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Departments & Programs


Freshman Preference Seminars


Planetary Habitability, worldview and sustainability (GEE 3, 4, 5)
3 UNITS | Grade Option: Letter or Credit/No Credit  
Instructor: Norm Sleep
Sustainability lessons from the geological past Life on Earth has partially perished in sudden mass extinctions several time over the Earth's history. Threats include actions of our own volition, including fossil fuel burning as well as natural events, including the impact of large asteroids. The end Permian 250 million years ago and end Paleocene 55 million years ago extinctions involved natural burning of fossil fuels. The 65 million year ago end Cretaceous extinction involved the impact of and asteroid and possibly fossil fuel burning. Related sustainability topics in the popular press will be discussed as they arise. Student pairs lead discussions on topics on how humanity might avert these catastrophes. Offered occasionally. Next session - Spring 2013

Man Versus Nature: Coping with Disasters Using Space Technology (GEE areas 3, 4 and 5)
4 UNITS |Grade Option: CR/NC Option
Instructor(s): Howard Zebker

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, hurricanes, and fires affect the lives of thousands of people worldwide every day. Really big disasters, such as asteroid impacts, have periodically obliterated many species of life on Earth. Over the past 20 years, developments in spaceborne imaging technology have made it possible to respond quickly to the threat of such disasters. In addition, new understanding of the physical processes involved allows us to anticipate and mitigate the consequences of natural disasters. This course will explore these new tools, how they are applied to natural disasters, and how the remotely sensed data are manipulated and analyzed. Some class time will be devoted to computer manipulation of remote-sensing data. Students will be introduced to research papers on the topics, duplicate some of the data analysis procedures, and prepare a report on studying a selected disaster using space technology. We will emphasize discussion of the basic scientific issues. Also, we will consider political and social consequences and costs of disaster mitigation, and how scientific knowledge affects policy. No specific prerequisites are required, but students should be comfortable running preexisting computer applications.

Howard Zebker holds a joint appointment in the geophysics and electrical engineering departments, and studies Earth processes from the viewpoint of spaceborne instruments. His group does basic research ranging from crustal deformation related to earthquakes and volcanoes to global environmental problems as evidenced in the flow and distribution of ice in the polar regions. The group is also developing new observational technologies such as radar interferometry. Professor Zebker is involved in definition and scientific applications of new spaceborne imaging systems, especially those containing imaging radar systems.