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Summer Field School 2019: Field Methods in Environmental Sustainability




Admissions requirements

(A) External students: tbd (B) LUC students: Global Challenges - Sustainability; highly recommended: Earth System Science or other 100 level course of the EES major;
Note, course contents and field labs are designed to allow students to integratively participate without previous knowledge in environmental sciences.


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 hydrology, ecology, geomorphology, pedology, and land planning. This kind of information is further on used international development, agricultural sciences, natural resource management, and engineering.

At the content level, the taught field methods will be employed to develop an understanding of the interdependencies of subsurface (geology, soils, groundwater) and surface systems (vegetation, land use, 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 and hazard management. 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.

Thus, the course addresses one of the most pressing issues in environmental sciences by connecting climate change and questions of sustainable land uses and hazard prevention.

In practice the course (= 'LUC Summer Field School') is an intense 6-7 day course focusing on practical exercises in recording 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.

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.

  • Students develop skills in field observation, field data collection, data analysis and the scientific presentation of their findings.

  • Moreover, students will gain experience in dealing with methodological issues of measuring, processing, interpreting and representing spatially-distributed environmental information.

  • The written synthesis of findings will draw on a range of different fields of environmental sciences and thus train students in systems thinking, spatial complexity, and resulting implications for developing landscape management options.

Depending on the state of their previous knowledge or interest in working with a Geographical Information System,

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

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

By the completion of the LUC Summer Field School

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

  • Students can conduct stream hydrologic measurements using surveying equipment in order to measure stream gradient, river bed geometry, flow velocity, sediment transport, and then use these data for understanding stream development, mechanics, flow and habitat change

  • 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 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.

  • Students adopt practical problem-solving skills not accessible in classic classroom situations.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Tentative teaching times: (A) See 'Remarks' published with e-prospectus. (B) Two class meetings in block 4, plus two introductory, whole-day classes in block 4. (B) 6-7 day field stay in the Kleinwalser Valley (Austria) at the beginning of the summer break.

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 15% of the final grade

  • One field preparation lab (10%, individual): Depending on a student's previous knowledge, a lab to collect, evaluate and visualize environmental data or familiarize with the study area will be assigned. Topics may refer to practical leveling skills, topographical map evaluation, determining key parameters of catchment hydrology, calculating flood frequencies, and/or a GIS project lab (mapping of lithology, drainage network, vegetation and land use zones, landforms);

  • Four field labs worth 10% each, e.g., in mapping (vegetation, land use, landforms, erosion), microclimatology (measurements and data presentation), stream flow and mapping (measurements, mapping), all of which conducted as group work in the field.

  • Final report (35%, group work) to be compiled from reviewing and integrating course works and field-derived data records (field labs). This lab will be due in the week after the field stay.

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 and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact
The course may also be open for external students following a related Earth Sciences, Environmental Science or Sustainability undergraduate study program, or students of the Leiden Honours Programme;



Please note, going to the Alps to work in the field has some (attractive) implications!

  1. Can I sign up as a first year student? As a student from a different major?
    Yes. Send a note to the instructor ( if you are interested in course contents so existing options can be discussed. The course scope, purposely, embraces interdisciplinary contents thus offering a range of opportunities for students majoring in fields of social sciences or, perhaps, even the humanities.

  2. Teaching times - When we actually meet
    2.1. One class meeting during the regular teaching timeslots in week 1 (Tue), one in week 5 (Thu), and one in week 8 (Tue).
    2.2. Two whole-day classes (from 8am to 5pm) at the end of week 5 (11 May 2019 (Sat), 12 May 2019 (Sun); Wijnhaven).
    2.3. A 7 day field-stay in the Kleinwalser Valley in northern Austria (at the border to Bavaria/Germany). We meet there on 13 June 2019 at 10am. Course teaching starts at 11am. The departure day is 19 June 2019 (between 08:00 and 09:00 in the morning).

  3. Accommodation in the Kleinwalser Valley (Riezlern, Austria)
    The place of the Summer Field School 2019 is the Kleinwalser Valley in northern Austria. We will be based at the seminar and guest house of Goethe-University (Frankfurt, Germany) in Riezlern.

The acco provides breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a number of useful facilities such as seminar rooms, WLAN, lounges, a garden to hang out or work, … and a basement bar two levels below the bedrooms.

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 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 had questions about this.

In the field, some exercises may be guided by LUC student assistants.

  1. Travel to the field site
    Organizing any travel arrangements to and back from the field venue in Riezlern (Austria) is the students' responsibility.

Travel advice:
The most comfortable way for a group to get to the Kleinwalser Valley when starting in The Hague is train transport. That would mean to start around 6pm in The Hague (Centraal) and reach Oberstdorf ("Oberstdorf" Hbf") at about half past nine on the next morning. From there, frequent bus service to the Kleinwalser Valley is offered (another 20min, ca. 11 € for a return ticket).
It was advisable for student to buy a train ticket once registration has been confirmed by Course Administration. Ticket prices will increase week by week - but the field-stay dates are fixed. The retail of tickets by "Deutsche Bahn" (; destination is "Oberstdorf (Hbf)") for June has started on 15 December 2018. The fares for a return ticket will be around 80 - 120 Euros for early bookers but mount to figures of about 200 Euros when booked in March or later. You can also ask for (student) group discount, perhaps, check this at the NS counter at the nearby centraal station. NS will also sell the tickets, the prices usually are the very same.
The guest house offers free car parking.

  1. Costs
    5.1. LUC is dedicated to financially support costs for student accommodation and other costly services (e.g., cable car rides) in the range of the above outlined student travel costs. Nevertheless, we have to ask for a tuition fee which accounts for attributable food expenses; like in previous years. The tuition fee for each student will be between 90 and 110 €. The payment will be due at the beginning of block 4.

5.2. Costs for any travel arrangements for getting to the Kleinwalser Valley (and back home) have to be covered by student participants themselves.
5.3. Further individual costs will emerge from the consumption of beverages at the acco site (which are not included in the full-board services; water from the tap is free), the food and beverages you may enjoy at alpine farmers' huts during your field-work breaks.