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Earth System Science


Admission requirements


This course is appropriate for anyone considering a major in Earth, Energy & Sustainability (EES) and/or a basic interest Earth science dimensions of human-environment interactions.


Understanding the processes involved in creating, maintaining and degrading Earth’s physical environment is fundamental to a comprehensive knowledge of sustainable Earth's resource uses. The primary goal of this course is to understand Earth’s geologic and surface processes with respect to landscape formation, functioning, land degradation, and human impacts to the environment. The course features an integrative systems approach while introducing fundamental concepts from Earth science disciplines (physical geography, geology, geomorphology, hydrology). A guiding principle is to investigate why (drivers), how (processes of mass and energy transfers), when and where (spatio-temporal interdependencies) materials, landforms, and natural resources are created, degraded, and changed by the action of tectonics, gravity, water, winds, and waves, etc. from high-mountain settings to the coastal zone. Introduced concepts are reviewed in the context of a range of potential topics, such as plate tectonics, volcanism, rocks and minerals, soils, climate, mass wasting, karst, water resources, river systems, coastal processes, and associated natural hazards.

Course content is selected to provide a foundation for advanced courses in the EES major to understanding concepts for sustainably managing environmental resources entwined in the Earth's grand geological and geomorphological cycling.

The course includes compulsory field trips to the environs of The Hague to learn how concepts reviewed in class apply to what is commonly perceived as "the abiotic environment". Field activities include the training of observational and sampling skills. Basic laboratory analysis of soil and/or sediment samples will introduce students to testing methods and reporting on self-produced environmental information.

Course Objectives


Students will gain foundational knowledge and demonstrate competences in explaining physical processes that drive environmental change applied to Earth sciences. At the end of the course the student can:

  • Describe and explain major processes driving environmental change in selected physical settings;

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

  • Identify fundamental ways in which humans impact the Earth;

  • Appreciate how Earth sciences are important to environmental management and sustainability.


  • Basic technical skills required to analyze an environmental issue, such as coring, field sampling, making informed field observations and field notes;

  • Employ a standard scientific format to report writing;

  • Basic laboratory techniques to prepare and conduct analyses on environmental samples;

  • Field and laboratory data evaluation and representation (statistical analyses, plotting, interpretation), understanding the representation of spatial data (topographic map reading, cross-sectional diagrams).


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2022-2023 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course format is marked by a combination of preparatory readings, labs, dynamic lecture style with questions and discussion, as well as field and laboratory activities which engage the instructor and students. Class discussion requires that students have read prior to coming to class so that they can constructively participate in structured and ad-hoc discussion.

Assessment Method

  • In-class participation: 10%;

  • Field trip reports: Soil infiltration (15%), Coastal management: 15%

  • Rock lab: 10%;

  • Contouring and topographic map lab: 10%;

  • Quiz: 10%;

  • Final Exam: 30%.

Reading list

  • Hess, D. and Tasa, D.G. 2017. McKnight's Physical Geography: A Landscape Appreciation 12th Edition. Pearson. (Note: older versions of the text are also suitable).

Further online readings or course materials may be distributed via LUC Brightspace or in class.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Paul Hudson, (Block 2)
Dr. Joeri Reinders, email TBA (Block 3)