between natural and human systems, the differing and often contested ways in which hazard risk knowledges are  generated and consumed, and the range of ways that both researchers, practitioners and policy makers have sought to govern, manage and communicate such risks. The module also requires a significant element of independent study. This provides part of the basis for exam 2, a critical exploration of a local environmental risk.

The module will build directly on the general themes of knowledge generation and critical evaluation (Stages 1 and 2) and the specific GEO1310 ‘science communication’ theme. Accordingly, the module will introduce you to a range of debates within the current geo-hazards literature related to:

  • Means of classifying and recording natural hazards;
  • Probability, modelling and uncertainty in natural hazards research;
  • Physical science and social theory in understanding natural hazards;
  • Models of governance and hazard risk management;
  • Approaches to communicating risks associated with natural hazards;
  • Local examples of hazard knowledge controversies.

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 relation to the local environment, and
  • providing you with the opportunity to develop communication skills through formative online 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 key characteristics of and contestations surrounding hazard risk, vulnerability and resilience.
  • 3. Critically evaluate the effectiveness of different models of hazard governance, management and communication
  • 4. Apply knowledge from the study of the local area and additional independent research to evaluate the contemporary environmental issue for exam 2
  • 5. 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...

  • 6. Adopt a cross-disciplinary perspective for the development of knowledge and understanding
  • 7. Illustrate and discuss the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding
  • 8. Identify a diverse range of approaches to the generation of knowledge
  • 9. Outline the nature of change within natural systems and their relationship to human societies
  • 10. Discuss reciprocal relationships between physical and human environments
  • 11. 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...

  • 12. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently
  • 13. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 14. Identify, acquire, analyse and synthesise information from a range of sources
  • 15. Undertake independent/self-directed study/learning (including time management) to achieve consistent, proficient and sustained attainment
  • 16. 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

The first theme of the module introduces the aims and intended learning outcomes of the module and provides an overview of the structure, assessments and learning resources. There is an introduction to the independent study activity (drawing on local hazard debates) which will form the basis for exam 2, alongside the resources for support.

The module theme also provides an introduction to the recording, physical dimensions and classifications of hazards, exploring the challenges to researchers and practitioners in classifying and documenting natural disasters. 

Theme 2:Key concepts in the study of natural hazards

The second theme of the module introduces the three dominant concepts in natural hazards research: risk, vulnerability and resilience. The physical science of risk explores how researchers have developed their understanding of hazards through the use of statistics (probability), an improved understanding of uncertainty, and an ability to model natural systems whilst the social science of risk explores the theoretical approaches emerging from the sociological and psychological dimensions of risk. Similar critical evaluations of vulnerability and resilience seek to illustrate how contestation surrounding these popular concepts impact significantly on the ways in which hazards are viewed and managed.

Theme 3:Communication and agency in hazard management

The third theme of the module builds on the first two themes by exploring the ways in which hazards are governed and managed and how hazard risks are communicated to publics. The section starts with an exploration of Technological and Natech (technological-natural) hazards, which are an increasing part of our risk society. This section aims to provide a critical evaluation of more top-down models of risk management as well as an exploration of more recent collaborative and (more) inclusive approaches to constructing hazard risk knowledges.

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 presentations in MS Teams3 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
Written examination5090 minutes1-15Written
Practical examination5090 minutes1-15Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Written examinationWritten examination1-15August Ref/Def
Practical examinationPractical examination1-15August 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 the written examination and/or practical examination as necessary. 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.
  • Lupton, D. (Ed) 2013. Risk. Routledge, London.
  • Paul, B.K. 2011. Environmental Hazards and Disasters. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester.
  • Pine, J.C. 2015. Hazards Analysis: reducing the impact of disasters. CRC Press, Boca Raton.
  • Smith, K. 2013. Environmental Hazards: assessing risk and reducing disaster, 6th Edition. Routledge, London.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Natural hazards, disaster management, risk, vulnerability, resilience

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date