October 10, 2014, BY Heather Johns

Welcome to "Cool Classes," a regular feature that highlights the interesting, intriguing and unexpected in Bucknell University's course catalog.

What course? GEOL 108: When Rocks Attack

Who teaches it? Professor Andrew Fornadel, geology

"We typically think of Earth processes as excruciatingly slow ones, so much so that many people might consider the Earth to be just a static ball of rock spinning around the sun. The exciting thing about natural disasters is that they tend to be catastrophic events that rapidly punctuate the otherwise gradual changes of the Earth. In other words, they occur on short timescales on the order of minutes to weeks, compared to, say, an 80-million-year-long mountain-building 'event.'

"Because of this, we are afforded plenty of opportunities for stunning visual demonstrations of the raw power of the Earth. For example, it's easy to simply discuss the how and why of volcanic lava flows. However, being able to show video footage of said lava roiling, spilling down the slopes of a volcano, inundating homes and cities and relating what we can view on video to the geological characteristics that we discussed in class can help students solidify overarching concepts.

"One of my main goals is to have students leave this course with an appreciation for the dynamism of the Earth and Earth processes and humankind's constant battle to stop, delay or mitigate their effects. By the end of the course, we will have discussed the vast age of the Earth; events that we consider 'commonplace,' such as floods and earthquakes; and cataclysmic events such as asteroid impacts or the eruption of so-called supervolcanoes that, in the past, have led to mass-extinctions of various lifeforms. One commonly accepted theory is that a large asteroid impact roughly 66 million years ago caused the extinction of dinosaurs, for example.

"In the grand scheme of things, humans represent a small and relatively short-lived portion of Earth history and, thinking on the order of geologic time, our continued existence on the planet can be considered tenuous, at best.

"I strive to get students to think not only about the geological causes and effects of natural disasters, but also the widespread societal implications. For example, impoverished areas are disproportionately affected by natural disasters, typically as a function of lower standards (or lack) of building codes, less ability to spread warning of an impending event and/or lack of funds to recover from whatever event may have occurred."

Learn more about the classes offered by the Department of Geology.

Are we missing out on a cool class? Send suggestions to heather.johns@bucknell.edu.

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