Earth and Planetary Science 24, Section 2

Death by Water: Risk, Science, and Impacts of Hydrological Extremes (1 unit, P/NP)

Professor William Boos
Monday 4:00-5:00, 55A McCone Hall, Class number: 22767

Floods, tropical cyclones, drought, and other extreme weather events kill tens of thousands of people around the world every year, injure and displace millions more, and produce great economic damage. The risk of severe weather impacts is also changing because of long-term variability and trends in climate and in the distribution of human populations.
This seminar will explore the science, risk, and impacts of hydrological extremes. Much of the focus will be on the tropics, where most of the human impact of flooding occurs due to the poorer quality of local weather forecasts, the higher vulnerability of human populations, and the greater abundance of water. The course will center on readings from reports issued by various international agencies and corporations that work in the area of weather disasters and risk, such as the United Nations, the World Meteorological Agency, Aon Benfield (a reinsurance company), and USAID; the instructor will also lead discussion on the basic science of hydrological extremes and their changes over time. By the end of the semester we will answer a series of questions, such as these: are the high death tolls and economic impacts of tropical extreme weather inevitable? Will these tolls increase over time as a result of global warming? How important are trends in climate compared to trends in the vulnerability of populations? What can be done to improve the skill of weather forecasts, to better communicate forecasts, and to reduce societal vulnerability?

Instructor Bio

William Boos joined the faculty of U.C. Berkeley in July 2017, after seven years of teaching atmospheric science and climate dynamics at Yale. His research focuses on atmospheric fluid dynamics, with a focus on the tropics. He is most well known for his work on monsoon circulations, which deliver water to billions of people in socially vulnerable, agricultural economies. His work uses theory, observational analyses, and numerical models, all with the goal of better understanding the physical mechanisms that govern climate and the general circulation of planetary atmospheres.

Faculty web site:


Although some of the course content will be focused on science, I do not intend to make the course very quantitative. Students from a variety of science and social science backgrounds should be comfortable in the course; humanities students will also likely do well as long as they are not afraid of reading a few graphs and discussing numbers and basic statistics.