Instructor: Gabi Laske

2007 Rice Fire near Camp Pendleton
Photo: Elizabeth Vilchez,
2007 SIO15 student

2012 Monsoon Flooding in Malabon, Philippines
Photo: Gail Gutierrez, 2012 SIO15 student

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 have been the two most costly natural disasters in U.S. history. Katrina has been the third deadliest, and some people still struggle to get their lives back together. Some fled and never returned.

Since becoming a big city, San Diego has not experienced a hurricane but it has its own share of natural disasters. Nearly exactly 4 years after the deadly 2003 Cedar Fire (the largest in California history), the devastating 2007 Witch Creek Fire reminded us that it is important to learn from past disasters and to not let our guards down. In the largest evacuation in CA history, more than 900,000 people fled the San Diego wildfires in 2007, with hardly any person not being affected one way or another. Such disasters are life changing events for individuals, communities, and sometimes even society. This year, the still on-going Rim fire in the Sierra Nevada has grown to the forth-largest in CA history. It was started by a hunter's illegal fire. At its peak, the fire threatened San Francisco's water supply and Yosemite's ancient majestic sequoia trees. Many scientists who model the consequences of global warming - to which we contribute by fossil-fuel burning - are concerned that the severity and frequency of monster storms and fires are on the rise.

Hurricanes and fires can cause extensive damage but so do earthquakes. For example, the great 26 Dec 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and its tsunami killed nearly 250,000 people. The devastating 11 Mar 2011 Tohoku, Japan earthquake killed ''only'' 20,000 people but has had a perhaps unexpected global impact on the nuclear power market. Fatal natural disasters include landslides, floods and - less spectacularly, but increasingly so - heat waves and droughts. During this course, we will learn how hurricanes and severe weather form, how we can identify tell tale signs of potential natural disasters, why some natural disasters are so devastating and how we can mitigate disaster risks, but also how we often increase risks and even cause large-scale environmental disasters.

DID YOU KNOW? Though single events such as Hurricane Katrina can cost many lives, an often overlooked fact is that more people in the U.S. die from lightning strikes each year than from hurricanes.
During the last 15 years, heat waves have been the #1 killer in the U.S..
POLL THE PUBLIC: In February 2007, the San Diego Union Tribune asked: Do you think that humans cause global warming?
57% said yes; 24% said no; 19% don't believe in global warming.
The Pew Research Center conducted a similar survey: in 2006, 77% believed there is strong scientific evidence for global warming, in October 2009 it was only 57% check out News Clip.

This course maintains a special page to which you can contribute your favorite disaster photo. The photos appear under the "SIO15 Stories and Photos" tab in the "Lecture Schedule and Material" menu item. Just email them to Prof. Gabi at with a short description of where/when/what. If you don't have a photo but want to tell your story anyway, send a short paragraph! Just can also tell your story on the SIO15 Facebook page.