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



While this course has one or two meetings during Block 4, the bulk of it will take place after Block 4 has ended, sometime during the first weeks of summer (see below). Therefore, it is possible to enroll in a course which overlaps with the Field Methods class on the timetable (i.e. classes offered in T5 or T6, please check timetables elsewhere on the e-Prospectus).



Admissions requirements

(A) LUC students: Global Challenges - Sustainability;
Earth System Science; or other suitable courses taken from the field of environmental sciences; (B) External students, students of the Leiden Honours Programme: Please send a brief request to the course instructor if strongly interested but without having taken perhaps relevant courses. (C) Note, course contents and field labs are designed to allow LUC students to integratively participate without deepened training 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, ecosystem habitats) 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 (e.g., factoring in the legacies of landscape evolution back to the ice age), and options for developing sustainable land use strategies and hazard management.

The scope of the course includes accounting for future climates as climate change demonstrably already has been altering the boundary conditions for essential ecosystem service functions and risks. This challenges, among others, 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, questions of sustainable land uses, and hazard prevention.

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.


A link to the e-prospectus timetables will be inserted by the Education Coordinator.
Nevertheless, tentative teaching times: (A) Depending on detailed course planning, one or two introductory, possibly whole-day classes may be scheduled to catch up with basic background knowledge needed in the field. (B) The field stay abroad will be in the early weeks of the summer break. Dates and the choice of a place will depend on group accommodation availability. Yet, the 2020 field stay in N Austria probably starts on June 14 (until June 20). Note, for the time being this is preliminary information.

Mode of instruction

Course content combines in-class and hands-on field learning activities but will focus on the latter. That is, the course is build around an intense 6-8 day long field stay focusing on field exercises in recording environmental key parameters, 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.
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.
In the field, exercises may be guided by LUC student assistants.


Individual participation, 18%

One field preparation lab (17%): 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);

Three field labs on data evaluation and presentation 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.

Final report (35%, group work) to be compiled from reviewing and integrating own course works (i.e., field-derived data records, field labs). The report will be due only a week or so after the field stay (tbd).
Note, students will 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 course.administration@luc.leidenuniv.nl.




Please note, participating in a field course taking place off-campus and in a high-mountain environment has some (though attractive) implications.

Accommodation, travel
The place of the field stay may be the Kleinwalser Valley in the Austrian Alps. Student accommodation is a self-catering hut. This means

Each student has to cover costs of transportation, food and beverages out of the own pocket

Any travel arrangements to and back from the field venue is the students' responsibility only

Students have to cater for themselves during the field stay (groceries, cooking, etc.).

Mountain environment
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.

Basically, LUC is dedicated to financially support costs for student accommodation and other costly services (e.g., cable car rides, field gear transport, teaching assistants) falling in the same range as reasonable student travel and acco costs. Nevertheless, additional costs will emerge:

Tuition fee: It still may be necessary to ask for a tuition fee (between 50 and perhaps 100€) which accounts for other attributable expenses; like in previous years.

Travel costs: Costs for any travel arrangements for getting to the Kleinwalser Valley (and back home) have to be covered by student participants themselves.

Further individual costs will emerge from the consumption of food, beverages, and what students may enjoy at alpine farmers' huts during field-work breaks.