Due to the Corona virus it is unclear how the programmes will take place. For the latest news please check the course page in Blackboard/Brightspace.


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Field Methods for Environmental Sustainability




Admissions requirements

Required: Global Challenges: Sustainability
Recommended: Geographic Information Systems; Earth System Science; Environmental Science.

Students will have to complete assignments using a GIS. Nevertheless, assignments with a GIS component are designed as group assignments thus allowing students to participate with no or little skills in using GIS.


The course introduces students to different types of field methods and techniques used in environmental Earth sciences. The taught methods are widely applied in a variety of 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. Field work is an essential part of this course, so this course is organized around a compulsory field stay. Field work and labs give students the opportunity to make field observations, use field equipment, and record and evaluate environmental data.

The taught 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 and flood activity in a dynamic high-mountain environment in northern Alps (Kleinwalser Valley, Austria). The background to this is that climate change alters the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events and associated occurrences of catastrophic sediment and water transfers in alpine settings. This has implications for hazard risk assessment, especially with regard to assumptions and available data records that underlay current hazard management strategies for a variety of places in the Alps.

So students develop skills in field observation, field data collection, data analysis and a scientific presentation of findings. Moreover, students will gain experience in dealing with 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.


A compulsory 6-day field stay in the northern Alps is central to this course. Participating in this course, therefore, means

  • To participate in the 6-day field stay

  • That each student has to cover costs of transportation and beverages out of your own pocket

  • That students are responsible for organizing their trip to and back from the field site by themselves.

LUC probably will support the field stay by taking over costs for full-board accommodation (bed, breakfast, lunch package, dinner). We will be based in a university guest house in Riezlern (Kleinwalser Valley, Austria) providing full board, seminar and meeting rooms, WLAN (but very slow)). The acco place can be accessed by public transport, the next train station is Oberstdorf (Germany). Detailed information will be provided later.

The field stay starts at the end of Week 8 of Block 4 and covers Week 9. 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 appreciate linkages between abiotic Earth system processes with the broader subject of sustainability, To appreciate the role of abiotic Earth system processes to the broader subject of sustainability, hazard management and land planning


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

Course content combines in-class and hands-on field learning activities and thus will be mostly taught in the field or during after-dinner seminar sessions in the university guest house. These activities range from lecturing, reading-based discussions to practical exercises in retrieving relevant information, field data recording and data evaluation exercises. The course 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 during the block.

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.


  • In-class participation (individual), 10%, Weeks 1-10

  • Lab: Differential and profile levelling; short report (group work), 10%, Week 3

  • Annotated bibliography and report (>2000 w), 18%, Week 5

  • Oral presentation, 14%, Weeks 5-7

  • GIS lab (maps, files), 18%, Week 7

  • Three or more field labs (vegetation/land use and landform mapping; stream flow and sediment measurements; climatological measurements), 15%, Week 10

  • Synthesis report (integrating preparatory and field work), 15%, Week 11


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


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