“How Predictable Are Natural Disasters?” with Arthur Lerner-Lam (Jan 2000)

by | Jul 27, 2023 | Natural Hazards

with Dr. Arthur Lerner-Lam

Originally presented Jan 2000


“Nothing can beat the excitement of collecting a singular piece of data, of measuring it delicately, of pronouncing it fit, and extracting its story. One thing an academic program in science must do is communicate science by current example and past history. Columbia’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory combine to do this very well. Whether we’re in the field, at the bench, or in front of a computer, we all seem to feel and draw on the institutional memory here.   You have to keep poking at the earth to learn its secrets. As a seismologist, I do a lot of field work collecting data from earthquakes and explosions. I use these data to model the structure of the upper mantle and crust.”
Arthur Lerner-Lam

But just how predictable are natural disasters?  How can appropriate information and warning reach the general public?  What about other kinds of natural hazards–hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms, heat waves, etc?  This workshop will provide the chance to find out more about such problems, and develop some ideas about how to present these topics to your students.

In this, the very first Earth2Class Workshop for Teachers, Dr. Arthur Lerner-Lam shared LDEO research into such natural disasters as earthquakes and volcanoes. The focus of his presentation was progress in learning to predict where and when such events might occur. Teacher-enhancement activities centered around the American Meteorological Society’s “Hazardous Weather” guide, National Weather Service severe weather teaching resources, and US Geological Survey resources.


Lamont Hall

Introduction to this Workshop

Here is the introductory slide show presented by Dr. Passow.

Powerpoint Presentation by Dr. Michael Passow

Cutting-Edge Research


Powerpoint Presentation 

Classroom Resources


For copyright reasons, we cannot include written materials produced by the American Meteorological Society’s Project Atmosphere about various types of hazardous weather conditions which were used during the actual workshop.  However, there is an online version for this theme created by PROJECT ATMOSPHERE CANADA that may be accessed through http://www.smc-msc.ec.gc.ca/education/teachers_guides/module1_hazardous_weather_e.html


The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) provides a tremendous amount of valuable information about earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and many other geological conditions through its web pages: http://www.usgs.gov/ . This should probably be starting point for exploring this topic.

One of the best web-based sites for students to learn about earthquakes, the Richter scale, and other aspects of seismology is the “Virtual Earthquake” activity created by California State University at Los Angeles: http://sciencecourseware.com/VirtualEarthquake

A great educational web site dealing with volcanoes is “Volcano World” from the University of North Dakota: http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/ . You can also use this for some great web-based activities about minerals and rocks.


The National Weather Service (NWS) is our country’s official observation and forecast agency for all weather-related conditions.  Most of what you see on TV or hear on the radio originates from the work of the NWS. The main Internet site is:www.nws.noaa.gov. Many local forecast offices provide information through their own web pages. For example, see the NWS New York City office site. Or find the office for your region on the NWS home page.

Severe weather information is also available from NWS National Centers for Environmental Prediction, including the:

When bad things happen, the Red Cross is often right there just after the emergency services responders to help. But they also do a lot of “pro-active” work to help people learn what to do to minimize problems when disasters strike. You can find out more on-line at: http://www.redcross.org/ . Many local offices can also provide teachers with copies of printed brochures that make excellent classroom presentation projects for students.