In the 21st century, earth and environment scientists are facing the societal challenge of providing information about the causes and characteristics of earth changes and its effects on the functioning of ecosystems on a human time scale: centuries, decades, or less. This challenge demands an excellent educational programme for students, to provide them with state-of-the-art skills, sound knowledge of system functioning, and an attitude that allows them to work in multi-disciplinary teams.
The focus of this programme is on the earth's 'Critical Zone' -including the atmospheric boundary layer- where flows of energy and matter determine the conditions for sustaining life. There is growing recognition within science and society of the complex dependencies and relationships existing within this zone. Major global themes like climate change, food security, the provision of water and biodiversity require input from graduates with strong disciplinary backgrounds who, at the same time, have the skills to work together with scientists from other disciplines. The programme embodies the vision that disciplinary elements can and should be brought together within one study programme, with opportunities for students to become strong in their discipline (the fundamental columns of soil, water & atmosphere) but also to provide them with opportunities to connect with other disciplines.
Students develop advanced skills in measurements, modelling and analysis, and pay due attention to methods for up- and downscaling and scenario analysis. They learn to think in ranges of temporal and spatial scales and are introduced to modern concepts such as spatial and temporal statistics, C and N cycling, and hydrological connectivity.
The programme not only focuses on the core disciplines of soil science, hydrology and meteorology but also on ecological aspects and, especially, integration. Using tools and concepts from physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology and geography, a quantitative understanding is built of the composition, structures and processes of the upper Earth's zone and its atmosphere. Given the profound impacts of contemporary human activities on the environment at multiple spatial and temporal scales, emphasis is especially paid to the influences of human activity on earth surface patterns and processes.
Students are able, following two common starter courses, to design their study based on their own preferences. They specialize by selecting a specialization, a thesis subject, its preparatory courses and several elective courses. In this way students can focus on: (a) Hydrology and Water Resources; (b) Meteorology and Air Quality; (c) Biology and Chemistry of Soil and Water; (d) Soil Geography and Earth Surface Dynamics. The second year is entirely dedicated to students' individual development. This involves a research thesis and an academic internship.
After successful completion of this MSc programme graduates are expected to be able to:
- investigate the physical, chemical and biological processes that characterize the earth system and its constituent spheres; - distinguish the flows of water and energy and the bio-geochemical cycles of matter through the pedosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere;
- integrate physical, chemical and biological processes into modelling concepts that enable assessment of real-world phenomena;
- forecast the further progress of earth surface and atmospheric processes, including the interferences of humankind, and its implications for sustainable use and management of the earth;
- interpret academic literature, recognise different ways of reasoning and demonstrate a critical and constructive attitude with regard to the analysis of complex problems in their field of specialisation;
- design a creative and innovative research plan to the solution of problems in their field of specialisation and execute state-of-the-art research in accordance with academic standards and ethics, while critically reflecting on the different phases of scientific research;
- integrate theory and acquired information from field observations, field and laboratory experiments, and/or modelling across different time and spatial scales within their field of specialization;
- communicate convincingly -both orally and in writing- the outcomes of their research with peers from their own and other specializations in the domain;
- fulfil a functional and effective role on the basis of their expertise to solve interdisciplinary issues in international teams; - show awareness of the need to keep up with relevant developments within their discipline and recognise, understand and apply new concepts as they emerge;
- design and plan own learning processes based on continuous reflection upon personal knowledge, skills, attitudes and performance.
Dr G.F. Epema
Ir. A.M. Leemans
Chair: Prof. dr. R.N.J. Comans
Secretary: M. Klaassen