Column: Mission Trails Regional Park’s free lecture series dives into disasters


If you’re unfamiliar with the teaching methods of geologist and SDSU Professor Emeritus Pat Abbott, your questions about his upcoming lecture series online at “Mother Nature in San Diego” could include: “What topics will he discuss? Or, “What could I learn? Or, “How scary is the earthquake stuff going to be?” ”

But if you’re familiar with Abbott’s class and YouTube style, you’ll wonder what audiences at his lectures always ask for:

“What will he wear?”

For this new series of lectures presented by the Foundation of the Mission Trails regional park, kicking off Nov. 11, Abbott will be deploying many of the user-friendly skills he’s honed over his four decades of commanding large rooms full of distracted students.

The San Diegan native will keep his Mission Trails lectures alive with eye-catching imagery, premonitory historical facts, and vivid descriptions of how natural disasters have shaped our county. And he’ll do it while wearing some very bright and appropriate items about a closet that could have been curated by Crayola.

“The problem with teaching science is that there are people who take it as a compulsory course. You have to work to spark their interest, ”said Abbott, who taught at SDSU from 1971 to 2006.

“So I always wore a different color coat, shirt and tie every day of the session. And I would change the colors depending on the subject. I would wear an orange coat over a black shirt for wildfires, or if I was talking about flooding, I would wear blue. Sometimes I would get a (student) comment card where someone said, “There were days when I didn’t feel like going to class, but I wanted to see what he was wearing.

Abbott’s lectures on “Mother Nature in San Diego” find him in Mission Trails’ “OnTopic” lecture series by popular demand. These lectures follow on from his earlier this year series on the geology of Mission Trails Park, based on his book “Geology: Mission Trails Park”. These discussions were so well received that Abbott and the park foundation decided that a return pledge was in order.

This new series is based on Abbott’s long-standing general education course “Natural Disasters,” which made science accessible to the masses of SDSU by combining theatrical demonstrations on tornadoes, floods and other natural events. dramas with scientific and historical explanations of why these things are happening. and what they mean.

“The way I see it is if things have happened in the past, they can happen again. I’m trying to broaden people’s understanding of climate by adding more historical aspect, ”said Abbott, whose“ Natural Disasters ”manual is in the process of producing a twelfth edition.

“I like to show the longer geological scale, rather than political type things. If you look back, it is fascinating to see how different the Earth has been in different times. “

The first in the new “Mother Nature in San Diego” series, which begins Thursday, looks at climate change. The episode of November 18 deals with earthquakes. Abbott will talk about flooding on December 2 and on December 9 the topic will be forest fires.

Abbott promises he won’t repeat any of the colorful sets he wore in his geology series. And thanks to the mix of fun and fact that Abbott likes to call “edutainment,” the information will be fresh, even when its sources are 541 million years old.

“It really makes geology and earth sciences accessible,” said Jennifer Morrissey, executive director of the Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation, where Abbott is an advisor. “He can explain complex processes in simple terms, and he’s really inspiring. It makes you want to know more about the world around you.

For Abbott, who grew up in Kensington and received his bachelor’s degree from SDSU and his doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin, the world is his classroom. He’s been a part of Smithsonian Journeys for over a decade, and in pre-pandemic times Abbott led educational tours to exotic locations like Antarctica, Iceland and Patagonia.

Abbott has lectured on cruise ships and organized tours to every continent, but San Diego will always be home. And Mission Trails Regional Park will always be one of his favorite places in his hometown. He is an expert in the scientific life of the park, but the professor is not immune to his timeless magic.

There are also lessons to be learned from this.

“What I love is that it’s a wilderness park, but it’s right here,” Abbott said from his home near SDSU. “You can go out and be totally separated from city life and all of its demands. You can go back and over 90 percent of it is the same as it was 100 years ago or 1000 years ago. Mission Trails Park is a treasure.

Pat Abbott’s “Mother Nature in San Diego” online lecture series begins November 11 at 6 pm. The four-part series is free, but registration is required. Go to for information.

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