Section 2: Introduction to Coastal Zone Hazards: Long and Short-term Processes of Change and Their Impacts on Society


The principal focus of Section 2 is to build on our understanding of coastal processes as covered in Unit 1 in order to explore in more detail the hazards that impact coastlines and their communities. Our primary emphases will be on the following topical areas:

  • understanding sea level change (Module 4)
  • coastal catastrophes including storms and tsunamis (Module 5)
  • impact of coastal processes on societies and economics of coastal regions (Module 6)

Section Goals

The over-arching goals of Section 2 include our hope that students will:

  • develop the fundamental geospatial (linking geography and geology) 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.

Section Objectives

In order to reach these goals, the instructors have established the following learning objectives for student learning. In working through the modules within Section 2, students will be able to:

  • define and identify the geo-environmental components of diverse global coastal systems active on passive and active margins, and along nutrient-rich, and nutrient-poor coastlines;
  • locate and use key datasets (tide records, storm data, etc.) to analyze daily, seasonal, inter-annual, and longer-term dynamics of coastal processes including global and regional sea level change, and their impact on coastal landforms;
  • describe geologic and climatic hazards that shape coastal landscapes and impact local and global sea levels;
  • explain how geologic, biologic, and physical processes interact to produce diverse, dynamic coastal systems;
  • differentiate modern sea level position in the context of sea level change over the last 500 million years, within the Pleistocene-Holocene (last 2 million years), and will contextualize driving factors (climate change, tectonics, seafloor spreading, etc.) responsible for sea level change;
  • differentiate the spatial scales over which coastal processes (tides, currents, storms, tectonics, climate change, etc.) operate and impact landform development;
  • discriminate the causes (and interplay of causes) of local, regional, and global sea level change and associated impacts on coastal biogeomorphology;
  • analyze impacts on geomorphology resulting from case studies of actual coastal hazards (tropical and extratropical storms, tsunamis, coastal flooding, erosion, etc.).


In this section, you will be asked a number of engaging questions that ask you to visit various websites to access real data sets and visualizations to aid your learning. As such, some questions are asked for your benefit, and you are encouraged to answer them and check your answers against some example answers. Other assessment items include written blog posts that are focused on ascertaining your level of understanding of key concepts and ideas and the quality of your interaction with other students in the course. Your major assignment for this module is an Excel-based assignment where you will access, download, graph, and interpret historic tide data from locations of your choosing around the world. You will then use these data to forecast future sea level positions to better formulate potential risks in the future.