nl en

Earth System Science




Admissions requirements

This course is appropriate for anyone considering a major in Earth, Energy & Sustainability (EES).


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.


The course includes a compulsory 1-day field trip to the environs of The Hague to observe and experience a variety of features and concepts reviewed in class.

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 the Earth;

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

  • Identify and characterize ways in which Earth science 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 sustainable 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 multiple ways, with the modes of assessment including exams, laboratory assignment, and class participation.

Block II
Assessment 1: In-class participation: 15% (continuous): includes in class labs and discussion. Students who miss class, arrive late, and do not participate in labs and discussion will receive an F;

Assessment 2: short quiz: 6% (Tuesday of week 2): lectures;

Assessment 3: Mid-term Exam: 19% (Thursday of week 3): text and lectures;

Assessment 4: Lab report: 25% (due Friday at midnight of week 6). Hands-on experience with analysis of environmental field data;

Assessment 5: Final Exam (Week 8): 35% (tbd): cumulative, including labs.

Block III
Assessment 1: In-class participation, 15%, ongoing weeks 1-7

Assessment 2: In-class lab, graded (rock determination and earthquake probability exercise), 10%, individual assignment, Week 3

Assessment 3: Field trip report (1000-1500 words), designated field trip date: 15 February, 15%, student pairs, Week 4

Assessment 4: Field trip report (1000-1500 words), designated field trip date: 8 March, 15%, student pairs, Week 7

Assessment 5: Final exam, 25%, individual assignment, Week 8

Assessment 6: Report (laboratory work, from weeks 4 and 6), 20%, group assignment, Week 8


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



Particular regarding the date of the field trip this schedule is subject to change by the instructor depending on weather conditions, or how the course advances.
Week 1 Course overview, Earth system, Earth’s four spheres, Cycling of matter
Week 2 Earth’s dynamic interior, mountain building, rock cycling, rock identification lab
Week 3 Landscape shaping (1): basics, concepts, hillslope and soil erosion, glacial cycling
Week 4 Mid-term exam, landscape shaping (2)
Week 5 Concepts of hydrological cycling (watersheds, river environments, floods)
Week 6 Particle-size lab, coastlines, deltas and global environmental change; field trip
Week 7 The Anthropocene, Gaia hypothesis (course wrap-up)
Week 8 Reading Week: Final exam