ESA-20506 Introduction to Environmental Systems Analysis


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Group work18
Course coordinator(s)dr. ZJN Steinmann
Lecturer(s)prof. dr. R Leemans
dr. ZJN Steinmann
dr. ir. AJH van Vliet
dr. F Ludwig
dr. ir. N Hofstra
dr. JRM Alkemade
Examiner(s)dr. ZJN Steinmann

Language of instruction:


Assumed knowledge on:

This course is compulsory for BSc students in Environmental Sciences and optional for students from other BSc's and MSc's. We assume a general understanding of environmental problems and statistics as provided by the introductory courses for the BSc Environmental Sciences (BES). Students from other BSc's and MSc's, interested in following this course may need to improve their level. We recommend these students to first take the course MAQ-11306 Air Quality or the MSc course ESA-20806 Principles of Environmental Sciences, to update and extend their knowledge on basic concepts of air quality and environmental sciences, and MAT-15403 Statistics 2.

Continuation courses:

ESA-81303/81309 BSc Thesis Environmental Quality and Systems Analysis; ESA-22806 Environmental Systems Analysis: Methods & Applications (MSc); ESA-31306 Integrated Ecosystem Assessment in Regional Management (MSc); ESA-31806 Environmental Assessment for Pollution Management (MSc).


This course introduces students to environmental systems analysis. We focus on its analytical tools to assess climate change impacts and adaptation and apply these tools to a climate change impacts problem.

Environmental problems are usually not easily solved, because of their complex multidisciplinary nature and the many stakeholders involved. Analysing such complex problems requires an approach integrating multiple scientific disciplines (from natural as well as social sciences), several environmental compartments (terrestrial, aquatic and atmosphere; including biotic and abiotic aspects), various temporal and geographical scales, and different system perspectives (e.g. from a regional or a flow perspective).

One of those complex environmental problems is climate change. You have all heard of climate change and know already a bit about it. You have for instance learned about and calculated the anthropogenic greenhouse effect in the Air Quality course. But do you actually know the details of climate change consequences in different regions? And do you know which tools are used to study climate change, its impacts and solutions? In this course we will study climate change further and introduce and apply the tools used to assess climate change impacts and adaptation.

This course teaches an environmental systems approach, the so-called flexible step approach, for analysing complex environmental problems such as climate change. This approach provides a general framework to consider multiple aspects in exploring alternative solutions for complex environmental problems. Different analytical tools exist that can be used in environmental systems analysis. A number of these tools will be addressed, but the focus is on the tools conceptual model, regression model and scenario analysis that together can be used to assess climate change impacts and adaptation.

The flexible step approach and climate change impact and adaptation assessment will be taught in lectures, practiced in a practical and applied in an assignment. In the assignment you will study a selected climate change impact problem linked to the study fields of staff of the environmental systems analysis groups. These include for instance health, tourism, ecosystem services, biofuels and nutrients. Datasets will be provided and you will set up a conceptual model, develop a statistical regression model, apply scenario analysis, study adaptation options and communicate your results.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- explain basic characteristics of environmental systems analysis (ESA);
- explain the general procedure for environmental systems analysis (flexible step approach);
- explain basic causes, processes and impacts of climate change;
- assess climate change impacts and adaptation, by applying the three tools conceptual model, regression model and scenario analysis when given the required data. This implies that you can:
- discuss basic characteristics and purpose of the three tools;
- explain how the three tools contribute to the flexible step approach;
- use terminology used in the relevant fields;
- explain methodology of the three tools;
- conceptualise a climate change impact problem;
- execute a simple linear regression analysis;
- explain and execute scenario analysis, and;
- discuss opportunities and limitations of the three tools for ESA;
- discuss the value of the results for adaptation and mitigation policy making.


- attend lectures;
- active contribution to practical;
- project work in groups making a group video.


65% written exam (individual grade, closed book, open questions);
35% project work (group grade: group video).


Literature will become available in Brightspace.

Compulsory for: BESEnvironmental SciencesBSc2AF
Restricted Optional for: WUCLCBSc Minor Climate Change: Mitigation and Adaptation2AF