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Environmental Science: Ecosystems and Biodiversity



[BSc] S

Admission Requirements



This is an introduction to the field of Environmental Science, with a focus on Ecosystems and Biodiversity. The course will describe the interaction of humans with their environment and potential solutions to minimize environmental impacts. This course is divided into three parts.

In part I, students learn about the history of environmental sciences, the importance of this topic today and important key concepts, such as sustainability and ecological footprint. Part II covers important basic environmental concepts, such as ecology, ecosystem functioning, biodiversity, N, P and C cycles, and atmospheric deposition. The major focus will be on part III of the course, in which we will discuss the impacts of humans on the environment. We will start by discussing different methods which are used to measure/assess impacts (i.e. field versus lab studies), and the advantages and disadvantages of these methods. Next, we will discuss major global challenges (and potential solutions for these challenges) which are faced today, including impacts associated with agriculture and industry, global warming, water and air quality issues, risks to organisms exposed to contaminants and human health risks associated with environmental pollution.

Finally we will cover several case studies related to the impact of contaminants on the environment, for example the effects of nanomaterials, pesticides and organic contaminants on organisms.

Course Objectives

The goal of this course is to introduce students to the field of environmental sciences, and to develop important academic skills. More specifically, at the end of the course students are able to:

  • Define and discuss important concepts in the field of environmental sciences;

  • Briefly describe major environmental processes related to ecosystems and biodiversity, and discuss how these processes can be affected by human activity;

  • List and discuss human impacts on the environment, such as impacts on water and air quality, organisms living within these environments, and human health;

  • Describe and discuss strength and weaknesses of different methods used in environmental science to determine impacts;

  • Critically evaluate scientific publications in the field of environmental science, and defend whether they agree or not with the conclusions made within the publication;

  • Conduct a literature review, give a presentation and write a report on a topic in environmental sciences, thereby gaining experience in important scientific skills.

Mode of Instruction

The main mode of instruction will center around lectures and discussions on current topics on environmental sciences. In addition, students are required to complete individual and group assignments. To facilitate completion of these assignments, there will be some time set aside during lectures to discuss and work on assignments (the remainder of the work is conducted outside class hours).


Assessment will occur through one exam, two short individual assignments, a group assignment and a group presentation. In addition, participation in class will determine part of the final grade.

Assessment: Individual Assignment 1: Footprint
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Week 2

Assessment: Individual Assignment 2: Scientific Publication
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Week 4

Assessment: Group Assignment: Report
Percentage: 25%
Deadline: Week 7

Assessment: Group Assignment: Presentation
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Week 7

Assessment: Course Participation
Percentage: 5%
Deadline: Week 1-7

Assessment: Final Exam
Percentage: 35%
Deadline: Week 8

Week 8 [during last timeslot allocated for this class]: The exam will consist of both short-answer and essay questions and will assess whether you i) have a solid understanding on the topics covered in class, and ii) are able to integrate and critically discuss your newly gained knowledge in essay type questions. Example exam questions will be discussed in class prior to the exam.

Assignments need to be handed to me in my office as a hardcopy or attachment (I will specify this in the assignment) prior to 5:00 PM on the due date.

Individual assignments (Weeks 2 and 4: 10% each): You will hand in two short individual assignments. The goal of these assignments is to study selected topics in more detail:
-Assignment 1: How big is your ecological footprint, and how does it compare to other countries?
-Assignment 2: Summarizing and critically evaluating a scientific publication: what are the strengths and weaknesses in a scientific publication? You will select a research paper on a scientific topic of choice.

Group assignment (40% total): The group assignment consists of a written report and a group presentation in class. During the group project, you and 3-4 peers will conduct a literature review on an environmental issue, followed by a presentation in class.
-Final report (Week 7: 25%): You and your peers will write a report to demonstrate knowledge on a specific topic.
-Group presentation (Week 7: 15%): You and your peers will give a group presentation in class on the outcomes of your group project.

Course participation (Week 1-7: 5%): You will be assessed throughout the block on your class participation. Participation will be based on provision of thoughtful and critical questions and comments during classes, based on your readings and experiences.


  • Miller, G.T. and S. Spoolman, 2012. Environmental Science. Cengage Learning (ISBN-10: 1111988935, ISBN-13: 978-1111988937, Edition: 14), 576 pp.

  • Additional reading material and assignments will be handed out in class our posted on Blackbord

Contact Information

Weekly Overview

Week 1: Introduction to environmental science
Week 2: Environmental concepts (Ecology, ecosystem functioning, biodiversity, nutrient cycles, atmospheric deposition)
Individual assignment 1
Week 3: Methods in assessing environmental impacts
Week 4: Environmental challenges: The impact of agriculture and industry
Individual assignment 2
Week 5: Environmental challenges: The need for clean air and water
Week 6: Environmental challenges: Emerging issues in environmental science
Week 7: Environmental challenges: The environment and impacts on human health
Group presentation and final report
Week 8: Final Exam

Preparation for first session

Please think of an environmental issue which is a topic of debate in your country/region (e.g. pesticide residuals in water, air pollution; health risks associated with contaminants), and be prepared to briefly (1-2 min) discuss this in class. Please do NOT select global warming!