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Earth System Science




Admissions requirements



Understanding the processes involved in creating, maintaining and degrading Earth’s physical environment is fundamental to a comprehensive knowledge of sustainability. The primary goal of this course is to examine the dynamics of Earth’s surface processes which construct and modify its physical landscapes. The course utilizes landform evolution as a guiding principle to investigate why (drivers), how (processes), when and where (spatio-temporal interdependencies) the materials and forms that comprise the Earth are created, degraded, and transported by water, gravity, winds, and waves, etc… The topics addressed involve tectonics, rocks, soils, climate, river systems and coastal processes, and the conceptual approach emphasizes interdependencies and geographical patterns. Fundamental knowledge and concepts from established Earth science disciplines (geology, geomorphology, climatology, hydrology) are integrated, thus providing a foundation for advanced courses in EES.

The course adapts a systems approach organized within a source-to-sink framework. The course will progress along a journey, beginning with the very creation of Earth materials and mountain building processes – to land degradation – to downstream rivers – and is eventually completed by reviewing coastal depositional environments and processes from the standpoint of global environmental change. Because humanity impacts Earth’s physical systems across all spatial scales, a secondary course goal is to examine how humans modify Earth’s surface processes along the conceptualized mountain-to-sea-transect. A systems-based understanding of human-environment interactions is key to decide on sustainable concepts for managing environmental change.

Course objectives

Students will gain foundational knowledge and demonstrate competences in explaining physical processes which drive environmental change with respect to basic concepts applied in Earth sciences. At the end of the course the student should be able to or can;

  • Describe and explain the major processes driving changes to our physical environment;

  • Characterize the Earth as a complex system, that includes interactions and feedbacks between different physical phenomena;

  • Identify and characterize fundamental ways in which humans impact Earth’s surface;

  • Apply basic technical skills required to analyze an environmental issue;

  • Identify and characterize ways in which Earth sciences is important to environmental management and sustainability.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

The course format is dynamic lecture style, with questions and discussion which engage the instructor and students. The educational approach of the course is to introduce and review fundamental processes and then link these to broader environmental problems and management. Class discussion requires that students have read prior to coming to class so that they can constructively participate in structured and ad-hoc discussion. Learning activities include practical exercises in retrieving and analyzing environmental data.

Each weekly topic includes and/or reviews 1. Relevant processes and/or methods, 2. Linkages to environmental processes, and 3. Direct and indirect linkages to sustainability and management. The field trip combines in-class course content and hands-on field learning activities.


Students will be assessed in several ways, with the modes of assessment including exams, laboratory assignment, and class participation.

  • Assessment 1: In-class participation: 10% (continuous): students who miss class, arrive late, and do not participate in discussion and to class ideas will receive an F for participation;

  • Assessment 2: Mid-term: 20% (end of week 3): mainly from text and lecture material;

  • Assessment 3: Data analysis: 25% (due Friday week 6). Here students will gain hands-on experience with different types of environmental data;

  • Assessment 4: Final exam (Week 8): 35% (tbd): cumulative, but weight towards materials since the mid-terms;

  • Assessment 5: Field trip report (Week 8): 10% (tbd): from field trip contents and text and lecture material.


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

Pidwirny, M., Jones, S., 2010. Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd ed. (free online text book, selected sections).

Further online readings will be distributed via LUC Blackboard (technical materials and resources not available in text), including a variety of outlets (newspaper, magazine, Internet, etc…) that pertain to Earth Science in the mainstream media and popular culture.


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact


Dr. Paul F. Hudson,
Dr. Peter Houben,