Exam-style Questions: Natural Hazards

  1. a) Describe the key features found at a destructive plate boundary.

    (6 marks)

    b) Explain why some tropical and subtropical areas experience a greater frequency and risk of tropical cyclones and seismic activity than others.

    (6 marks)

    c) Natural Hazards have a greater impact on LEDC's than MEDC's discuss.

    (12 marks)

    (Marks available: 24)


    Answer outline and marking scheme for question: 1

    a) Marks will be given for the following, be careful not to explain any of the features. Begin by saying that plates are moving towards each other at a destructive plate boundary.

    Examples of features created and hazards caused by plate movement are outlined below:

    • Subduction Zones and Ocean Trenches, for example, The Peru - Chile trench
    • Earthquakes
    • Fold Mountains, for example, Andes
    • Volcanoes
    • Island Arcs (such as those found in Japan)

    b) The risk of hazards is increased for the following reasons:

    • High seismic risks are associated with plate boundaries. Due to movement of plate and the generation of heat at subduction zones certain areas are more prone to tectonic activity. The location of volcanoes around the Pacific ring of fire is a good example of this.
    • Areas experiencing little seismic risk / active volcanoes are far removed from plate boundaries.
    • The exception of Hawaii is due to the location of a 'hot spot'.
    • Tropical cyclones need certain conditions for their formation. The presence of high ocean temperatures, and high humidity is limited to areas close to the equator.

    Tropical cyclones are not found along the equator, as the coriolos force is insufficient to allow the spinning motion to develop.

    Tropical cyclones do not occur over land as their main supply of energy (warm water) is removed.

    c) In this answer you need to show that you understand that the term 'impact' can be defined in a variety of ways, and whilst loss of life can be greater in LEDC's, the economic impacts of hazards in MEDC's cannot be underestimated. You need to include examples to illustrate differences and include reference to the following:

    • Population: The higher densities of population in LEDC's (for example, the Mexico City earthquake).
    • Available finances (limiting or allowing enforcement of building legislation codes).
    • Education is the population suitably educated regards steps to take in the event of a hazard.
    • Insurance.
    • Economy: How diverse the economy is of a country hit. Is the country reliant on a cash crop economy? For example, Hurricane Mitch - Nicaragua.
    • Infrastructure: Are the emergency services equipped to cope with the impact of a hazard?
    • Figures to show the impact of a similar strength earthquake in a LEDC and MEDC to help support your answer.

    The question expects you to reach a conclusion based on the evidence you have presented in your answer.

    (Marks available: 24)

  2. a) Define the term mass movement and outline the factors that influence the speed of its movement.

    (6 marks)

    b) Although Mass movements occur naturally their impact increases dramatically as a result of human activity. Discuss with reference to specific examples.

    (15 marks)

    c) The marks for this question will be divided as follows:

    Definition of mass movement = 2 marks.

    Factors influencing movement = 4 marks.

    (4 marks)

    (Marks available: 25)


    Answer outline and marking scheme for question: 2

    a) Answer gaining full marks:

    'In its broadest sense mass movement is the movement down slope of any weathered material (regolith) under the influence of gravity.' The type of movement is influenced by:

    • Steepness of slope
    • Type and nature of regolith
    • Type and amount of vegetation
    • Water (precipitation, springs, rivers)
    • Rock structure and type
    • Human activity (type and amount)
    • Climate.

    b) Without examples, or reference to only one the highest available marks for this question is 10. They are vital to show your understanding of the role of human activity in increasing mass movements. It is a good idea to use examples that are from a variety of countries striking a balance between MEDC's and LEDC's.

    Possible examples could include:

    • Aberfan: UK 1966
    • Holbeck Hotel: Scarborough UK
    • Landslides along the Californian Coastline
    • Mass movements linked with volcanic activity (Mt. St. Helens)
    • Mass Movements caused by climatic influences (Hurricane Mitch - Nicaragua)
    • Population pressure increasing likelihood of mass movements due to building on steeper land, for example, Hong Kong and Rio de Janerio.
    • Avalanches (increased risk from skiing industry)

    When talking about impact in this answer you need to show that you understand that 'impact' is a wide-ranging term and address it by examining the following:

    • Loss of life
    • Economic impact
    • Size of the mass movement
    • Impact on buildings, natural vegetation, industry.

    As the answer stresses the word 'dramatic' do make sure that you show how human activity led to the impact. For example:

    'An example of a mass movement that was increased dramatically as a result of human activity was that which hit the coal mining village of Aberfan, South Wales on 21st October 1966. The landslide which involved over 100 000 cubic metres of colliery waste travelling at speeds over 30 km per hour, killed 144 people, over 100 of whom were school children. The reason for the landslide was a combination of human and physical factors - a build up of rain water inside the waste tip led to its instability, yet human mismanagement proved crucial. The spoil tip was high up on steep valley sides, and despite earlier smaller earth movements the National Coal Board continued to pile waste on the tip'

    (Marks available: 25)

  3. a) Describe the features necessary for hurricane formation.

    (4 marks)

    b) Explain how the formation of hurricanes differs from that of tornadoes.

    (6 marks)

    c) Evaluate the success of a disaster prevention programme for a named area or country you have studied.

    (15 marks)

    (Marks available: 25)


    Answer outline and marking scheme for question: 3

    a) Marks will be awarded for mentioning any of the following (award yourself one mark for each):

    • Warm oceans (27 degrees plus) to a depth of 60m
    • Location sufficient to allow Coriolis force
    • Stable and uniform conditions of temp, humidity and pressure.
    • Relative humidity of over 60%
    • Little change in horizontal wind with height
    • Cyclonic spinning of winds in lower troposphere

    b) This question is designed to test that you really do know the differences in formation - not just scale of each. A common mistake at A-Level is to fail to adequately distinguish between each.

    Start your answer by defining each, to demonstrate that you know what each is:

    'Hurricanes are extremely powerful low-pressure systems, and are believed to be responsible for a greater number of deaths than any other natural hazard. They are generated over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and are most common in autumn when ocean temperatures are at there highest. They can last for up to a week, have wind speeds in excess of 119km per hour and can be 100's of km across. In contrast tornadoes are much smaller, last for a shorter length of time and form over land rather than sea. Both are part of the global energy transfer.'

    The points you need to include are:

    • Different air types meet and due to their different properties do not mix
    • In the USA warm moist air with its origins in the Caribbean meets colder air that has originated in the northern Rockies
    • The need for instability (the two meeting air masses should be conditionally unstable)
    • Low-level air with a relative humidity of over 65%
    • Existence of low-level southerly jet stream in the humid air

    c) Your disaster prevention programme can be for either an MEDC or LEDC, prior to evaluation its success you need to outline its key features - such as:

    • Training and education
    • Land Use Planning
    • Building Codes
    • Communication of information

    In addition, do not forget to include any information that may be relevant to making the programme a success or failure:

    For example: the state of the economy of the country, are they dependent on a cash crop economy?

    What are the available finances to spend on the programme?

    Is their adequate understanding of the programme by the local population - if not why not?

    Is there any evidence to show that the programme has been a success?

    For example: evacuation procedures in the Southeast USA to escape hurricanes, and the use of hurricane shelters. How easily can emergency services reach the injured?

    Does the population know about the potential risk of the area they live in or does population pressure reduce their choices?

    Include the issue of hazard perception, which may reduce the effectiveness of the programme.

    Do, towards the end of your answer relate back to the question. That is deicide if you think the programme has been a success or failure, drawing on the evidence you have presented.

    (Marks available: 25)

  4. Hazards have social, economic and demographical impacts. Examine the main factors that affect these.

    (Marks available: 25)


    Answer outline and marking scheme for question: 4

    A full essay answer, so planning is vital, as is a solid, logical structure and appropriate use of geographical terminology. The examiner is looking for understanding that loss of life is the most extreme consequence, but loss of livelihood, community stress, loss of property and businesses are also impacts. You will be expected to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding in the following ways:


    Factors that affect the impact should begin with the level of development of a country. This should be at a more complex level than simply MEDC's versus LEDC's, by doing this you will put your answer in a higher band. Take each impact in turn: For example, the social impacts could be reduced / increased as a result of religious beliefs. Demographic impacts vary because of both population structure and density. Economic impacts will be linked to levels of development, wealth and insurance. Extra credit will be awarded for mention of ability of country to forecast hazards.


    Using a range of examples will show better understanding, and that different factors will affect different areas of the world. Good answers will show that one factor may be important for one hazard, but not for another. (For example, loss of life or property).

    (Marks available: 25)