Fall 2021

Ring of Fire: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Devastation

Moodle site: Course


Rachel E. Bernard (Section 01)


Roughly 90 percent of today’s earthquakes and 75 percent of active volcanoes reside along the Ring of Fire, a nearly 25,000-mile stretch wrapped around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. The Ring of Fire is ground zero for some of the deadliest earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in human history, recorded in writings, traditions, and legends. These catastrophic events often have global repercussions. Examples include the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in 14 countries and the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815, which resulted in climate anomalies and global famines. The focus of the course will be case studies of specific disasters – both within and outside the Ring of Fire – across human history. Through in-class discussion and frequent reading and writing assignments, we will gain an understanding of the geologic processes responsible for these volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and the vulnerability of human populations to them. While taught from an earth science perspective, this course will be interdisciplinary, using historic and artistic accounts of disasters along with modern scientific research publications to help answer the following questions: What determines the location of volcanoes and earthquakes? Can we predict the next great earthquake or volcanic eruption? How are some communities disproportionately vulnerable to these hazards? How has our collective understanding of earthquakes and volcanoes changed through time?

Throughout the semester we hope to take advantage of local opportunities to enhance our understanding of geologic processes and the intertwined history of human response to change and catastrophe.


Attention to Writing


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021