How to deal with global environmental change resulting from human activity is one of the most hotly debated topics of our time. This debate includes multiple scientific, societal, and economic issues. Our planet Earth has always been dynamic from a climatic and environmental viewpoint. So to fully understand the global environmental change debate, it is crucial to understand the fundamental set of mechanisms that drive planet Earth’s natural dynamics.

In the track Earth and Environment, you will learn about these Earth system processes and the anthropogenic forces affecting the Earth system with a specific focus on biodiversity, climate and natural resources. Based on this fundamental knowledge it is possible to assess which processes are currently altered through human activity, and how these alterations affect the dynamic trajectory of our planet.

The track Earth and Environment provides students with fundamental knowledge on Earth system processes. Depending on the student’s profile, this knowledge can be applied across fields in the sciences (Biology, Chemistry and Physics) and the social sciences (Anthropology, Economics, Geography and Political Science). The track has furthermore defined specific links with courses in Sustainability and Physics, as outlined in the following.


The track Earth and Environment naturally complements the set of interdepartmental Sustainability courses. The knowledge gained on fundamental Earth System processes in the Earth and Environment track provides students with an in-depth understanding of the causes and consequences of socio-economic development on the Earth system and natural resources. This knowledge allows students to provide a natural science perspective on the multi-dimensional issues that are considered in the context of sustainable development.

Relevant sustainability courses are:

  • Energy systems & Sustainability (UCSCIPHY01)
  • INT-Sustainability (UCINTSUS21)
  • INT-Sustainability (UCINTSUS31)


The Earth and Environment track course Atmosphere & Climate (UCSCIEAR22) provides students with in-depth knowledge of atmospheric physics in the context of climate change. In addition to being interesting and relevant for students following the Earth and Environment track, this course also provides students from the Physics track with the opportunity to apply their knowledge on fundamental physics and algebra in the context of a societal relevant issue.    

The typical route through the Earth and Environment track requires taking a level 1, 2 and 3 course, followed by the thesis. The level 2 courses are disciplinary, so students can tailor the track to their specific interest(s) and study path. Many topics discussed within these courses touch upon sustainability issues, and the track as a whole is therefore closely related to Sustainability Science, which integrates the beta and gamma sciences. The track also provides opportunities to follow lab courses to acquire relevant research skills.

Students interested in learning more about sustainability can combine the track with the interdepartmental level-2 course Sustainability (UCINTSUS21), which can also be combined with the preparatory course Energy Systems and Sustainability. Students who have followed this course can also enrol within the Earth & Environment track (at level 2). Students specifically interested in sustainability science may want to consider the course offerings within the UU Bachelor’s programme Global Sustainability Science.

For the more beta-oriented students, the track also offers the level-2 course Atmosphere and Climate (UCSCIEAR22), which has the entry requirement of successful completion of a level-1 math or physics course involving calculus.

Off-campus courses provide additional opportunities to learn about more specialised topics. Examples of more beta-oriented courses are Geochemical cycles (Geo2-1207), Global Climate Change (Geo2-2143) and Land degradation (Geo3-4304). More gamma-oriented students may be interested in courses such as Environmental Impact Assessment (Geo2-2123).

Depending on the choice of level 2 courses and the topic of the thesis, the Earth and Environment track prepares students for Master’s programmes in the fields of Environmental Science, Earth Science, Geology, and Climate Science, for example:

  • Master in Sustainable Development (UU)
  • Earth Structure and Dynamics; Earth Surface and Water & Earth; Life and Climate (all at UU)
  • Industrial Ecology (TU Delft)
  • Sustainable Energy Technology (TU Delft)
  • Environment & Resource Management (VU Amsterdam)
Level Code Course Recommended Courses Off-campus
1 SCIEAR11 Introduction to Earth and Environment SCIPHY01: Energy Systems and Sustainability  
2 SCIEAR21 Global Processes and Sustainability INTSUS21: Sustainability  
SCIEAR22 Atmosphere and Climate
3 SCIEAR31 Resources and their Sustainable Management