This book focuses on natural disasters: how the normal processes of the Earth concentrate their energies and deal heavy blows to humans and their structure. It largely ignores the numerous case histories describing human actions and resultant environmental responses; these topics are left to the excellent textbooks on environmental geology. Nor does this book address resource extraction, utilization, and disposal; these subjects are coved by fine textbooks on earth resources, minerals, energy, soils, and water. This book is concerned with how the natural world operates and, in so doing, kills and maims humans and destroys their works.
Throughout the book, certain themes are maintained:
Energy sources underlying disasters
Plate tectonics and climate change
Earth processes operating in rock, water, and atmosphere
Significance of geologic time
Complexities of multiple variables operating simultaneously
Detailed and readable case histories
The text aims to explain important principles about the Earth and then develop further understanding through numerous case histories. I hope that students will actually enjoy reading most of this book.
The primary organization of the book is based on an energy theme. Chapter 1 leads off with data describing natural disasters and the human population. Chapter 2 examines the energy sources underlying disasters: 1) Earth's internal energy from its formative impacts and continuing decay of radioactive elements; 2) gravity; 3) external energy from the Sun, and; 4) impacts with asteroids and comets.
Disasters fueled by Earth's internal energy are addressed in Chapters 3 through 8 and are organized on a plate-tectonics theme. Chapter 3 provides the basic description of plate tectonics and its relationships to earthquakes. Chapter 4 covers the basic principles of earthquake geology and seismology. Chapter 5 discusses tsunami. Chapter 6 uses plate tectonics and historic and prehistoric records to explain earthquakes along western North America. Chapter 7 examines the history and potential for earthquakes throughout the rest of North America. The intent is to cover every geographic area and major historic earthquake. Chapters 8 and 9 discuss volcanoes; their characteristic magmas are organized around the 3Vs-viscosity, volatiles, and volume. Eruptive behaviors are related to plate-tectonic setting. As throughout, case histories are employed to enliven the text.
Disasters powered primarily by gravity are covered in Chapter 10 on mass movements. Many types are discussed and illustrated, from falls to flows and slides to subsidence.
Disasters fueled by the external energy of the Sun are examined in Chapters 11 through 15. Chapter 11 begins with principles of atmosphere and ocean. Underlying weather and climate, then moves on to long-term climate change over time scales of millions, thousand, and hundreds of years. The time focus shrinks through the chapter, leading into Chapter 12 on short-term climate change and severe weather phenomena, such as thunderstorms, lightning, and tornadoes. Chapter 13 examines hurricanes and the coastline. The emphasis on water continues in Chapter 14 on floods and how human activities increase flood damage. Chapter 15 on fire examines the liberation of ancient sunlight captured by photosynthesis and stored in organic material.
Before moving to the fourth energy source (impacts), Chapter 16 examines the great dyings encased in the fossil record. The intent is to document the greatest of all natural disasters and to use multiple variables in analyzing their causes. Specific mass extinctions are examined using causative factors, such as continental unifications and separation, climate change, flood-basalt volcanism, sea-level rise and fall, impacts, biologic processes, and the role of humans in the latest mass dying. Chapter 17 examines impact mechanisms in greater detail and includes plans to protect Earth from future impacts.
There is a lot of material in this book, probably too much to cover in one semester. But the broad range of natural disasters topics allows each instructor to select those chapters that cover their interests and local hazards. The goal is to involve the students for a lifetime in understanding the Earth, atmosphere, oceans and skies—to observe, think, explain, and discuss.