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Field Methods for Environmental Sustainability



EES:Methods, S:Methods

Admissions requirements

Required: at least one of these Global Challenges courses: Environmental Change, Earth, or Sustainability.
Highly recommended: Geographic Information Systems and 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 Alps (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.

Please note:

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 probably will 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.

The field stay probably starts at the end of Week 8 of Block 4. 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.

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

  • students can conduct 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

  • students can retrieve, administer, and validate available remotely sensed and GIS data for compiling and evaluating environmental information that is basic to environmental management

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

  • students can process and evaluate own spatially-distributed field data by adapting GIS-based techniques

  • students can judge on the sensitivity of results and interpretations to methodological issues of field data sampling and data processing

  • students can 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

  • students can identify linkages between abiotic Earth system processes with the broader subject of sustainability.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

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.


Students are required to have read assigned readings to prepare class participation (10%) and actively contribute to field work. Two group assignments will relate to preparatory exercises of levelling (10%, student pairs) and setting up a GIS project (25%) for the study site in the Alps. Note, students receive individual grades for group work. Furthermore, students will be assessed on the basis of an individual seminar paper of 2500 words (17%), a related in-class presentation (13%) on a specific topic (e.g., Alpine geology, glacial history, mass wasting and fluvial processes, regional climate and impacts of climate change, etc.), and the final report based on the field stay (group assignment, 25%).


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 in due time before the course starts.


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. Peter Houben,


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

  • Week 3 Levelling exercise, GIS project setup

  • Week 4 GIS project work

  • Week 5 Gaining foundational knowledge on Alpine geosystems: Geology, Alpine mass wasting

  • Week 6 Alpine geosystems: sediment cascades, quantification and systems-based approaches

  • Week 7 Introduction to the study area; Quaternary landscape evolution, Holocene landscape change and climate change

  • Week “9” Field Stay; Final report due date: tbd