Coastal Processes, Hazards, and Society

Syllabus (Fall 2023)


Syllabus (Fall 2023)
Earth 107N: Coastal Processes, Hazards, and Society

Instructor Information

Tim Bralower, Professor of Geosciences, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Penn State University.
Contacting your instructor: Please use Canvas email for private messages to instructors. If you need rapid assistance, you may email me at

Course Overview


Earth 107 will provide students with a global perspective of coastal landscapes, the processes responsible for their formation, diversity, and change over time, as well as societal responses to current changes in the coastal zones around the world. Emphasis is placed on hazards including hurricanes and tsunami as well as the growing threat of sea level rise. Active learning elements include analyzing real data sets and applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills to real-world coastal issues that affect human populations. Students will complete a capstone project in which they consider how coastal cities around the world are planning for the future.

Course Objectives

When you successfully complete this course, you will be prepared to:

  • develop the fundamental geospatial skills and concepts needed to assess the coastal processes and hazards discussed in this course;
  • link geologic time and current shoreline processes in order to explain the past and present evolution of coastline morphology;
  • assess the economic and social impacts of coastal hazards;
  • select optimal engineering options to mitigate specific risks;
  • assess how governments and stakeholders can plan for and respond to coastal hazards.


On average, most students spend eight to ten hours per week working on course assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your study habits.

We have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. The Internet may still be a novel learning environment for you, but in one sense it is no different from a traditional college class: how much and how well you learn is ultimately up to you. You will succeed if you are diligent about keeping up with the class schedule and if you take advantage of opportunities to communicate with me as well as with your fellow students.

Specific learning objectives for each module and project are detailed within each module.

Course Materials

Online Content

All materials needed for this course are presented online through the course website (which is displayed in Canvas so you can use the Canvas page as your portal for everything). In each module, we provide citations for additional reading.


Students should plan to use Google Earth Pro and Microsoft PowerPoint extensively during the course. For this reason, you cannot take this class without access to a PC (Google Earth Pro will not run on phones and iPads). You will also use Microsoft Excel. Many of the Labs will prompt you to download a Microsoft Word worksheet, but you may also use other note-taking software or applications such as Evernote or Microsoft OneNote to record notes and develop questions and ideas as you work through the course materials.


Coastal Processes, Hazards, and Society is an active course. We will have you look at real data so you can put the concepts we teach you into action. Here we explain the various types of assignments.


There are mandatory and recommended readings in this course. Mandatory readings will be linked from the Module Goals/Objectives pages. You will be required to understand the mandatory readings and material for assignments. Recommended readings will be linked throughout a module and indicated as such. Most of the material for the course is provided on the module pages.

For Credit Activities

As you work through each module, we have assignments that are for credit and those that are not but are there to advance your understanding of the material.

This course will rely on a variety of methods to assess and evaluate student learning for credit, including:

  • Quizzes: Quizzes will be offered each week, multiple-choice, and administered for credit through Canvas;
  • Capstone Project: The course Capstone Activity takes place throughout the semester; it is for credit. More information is provided at the end of Module 2;
  • Labs: Labs are given at the end of many modules for credit. In these activities, you will be required to integrate multiple concepts, record your data on worksheets and submit your answers via a Canvas quiz.

It is important that your work is submitted in the proper format by the designated due date. We strongly advise that you not wait until the last minute to complete these assignments—give yourself time to ask questions, think things over, and chat with others. You'll learn more, do better...and be happier! We will drop the lowest quiz score to give you a little flexibility.

Not for Credit (but essential) Activities

Learning Check Points

Sometimes these activities will extend the core module content through external readings and data sets and will help you engage with the material. Sometimes these activities are just simple questions that will help you retain information and think about what you have just read. They are utilized to evaluate your understanding of the key concepts for each part of a section’s modules. They are not for credit, but we strongly encourage you to take the time to do them as they will help you prepare for quizzes.


Percentages and Letter Grades

Breakdown of each assignment's value as a percentage of the total course grade.
Assignment Percent of Grade
Quizzes 20%
Capstone Project 30%
Labs 50%

Your scores for all assignments will be kept current in Canvas.

Letter Grade and Corresponding Percentages
Letter Grade Percentages
A 93 - 100 %
A- 90 - 92.9 %
B+ 87 - 89.9 %
B 83 - 86.9 %
B- 80 - 82.9%
C+ 77 - 79.9 %
C 70 - 76.9 %
D 60 - 69.9 %
F < 60 %

Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

Late Policy

We accept late work only in exceptional circumstances, but you must contact us immediately if you need an exception. The earlier you contact us to request a late submission, the better. Requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis. If you miss a quiz, that will count as your dropped score. Late labs will be assessed a penalty of 10% per day.

Earth 107 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Module Schedule

Course Orientation
  • Review Syllabus
  • Meet the Instructor
  • Course Introduction and Goals
  • How to Succeed in this Course
  • Modern Earth Science Principles
  • Download Google Earth
  • Course Communications and Notifications
  • Read about the Capstone Project
  • Library Resources
  • Getting Help
Readings None
  • Perform tasks outlined in course orientation to become familiar with the course and the course environment.
  • Take the Orientation Quiz.
Module 1: The Societies and Economics of Coastal Regions
  • Our Increasingly Urbanized Coasts and Sea Level
  • Coronocanes: Hurricane Preparation in the Covid-19 Era
  • Introductory Activities
  • Capstone Project Stage 1 Instructions
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Complete Module 1 Lab A (Discussion - includes personal introductions).
  • Complete Module 1 Lab B (Quiz)
Module 2: A Global Glance of the Geology of Coastal Landscapes
  • Getting Down to Business: Plate Tectonics
  • Coastal Zones: The Margins of Continents
  • Back to Coastal Zones: Plate Tectonics and Coastal Classification
  • A Few Notes on Other Types of Coastal Classifications
  • Second-Order Influence on Coastal Zones
  • Capstone Project Stage 2 Instructions
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Complete Module 2 Lab.
  • Take the Module 2 Quiz.
Module 3: Coastal Systems, Landscapes, and Processes
  • Environments of Coastal Zones
  • Reef Coasts
  • Nearshore, Beaches, and Dunes
  • Barrier Islands
  • Deltaic Coasts
  • Estuaries
  • Coastal Wetlands and Maritime Forests
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Submit Stage 1 of the Capstone Project.
  • Complete Module 3 Lab.
  • Take the Module 3 Quiz.
  • Begin work on Capstone Project Stage 2.
Module 4: Sea Level Rise
  • What is Seal Level and How is it Measured? An Introduction
  • Sea Level Change: What are Anomalies and Why are They Used in Climate Change Analysis?
  • Putting Sea Level Change in Context of the Earth’s History
  • Causes of Sea Level Fluctuations Through Time
  • Sea Level in the Past 20,000 Years
  • Recent Sea Level Rise and Anthropomorphic Impacts
  • Measuring Changes in the Arctic and Antarctic Ice Caps
  • Modeling Sea Level Changes
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Complete Module 4 Lab.
  • Take the Module 4 Quiz.
Module 5: Hurricane Formation and Evolution
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Complete Module 5 Lab.
  • Take the Module 5 Quiz.
Module 6: Hurricane Stories
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Complete Module 6 Lab.
  • Take the Module 6 Quiz.
Module 7: Tsunami
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Submit Stage 2 of the Capstone Project.
  • Complete Module 7 Lab (Discussion).
  • Take the Module 7 Quiz.
Module 8: Coastal Engineering: Hard and Soft Structures
  • Overview of Coastal Erosion
  • The Dynamic Coastline
  • Coastal Protection and Mitigation
  • Coastal Protection Using Hard Structures
  • Coastal Protection Using Soft Structures
  • Earth Systems in Action: Development and Coastlines
  • Capstone Project Stage 3 Instructions
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Complete Module 8 Lab.
  • Take the Module 8 Quiz.
  • Begin work on Capstone Project Stage 3.
Module 9: Managed Retreat
  • Alternate Approaches to Coastal Hazard Mitigation
  • What is Managed Retreat?
  • Examples of Managed Retreat in the U.S.
  • Examples of Managed Retreat in the U.K.
  • Retreat as a Response to Disaster: New York Example
  • Relocating Coastal Communities: Isle de Jean Charles
  • Multi-Layered Defenses
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Complete Module 9 Lab.
  • Take the Module 9 Quiz.
Module 10: Smart Building
  • Early Smart Building
  • The Need for Growth
  • Building with Nature
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Complete Module 10 Lab.
  • Take the Module 10 Quiz.
  • Submit Stage 3 of the Capstone Project.
Module 11: Vulnerability to Coastal Hazards: Policy for Coastal Resilience
  • Vulnerability's Three Dimensions Introduction
  • Dimension 1: Exposure
  • Dimension 2: Sensitivity
  • Dimension 3: Adaptive Capacity
  • Case Studies: Exposure, Sensitivity, and Adaptive Capacity in Real Examples
  • Capstone Project Stage 4 Instructions
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Complete Module 11 Lab (Discussion).
  • Take the Module 11 Quiz.
  • Begin work on Capstone Project Stage 4.
Module 12: Emergency Management Cycle for Coastal Hazards
  • Policy, natural hazards, disasters, and the emergency management cycle
  • Mitigation
  • Preparedness
  • Response
  • Recovery
  • Case Study: Sumatra and Thailand and the 2004 Tsunami
  • Case Study: Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria
  • Case Study: New Orleans and Katrina
  • Houston, Harvey, and Flood Policy
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Complete Module 12 Lab.
  • Take the Module 12 Quiz.
Module 13: Sea Level Rise Policy
  • The Sea Level Rise Adaptation
  • Strategies for Building Coastal Resilience and Planning for Sea Level Rise Adaptation
  • Examples of Obstacles to Adaptation
  • Sea Level Rise Adaptation Planning
  • Steps to Resilience
  • Identifying Stakeholders
  • Participatory Planning Process
  • Selecting Strategies
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Symbolic and Cultural Considerations
  • Setting Timeframes for Implementation
  • See the Module Roadmap on the Goals and Objectives page.
  • Complete Module 13 Lab.
  • Take the Module 13 Quiz.
  • Submit Stage 4 of the Capstone Project.
  • Submit Stage 5 of the Capstone Project by the due date.

Course Policies

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the World Campus Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the IT Service Desk.

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.


This course must be viewed using the latest version of Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Edge. Internet Explorer is not supported. If you use any other browser, or if you are not using the latest version of your browser, some pages containing equations may not render properly. In addition, javascript must be enabled for equations to render properly. If you have any issues with equations not rendering properly, please update your browser to the latest version or try using a different browser. If you need additional technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest, and responsible manner. Academic integrity is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity at Pennsylvania State University, and all members of the University community are expected to act in accordance with this principle. 

According to Penn State policy  G-9: Academic Integrity, an academic integrity violation is “an intentional, unintentional, or attempted violation of course or assessment policies to gain an academic advantage or to advantage or disadvantage another student academically.” Unless your instructor tells you otherwise, you must complete all course work entirely on your own, using only sources that have been permitted by your instructor, and you may not assist other students with papers, quizzes, exams, or other assessments. If your instructor allows you to use ideas, images, or word phrases created by another person (e.g., from Course Hero or Chegg) or by generative technology, such as ChatGPT, you must identify their source. You may not submit false or fabricated information, use the same academic work for credit in multiple courses, or share instructional content. Students with questions about academic integrity should ask their instructor before submitting work.

Students facing allegations of academic misconduct may not drop/withdraw from the affected course unless they are cleared of wrongdoing (see G-9: Academic Integrity). Attempted drops will be prevented or reversed, and students will be expected to complete coursework and meet course deadlines. Students who are found responsible for academic integrity violations face academic outcomes, that can be severe, and put themselves at jeopardy for other outcomes which may include ineligibility for the Dean's List, pass/fail elections, and grade forgiveness. Students may also face consequences from their home/major program and/or The Schreyer Honors College.

Please also see Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Procedures, which this course adopts. To learn more, see Penn State’s “Academic Integrity Training for Students.

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note-Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws. For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides the contact information for every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website.

To receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation. See Student Disability Resources: Applying for Services. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride in fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  Services include the following: 

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision-making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information with others whom you do not know. 

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If, for any reason, the coursework for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances, or university-approved activities.  If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

In EMS, inclusivity is one of our core values. We prioritize fostering a diverse and equitable community where each member knows they belong here and is inspired to succeed. We encourage everyone in our EMS community to be actively engaged in fostering this ideal, and all members of this class should contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and interact with civility. Our commitment to inclusivity aligns with Penn State’s values and policies. 

To learn more, visit EMS Educational Equity.  Here, you will find information about the EMS ALLWE initiative, the Rainbow EMS Network, Anti-Racism, active ally-ship, bystander intervention, and more. The site also has resources for where to turn if you need assistance and links to University references.  Also, contact your EMS department’s Associate Head for DEI for more information about department initiatives. 

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. Changes to the syllabus shall be given to you in written (paper or electronic) form.