Lesson 2: Geological Risks


You will describe how the Earth’s processes pose risks for Memphis in the future. Because of the extreme Memphis risk, you will pay particular attention to earthquakes and plate tectonics.

Time to Complete

1 to 3 hours


  1. Review the standards that are directly and indirectly related to this topic, including:

  1. As you work through the Big IDEAS design thinking process, you should continually reference the standards to ensure that several of the standards are addressed through your design plan.

Let’s Get Started

Access the following resources to briefly review some of the geologic processes you’ve learned about before. Write a paragraph for each topic below, explaining and describing the process. Upload your answers using the button at the bottom of the page.

  1. plate tectonics
  2. convection cycles
  3. sea floor spreading
  4. volcanoes
  5. earthquakes

Additional short videos about earthquakes and the Earth’s processes can be found at PBS Learning Media.

After viewing the additional resources and then check your understanding.

Which of the Earth’s processes poses the greatest risk to Memphis? Why do you believe this? Use the Notes tool to write your answer.

  1. Watch the video clip Memphis Earthquake Coming Soon?—About the New Madrid Seismic Zone. As you are watching, take notes in the Notes tool about any data that is shared. (dates and times, locations, magnitude, loss of property or life, etc.)
  1. After viewing the video, think about how difficult it was to collect all the data.
  2. You will be using a collaborative approach to data collection, which is precisely what scientists do when generating their own data. You will communicate with a small group of students over Zoom, Skype, email, text, or any distance learning collaboration tool your school has adopted. Form a group that you will work with for the rest of this module. If you are working independently, for the following activities enlist the help of one or more members of your household.
  3. Share some data points from the video with your group. Create a shared Google Doc for group members to record their responses, five minutes at a time.
  4. After each group member has had several turns recording the data they collected from the video, try to reach a consensus about the data.
  5. Then, watch the video again to validate the data. Pause and rewind the video as needed during the validation process.

Let’s Get to Work

  1. With your group, generate a list of ways in which earthquakes could affect the Memphis community. These categories would include health, architecture, economics, education, infrastructure (bridges, roads, power) etc. Use a shared Google Doc to record your group members’ responses. Reference the original data presented in the video by reading Catastrophic Disaster: The New Madrid Earthquake Scenario (pages 83-105: Note: the original government report has been removed from the .gov site but is accessible through the DOCBOX link noted here.) You should skim the report for other categories of consequences that you may not have considered.
  2. As a group, discuss the consequences you’ve written about. What are the ways earthquakes could affect the Memphis community? What are some consequences you hadn’t considered but you learned about in the report? Record your answers in the Notes tool.

Let’s Wrap Up

  1. You will be working through the Big IDEAS cycle to learn more about the Earth’s processes and their effect on the residents of Memphis, and will develop a product to address the problem. Earthquakes will be the main focus, but you are invited to choose to focus on any of the Earth’s processes that may affect Memphis.
  2. Recall each of the steps in the Big IDEAS cycle:

Use the Notes tool to identify one consequence of earthquakes (or another geologic process) on Memphis that you would like to learn more about and mitigate.

Be sure to upload all of your completed PDFs before moving on to the next lesson.