UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO / Spring 2006
[syllabus]

Course Title: Natural Disasters
Instructor: Eric M. Cathcart

Description: An examination of natural disasters and their impact on humans; emphasis on earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts and mass extinctions.

Professorial Demeanor: It’s entirely possible that professor Cathcart is the most enthusiastic geologist on the planet. Dressed in shorts, sandals and a T-shirt, he bounces with infectious glee when pointing out details of spectacular photos of erupting volcanoes.

Fun Facts: When Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, the professor was only 10 years old. Enough ash fell to cover a football field 150 miles deep. These two items are unrelated.

Ominous Sentence Fragment: “When water and ice meet in a deadly combination.”

Grim Statistic: Disasters happen on a daily basis in every one of the United States. This works out well for students, who each are assigned a state to track during the semester. Those who were assigned Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states have been particularly busy.

Look Out!: A pyroclastic flow is a high-density mixture of dry rock fragments and hot gases that move away from the vent that erupted them at high speeds. “If one of these is coming at you at 200 miles per hour, you need to get out of the way,” advises Professor Cathcart.

Woolgathering Moment: Why is it that the model of a volcano we all were assigned to construct in elementary school never erupted properly, offering up a wimpy “poof” rather than oozing magma? Even Peter Brady couldn’t make it work.

In Conclusion: Mount Ranier is potentially the most dangerous volcano in the Cascades due to its proximity to large numbers of people. It erupted 2,300 years ago, 1,100 years ago and, right about now, “we should be getting pretty close to another event.” Class dismissed.