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Summer Field School 2018: Field Methods in Environmental Sustainability




Admissions requirements

(A) Students from other University Colleges or Honours Academy Leiden, LUC exchange students: please contact the principal course instructor to ask if you meet the admission requirements.

(B) LUC students: Global Challenges - Sustainability; highly recommended: Earth System Science or other 100 level course of the EES major.


The course addresses one of the most pressing issues in environmental sciences by connecting climate change to basic questions on the conceptualization of sustainable land uses for rapidly changing high mountain environments.
The LUC Summer Field School is an intense 12 day course focusing on hands-on recording of environmental key parameters, subsequent data evaluation and report writing. The training of skills is embedded in a context of learning about foundational landscape processes and legacies of human impact in a high-mountain environmental setting, and resulting implications for developing forward-thinking concepts of sustainable land use under climate change.

The course introduces students to different types of field methods and techniques used in environmental Earth sciences, with the results of which being utilized a variety of fields like hydrology, ecology, geomorphology, environmental geology, pedology, land planning, resource management, civil engineering, and development studies. The field methods comprise levelling, mapping, sampling, soil analysis, micrometeorological and stream hydrologic measurements. Students may also process the data in a Geographical Information System (GIS), and advanced methods such as using a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Electrical Resistivity (ER) and Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) measurements will be introduced.

The produced information will be employed to develop an understanding of the interdependencies of subsurface (geology, soils, groundwater) and surface systems (vegetation, land use, historic mining activities, natural hazards) using the example of a high mountain environment. More specifically, we will explore the current state of a select range of landscape functions, their evolution over time, and options for developing sustainable land use strategies. The scope includes accounting for climate change, which demonstrably already does alter the boundary conditions for ecosystem service functions. This challenges existing concepts of sustainable land use by agriculture and tourism in the area under study.

Course objectives

The scope of the course is designed to impart undergraduate students to methods, subjects and procedures that are eligible for independent, research-oriented, Capstone/BSc thesis projects.

By the completion of the LUC Summer Field School students can apply standard methods and techniques of field-data collection to study environmental properties:

  • Differential and profile levelling

  • Field mapping (surface processes, hazard zoning maps)

  • Deciding on sampling methods (systematic, random sampling, etc.)

  • Soil pit analysis

  • Micrometeorological measurements

  • Stream hydrologic measurements with surveying equipment (to measure stream gradient, river bed geometry, flow velocity, sediment transport)

  • Use own stream data for understanding stream development, mechanics, flow and habitat change.

Depending on the state of their previous knowledge or interest in working with a Geographical Information System (GIS), students can

  • Retrieve, administer, and validate available remotely sensed and GIS data that is basic to evaluate available and own sampled environmental information

  • Process, evaluate and present own spatially-distributed field data by adapting GIS-based techniques.

Moreover, it is planned to further employ

  • Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR),

  • Electrical Resistivity (ER) for subsurface exploration and

  • Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) measurements so that students will also be introduced to the opportunities these modern methods provide.

Students thus

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

  • Make informed field observations on past to present environmental processes

  • Adopt practical problem-solving skills not accessible in classic classroom situations

  • 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.

As a side effect, students will have received a training in the holistic appreciation of the interconnectedness of environmental problems in relation to the broader subject of sustainability, climate change, land use management and planning.

Note, course contents and field labs are designed to allow students to integratively participate without previous in-depth knowledge in environmental sciences.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Tentative teaching times: (A) Reading-based course preparation (20h), one preparatory class meeting at LUC, lectures and review of course readings (6h), block 4 (AY 2017-2018)

(B) 12 day field stay at the 'Seppalm' research station in the Tauern Alps (Austria).
Field measurements (80h), data evaluation (15h), report writing (20h)
Field stay dates: 30 July to 10 August 2018.

Mode of instruction

Course content combines in-class and hands-on field learning activities but will focus on the latter. Teaching activities range thus from lecturing, working on assigned labs, and reading-based discussions to practical exercises in and applications of field data recording, data evaluation and report writing practice. That is, the field stay still includes after-dinner seminar sessions to guide students through data processing and report writing.

Students will conduct individually graded assignments, however, the focus is on working together as a team in the field. Group work also allows students to participate who have no or few experience with science-specific subjects and methods so far.


  • Individual participation accounts for 18% of the final grade,

  • Field preparation lab: Depending on a student's previous knowledge, a lab to collect, evaluate and visualize environmental data will be assigned. Topics refer to topographical map evaluation, determining key parameters of catchment hydrology, calculating flood frequencies, and a GIS project lab (mapping of lithology, drainage network, vegetation and land use zones, landforms); one lab being worth 17%.

  • Various field labs in mapping (vegetation, land use, landforms, erosion), microclimatology (measurements and data presentation), stream flow and mapping (measurements, mapping) which together account for 35% (group work in the field).

  • Final report (30%, group work) to be compiled from reviewing and integrating course works and field-derived data records (field labs). Submission deadline: One week after the end of the field stay (17 August 2018).

Note, students may receive individual grades for group work.


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

A list of readings will be made available through Blackboard and other channels in due time.

Readings refer to book chapters, journal articles, technical documents, and assignment instructions.


This course is open to LUC students (including students on exchange at LUC), Honours students from Leiden University, and students from other University Colleges. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact



Venue, travel, costs
The venue of the Summer Field School is the 'Seppalm' research station in the Rieding Valley in central Austria (hosted by University of Salzburg, Austria).
This course can be physically strenuous at times (- depending of what is considered "physically strenuous"). Students should be able to work long days regardless of weather conditions and walk (but not run) distances of 10-15 km or so per day. We won’t climb steep slopes or do mountaineering-like activities. Please contact the principle instructor Dr. P. Houben if you have questions about this.

In the field, some exercises will be guided by collaborating academic staff from University of Salzburg and LUC student assistants.

The venue is a self-catering facility only. Each student has to cover costs of transportation, food and beverages out of their own pocket.

Please note:

  • Students are responsible for organizing their trip to and back from the field site or the meeting point in Salzburg (30 July; 08:00; tbd) by themselves.

  • LUC students and LUC exchange students: LUC may provide some financial support towards travel costs for LUC students, but will not cover all expenses.

  • External students: Tuition fees for external students will be communicated in due time.

  • Further requests for financial support within the ERASMUS program are pending. Information will be made available in due time.