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Field Methods for Environmental Sustainability



[BSs], EES, S

Admission Requirements

This course is appropriate for anyone considering a career or a program in environmental sciences, earth sciences and sustainability science (with a focus on environmental sustainability).

Required: At least one of these Global Challenges courses: Environmental Change, Earth, or Sustainability.
Recommended: Introduction to Geographic Information Systems, Earth System Science.


The course introduces students to different types of field methods and techniques used in environmental Earth sciences. Field work is an essential part of this course, so a compulsory field stay will be organized giving students the opportunity to make field observations, use field equipments and record data. Furthermore, the field methods will be employed to develop an understanding of the functioning of complex Earth surface systems using the example of a dynamic high mountain environment. More specifically, we will explore debris flow activity in a very dynamic high-mountain environment in northern Tyrol (Austria). The background to this is that climate change is likely to (and obviously already does) alter the frequency and magnitude of debris flow events in alpine settings resulting in the need to reconsider hazard risk for a variety of places in the Alps.

So students develop skills in field observation, field data collection, data analysis, presentation of findings and reviewing methodological issues of gaining, interpreting and representing spatially-distributed environmental information. Also, by quantifying processes of Alpine sediment flows of different types of sources and sinks students will be trained in systems thinking and understanding non-linear system working and spatial complexity.


A compulsory 5-day field stay in the northern Alps is central to this course. Participating in this course, therefore, means

  • To participate in the 5-day field stay

  • That you have to pay costs of transportation and food out of your own pocket

  • To organize your travel to and back from the field site on your own.\

LUC will to support the field stay by taking over costs for accommodation. More detailed information will be provided later. Individual transportation costs may range from 50 to 200 EUROS depending on however you want to go to the camp site.

Note that the last day of Block 4 is 29 May 2015. The field stay is organized as a field camp at Lake Plansee (an Alpine lake) starting at the end of Week 8 of Block 4 (29 or 30 Mai to 3 June 2015). There are modern bathrooms with showers, sinks and warm water, etc. To reduce costs for food, the student group can share food and cook together. The area is mountainous with elevation ranges from about 900 m a.s.l. at the camping site ( ground to 1800 m on nearby ridges.

However, please note that around this time of the year the weather could be expected to be a little bit of everything between simply great (wam, blue skies, 25+ °C) and constant rain and sometimes snowfall. This course can be physically strenuous at times. You should be able to work long days regardless of weather conditions and walk distances of 10-15 km or so per day. We won’t climb steep slopes or do mountaineering-like activities.

Third-year students: the deadline for submitting the last assignment is 10 June 2015 so you may graduate from LUC in summer 2015.

Please, only sign up for the course if you can agree on these conditions.

Course Objectives

The methods taught in the course are widely applied in different fields of environmental sciences such as geology, hydrology, and geomorphology 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. By the end of the course students should have learned

  • To use standard methods of field-data collection to study environmental sustainability (levelling, landform mapping, identifying sampling points, making informed field observations on environmental processes)

  • Conducting stream hydrologic measurements using surveying equipment in order to measure stream gradient, river bed geometry, flow velocity, and then use these data for understanding stream development, mechanics and flow

  • To use and validate available remotely sensed and GIS data for compiling and evaluating environmental information that is basic to environmental management

  • To employ basic quantitative procedures to calculate masses of transfer between components of an active Alpine geosystems

  • To process and evaluate own spatial-distributed field data by adapting GIS-based techniques

  • About the sensitivity of results and interpretations to methodological issues of field data sampling and data processing

  • To explore a specific topic based on a study design widely applied in environmental sciences including independent field data recording, data evaluation, interpretation and completion of a final report

  • To appreciate the role of abiotic Earth system processes to the broader subject of sustainability.

Depending on availability from a partnering work group, we possibly can also use geophysical instruments (electrical resistivity) to measure thickness of subsurface sediment bodies.

Mode of Instruction

Course content combines in-class and hands-on field learning activities. These activities range from lecturing, reading-based discussions to practical exercises in retrieving relevant information, field data recording and data evaluation exercises. The course also uses readings of textbook chapters and journal articles to fill in students on principle processes of erosion and sedimentation in alpine settings. Students will mainly work together as a team, which allows students to participate who have no or few experience with GIS so far. Still, field teaching is essential to this course in order to teach students on the use of field equipment and how to make field observations. Some preparatory field exercises will take place in the area of The Hague.

Field data recording will feed into GIS-based mapping of geomorphic processes and characterizing quantitative relationships between various system components involved in current Alpine sediment cycling (team work). Students will have to complete more time-consuming assignments referring to class contents and field exercises (data processing and evaluation) between class meetings and after the field stay.




A list of readings will be made available through Blackboard three weeks before the course starts.

Contact Information

Weekly Overview

This schedule is subject to change by the instructor depending on weather conditions, number of course participants or how the course advances.

  • Week 1 Introduction to the course, group setup, course objectives

  • Week 2 Levelling exercise, GPS

  • Week 3 GIS project setup

  • Week 4 Alpine geosystems: sediment cascades, quantification and systems-based approaches

  • Week 5 No class (GIS homework)

  • Week 6 Alpine mass wasting and river activity: rates, the role of extreme weather events, floods, hazard risk and projected changes due to climate change

  • Week 7 Introduction to the study area (Lake Plansee): geology, Quaternary landscape evolution, Holocene landscape change and climate change

  • Week 8 Field Camp at Lake Plansee; Final report due on 10 June 2015.