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GEO3157 : Geohazards and Risk

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Tom Robinson
  • Lecturer: Dr Stuart Dunning
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 10.0


The aim of the module is to introduce students to the key concepts and methods involved in geohazard and risk research, and investigate how geographers are contributing to this emerging area of research. It will provide an overview of the natural, engineering and social science skills required, focusing on analysis of the impacts of natural hazards to society, with a particular focus on landslides. The module will draw on a number of real-world examples from across the globe, investigating how and why landslide risk is researched by geographers and considering how these risks may be mitigated by human intervention. It will begin with a broad-scale overview of geohazards and risk before focussing in specifically on landslides as a globally important geohazard.

Semester 1 focuses on the concept of risk, including hazard, exposure and vulnerability. It will explore different ways to measure risk for decision-making. Critical components of risk to understand include its management on both a global and local scale, the evaluation of effective mitigation measures, and appropriate communication. Semester 1 will explore the role of the UN in global risk management, different approaches to mitigate risk and their cost-benefit analysis, and the importance of effective risk communication.

Semester 2 focuses specifically on landslides as a key risk process, but also their role in changing landscapes over varied timescales – we will move from geological time and landscapes to the seconds it takes a car to pass under a potentially dangerous boulder. Mountainous relief is generated by the interaction of tectonics and climate, with the balance responsible for the net change of a landscape’s relief and elevation. The ability of landslides to transfer sufficient mass to keep pace with fluvial and glacial downcutting and tectonic uplift is not well constrained and is dependent upon characterising their long-term magnitude-frequency. This magnitude-frequency then has direct implications for those living, or passing through steep terrain, and those tasked with minimising the threats to life and infrastructure though avoidance, or engineering. Semester 2 will explore the conceptual models of long-term slope evolution, our approaches to monitoring and modelling failure, and some approaches to landslide hazard and risk mitigation/management.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module will be divided loosely into a series of blocks that reflect key stages of risk management and that build upon material from previous blocks. The content and complexity increase in each block and students will need to link concepts and understanding across these blocks to develop a holistic understanding of geohazards and risk:

1.       Block 1 will focus on a basic understanding of risk concepts/definitions such as the difference between risk, hazard, exposure, and vulnerability. It will introduce students to key methods for identifying and measuring risk, including disaster databases, risk assessments, and risk tolerability.
2.       Block 2 will introduce risk mitigation and methods to monitor and evaluate the outcomes (cost v. benefit). Students will consider different options for reducing various hazards, population and infrastructure exposure to these hazards, and approaches to decrease vulnerability.
3.       Block 3 will focus on the communication of risk. Students will engage with risk uncertainty as well as approaches to communicating risk science to different stakeholders. Students will be introduced to examples of good and bad practice in risk communication and will have the opportunity to critical evaluate real-world examples.
4.       Block 4 will introduce the (changing) role of landslides in the landscape and how we measure their impact over varied timescales.
5.       Block 5 will allow students to calculate how ‘safe’ a slope is, how far a rockfall may travel, and, how we might use physical measures to try and reduce the likelihood of failure. In tandem, students will learn about the weaknesses in such approaches and the wider temporal patterns of failure.
6.       Block 6 will focus on rock avalanches, the largest, fastest and potentially most destructive form of landslide. We will look at the hazard cascade, from an initial rock avalanche through to landslide tsunami and landslide dam-break floods.

Teaching Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture31:003:00Synchronous, online
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials151:0015:00Asynchronous
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching12:002:00Synchronous, online
Guided Independent StudySkills practice21:002:00Asynchronous
Guided Independent StudySkills practice82:0016:00Asynchronous
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery32:006:00Synchronous, online
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1152:00152:00Asynchronous
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesScheduled on-line contact time41:004:00Synchronous, online (seminars)
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will introduce key concepts across a range of spatial and temporal time-scales, and will utilise research and professional practice case-study examples.
Structured (learning materials provided) student led activity will allow for individually paced progress, with feedback and support provided via synchronous sessions that will blend group chat/text and breakout rooms, along with answers to pre-submitted queries (anonymised where pertinent for the wider group).
Some lectures will be delivered synchronously where deemed key (for example around the 50% assessment setting), and will use breaks for Q&A.
Small-group teaching (Online Seminars) will allow students to discuss complex concepts and compare and contrast from linked Structured learning sessions.

Assessment Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Prob solv exercises1M251000-word national risk assessment
Report2M251000-word landslide modelling assessment
Report2M502,000-word landslide risk assessment
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The 1000-word national risk assessment (25%) assesses the ability of the students to bring together the risk content of the module holistically. It requires the students to analyse secondary data critically, make judgement-based decisions, and set this within the theoretical context. The assessment is modelled on industry standard risk practices, preparing students for post-academic careers. The word count is low as students need to concisely and holistically justify their analysis with supporting literature, and stronger students can demonstrate their understanding of the limitations of the process.

The 4-page template (1000 words) landslide modelling assessment report (25%) assesses the ability of students to design an appropriate study, analyse data critically, and present data derivatives, and set this within the theoretical and practice context. This prepare students for professional (consultancy) as well as academic careers. The word count is deliberately low as much of the effort and knowledge is generated and evidenced as figures and captions from the model derivatives. The writing sections allow linkage to the broader conceptual ideas, and, stronger students can demonstrate their understanding of the weaknesses of models.

The 50% landslide risk assessment allows the students to demonstrate their ability to bring together the full module content, with scope to differentiate between students able to synthesise the wide module content. Although there are set objectives, the assessment is designed to allow students to focus in on elements from the module that are of most interest for their future careers.

Reading Lists