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Field Methods for Environmental Sustainability

Vak 2013-2014


[BSc], M:S

Admission Requirements

There are no strict prerequisites, but students are expected to show commitment to the conduct of field-oriented studies in environmental sustainability sciences. Also, bringing in some familiarity with working with a GIS will be helpful. The course involves field work in local environments around Den Haag and thus potential participants are notified of additional costs associated with using public transport to access field sites.


This course teaches students in basic methods of environmental sustainability sciences employed to retrieve, process and evaluate field data in order to describe environmental processes a selected setting. Course content combines in-class and hands-on field learning activities ranging from collecting and evaluating relevant information, assessing environmental processes from field observations, using standard methods of sampling in the field (including spatially referenced data), and adapting GIS-based techniques to evaluate available data in combination with own field data. The goal is to come up with an independently developed (thematically focused) report on key environmental processes that occur along a coastline-mainland transect representing a typical coastal setting. The course will take place in the area of The Hague/Wassenaar. The methods taught in the course are widely applied in different fields of environmental sciences such as geology, hydrology, geomorphology, and climatology and underlie fundamental information used in earth and environmental sciences, international development, agricultural sciences, natural resource management and engineering. The course is designed impart students to methods and subjects that are eligible for Capstone research projects.

Course Objectives

During this course students develop knowledge and understanding of basic field methods and data evaluation. By applying a range of methods (mapping, leveling, coring, water sampling, etc.), students will learn to

  • assess methodological opportunities and constraints of various sampling techniques,
  • develop sampling strategies as regards a given research question,
  • conceptualize the (visible and subsurface) 3D layout of landscape components,
  • interpret dynamic landscape evolution and ongoing environmental processes based on own field sampling and readings,
  • describe how an environmental setting sets the boundary conditions for human use of resources like groundwater or soils.

Mode of Instruction

The course combines in-class learning activities introducing students to field techniques, exercises in evaluating topographic and thematic information from maps as well as digital geospatial data and field exercises in sampling environmental data. Therefore, the course comprises lectures, in-class assignments with class sessions (ca. 50%) taking place in the field. The scheduling of field meetings may be subject to change on short notice depending on weather conditions.


To be confirmed in course syllabus:

Students are required to have read assigned readings to prepare class participation. Some in-class time will be used to work on assignments, still students will have to complete more time-consuming assignments referring to class contents and field exercises/sampling (data processing and evaluation) between class meetings. These assignments relate to GIS applications, field exercises and independent field data sampling and are building blocks towards working on the final report (2000 – 2500 words). The results of the assignments will be presented and discussed in class.

  • In-class participation: 10%
  • Four labs (e.g., drawing cross-section, landform and land cover mapping, mapping groundwater table and flow directions, representation of spatially-distributed quantitative environmental data (GIS)): 40% (10% each)
  • Four short presentations of the findings and field data interpretation (labs): 20% (5% each)
  • Final report: 30%


There will be no required textbook for the course because there is no single one that covered the material discussed in class. Relevant course material will be made available through Blackbord.

Contact Information

Weekly Overview

  • Week 1: Introduction to the project, research questions, study area, literature search, data acquisition, GIS setup
  • Week 2: Mapping techniques, leveling, GPS
  • Week 3: Coring techniques, sedimentological field recording, cross-sectional representation of subsurface data
  • Week 4: Field climatology (LUC weather station)
  • Week 5: Geomorphological mapping, groundwater
  • Week 6: Sampling strategies (groundwater table, flow directions, cones of depression, saltwater intrusion front) and spatial representation (GIS application)
  • Week 7: Integration and synthesis
  • Week 8 (Reading Week) Final report, final presentation

Preparation for first session

Course readings for Week 1 will be posted on Blackboard along with a notification of course participants a week before semester start.