Geophysics for Natural Risks

A.Y. 2021/2022
Overall hours
GEO/11 GEO/12
Learning objectives
To provide the students with knowledge about natural risks in a probabilistic framework, above all for risks related to the dynamics of geophysical fluids (atmosphere, continental and marine hydrosphere) and in particular to extreme events and diffusion of contaminants in the environment (water, air, soil). For this goal, the course unit aims at providing the students with basic knowledge on geophysical fluid dynamics and on geophysical techniques for the characterization and monitoring of contaminated sites.
Expected learning outcomes
(1) Ability to manage natural risks in a probabilistic framework, taking into account interactions between different hazard types, different contests of risk-analysis application, communication issues. (2) Ability to study scientific papers and technical reports on geophysical fluid dynamics (atmosphere, marine and continental hydrosphere) and on transport phenomena, with particular emphasis on the study of extreme events and contamination of water, air and soil. (3) Ability to analyze the results of monitoring surveys, data processing and physico-mathematical modeling, for applications about risk analysis about extreme events and pollution.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
First semester
If required by the persistence of the pandemic, lessons and practical classes will be mainly delivered through synchronous mode with the platform MS Teams (or equivalent). Short quizzes will be given thorough the course to check previous knowledge, to improve the teaching objectives and to verify the acquired skills. If positively evaluated, the results of the quizzes will support the definition of the final mark.
In some cases, and in particular concerning the practical classes, some open air sessions will be organized.
Course syllabus
1) Natural risks
a. Natural and non-natural risks and their interaction.
b. Probabilistic risk assessment: hazard, vulnerability, and damage costs.
c. Contamination risk: conceptual model (source, transport, receptor).
d. Risk assessment applications: environmental impact assessment; strategic environmental assessment; civil defense; contaminated sites.
e. An introduction to monitoring and experiments.
f. Development and application of mathematical models for risk assessment.
2) An introduction to descriptive statistics, probability theory and stochastic processes, with a focus on the statistical description of extreme events and applications to transport phenomena.
3) Elements of geophysical fluid dynamics.
a. An introduction to atmospheric thermodynamics: humidity; equivalent temperature and adiabatic gradient in atmosphere; potential temperature. An introduction to Alpine meteorology.
b. Radiation emission: absorption, transmission and reflection.
c. Divergence, gradient and rotor. Eulerian and Lagrangian approach to fluid dynamics.
d. Mass conservation and continuity equation.
e. Equation of motion for a viscous fluid in rotating frame: geostrophic approximation.
f. Groundwater flow: physics of porous media (continuum approach), Darcy's law, hydraulic head, fluid flow equations for a porous medium.
4) Transport phenomena.
a. Advection, diffusion, turbulent dispersion.
b. Advective, diffusive, and dispersive equation with reactions.
c. Contamination plumes in air, as a function of stability conditions; contamination plumes in free waters.
d. Transport in groundwater and soils: advection, diffusion, hydrodynamic dispersion and reactions.
e. Radionuclides transport and the radioactive waste national repository.
5) Contamination risk assessment.
a. Characterization and monitoring of contaminated sites.
b. Geophysical methods for the investigation of contaminated sites: electrical methods (SEV, ERGI, IP), electromagnetic methods (FDEM, GPR).
6) Examples.
a. Extreme phenomena (medicanes);
b. Groundwater contamination;
c. Field data acquisition demonstration.
Prerequisites for admission
Basic knowledge of Physics and Mathematics as expected from the course of study.
Teaching methods
Frontal teaching. The practical classes will include exercises at the personal computer, and if possible some data acquisitions in the field.
During the course, the student will prepare a risk evaluation worksheet reporting, at least qualitatively, aspects related to hazard, vulnerability and damage for a specified location, concerning the different risk categories explained during the teaching. The worksheet will be finally presented with a written report, an audio/video podcast, or with multimedia tools.
If required, the teaching language could be switched from Italian to English.
Teaching Resources
Slides and teaching material uploaded on Moodle (
Assessment methods and Criteria
The understanding of the covered topics will be verified through a written exam and a brief oral exam. The written exam, lasting 40', will contain four multiple choice questions and two open questions. Concerning the open questions, it will be evaluated the capability to provide clear and rigorous replies, and the correctness and the competences in technical language use. During the oral exam (duration about 20'), the asked questions will be related to the covered topics during the course. Evaluation criteria will be the understanding of the covered topics and the ability to expose them in a clear and rigorous way.
The final mark will be in thirtieths, and will be based on the results of the written and the oral exams.
The replies to the short quizzes given during the course and the risk analysis worksheet, only if positively evaluated, will provide an additional contribute to define the final mark. In particular, for the risk-analysis worksheet will be evaluated the completeness, the scientific soundness and of the technical language, the arguments provided to support the analysis.
During the written exams the usage of course notes or textbooks will be allowed.
The result of the written exam with be communicated through e-mail sent within a week from the date of the written exam.
In the case of problems in taking the written exam in the classroom, for example due to COVID-19 pandemic related restrictions or similar, the evaluation will be performed through a web interface with the same characteristics provided for the written exam and will be also followed by brief oral exam.
Practicals with elements of theory: 24 hours
Lessons: 32 hours
to be arranged via e-mail or phone
via Cicognara 7
By phone or mail appointment
via Cicognara 7