To Mareike Adams, natural disasters can teach us about the layout of our planet and how human activity is influencing it. Her course, Natural Disasters (ERTH 2415) began in July and the same lectures will be used in the Fall and Winter terms.

Q: What do you want students to get out of the class?

A: A bigger picture of what the Earth really consists of. . . I want students to understand why the Earth is shaped like it is, why we do we have mountain ranges, why do we have deep ocean basins . . . and what kind of forces internal and external create these kinds of landforms. And then from that, I want to talk about the different kinds of natural disasters. Things like earthquakes, volcanoes, why we get them in certain places and not other places, different types of them and how that affects the human infrastructure in our own society. So how we connect what’s natural with the Earth with how our behaviour is changing the different disasters.

Q: Can you give an example of how human behaviour is affecting natural disasters?

A: Hurricanes take their weather from warm seawater, from the warmth of the ocean—so we generally have hurricanes in much more southern latitudes than what we get up here. But because seawater and ocean temperatures are rising, we’re getting more sustained hurricanes, we’re getting stronger hurricanes, and actually a [greater] number of hurricanes are affecting us, and they’re moving further north as well.

Q: How has the societal impact of natural disasters changed over the course of human history?

A: A big one is how we’re getting better at preparing for different events—for example, a lot of cities that are close to areas where you get a lot of earthquake activity are going back and retrofitting large buildings and even smaller buildings so that they can withstand more ground shaking.

We’re also trying to put in ways to mitigate [disasters] before they even happen—for example, early warning systems like Japan have gotten far enough ahead where they can stop bullet trains [before an earthquake hits].

Q: You say we’re getting better in certain areas, which areas are we not getting better in?

A: There’s a lot of place in the world that don’t have these kinds of systems in place and they’re still suffering greatly. [The Haitian Earthquake] was only a magnitude seven but it killed over 300 thousand people due to the poor building codes, whereas we got a magnitude seven in California and it only killed 20 people, for example.

Q: What would you say to someone who doesn’t believe that climate change will affect them because they live in a first world country?

A: That’s very misinformed. Huge problems like pollution are going to affect everybody.  The idea that Canada is going to be a tropical paradise is quite foolish. A lot of Canada is going to be uninhabitable due to water shortage and temperature. And we’re going to have big immigration issues, as we’re seeing in places like Europe. But it’s also for the global health of our planet that we all live in—the loss of natural places, natural resources like water, and other species as well.

Our earth is such a dynamic planet. It’s always in flux, it’s always changing. But also it’s a really interesting and amazing place. And it would be sad if we didn’t start taking care of it better.

by Greg Guevara, Fourth-year Journalism, Carleton

Photo, courtesy of NQ

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