Landscape Dynamics in an era of change

March 15, 2023

The course “Landscape Dynamics in an era of change: Learning from the past to face the future” took place in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa between 5 and 15 March 2023. The course was run by the Graduate School for Production Ecology and Resource Conservation (PERC) and participants were drawn from universities in the Netherlands and South Africa. The main goal of the course was to investigate the past and current dynamics of the region and predict possible futures in an inter- / trans-disciplinary context. Consequently the content of the course was incredibly diverse including: geology, geomorphology, palaeoecology, cultural history, vegetation studies, soil science, farming systems and forestry. These topics were integrated into four group projects centered on invasive species, rewilding, commercial farming and small scale farming.

MSc track Environmental Management

February 27, 2023

The “Environmental Management” track of the University of Amsterdam MSc Earth Sciences program is the more applied sister to the Earth System Science track. The Environmental Science track is focused on the solutions to societal challenges that can be gained from the Earth sciences. Drawing on linkages with social sciences you will gain a broad interdisciplinary training covering topics including: urban-ecological development, human-wildlife conflicts, and the climate crisis. During the degree you will work with researcher within the interdisciplinary Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED), carry out an independent research project, and an internship at a societal facing organisation.

  • Energy and Climate Change: Investigate the relationship between climate change and energy systems, and confront the challenges of creating a decarbonised world.
  • GIS and Remote Sensing in Ecosystem Dynamics: Learn how to use large remotely sensed datasets to gain insights into geological, geomorphological and soil systems.
  • Integrated Coastal Dune Management: Explore the concept of “Resilience Thinking” in tacking the complex management task of protecting the Dutch coastline and its ecosystems.
  • Metropol Ecology: Focused on the part of the Earth system where people are, investigate biodiversity and ecosystems in urban systems and mega cities.
  • Science Based Geo-ecological Management: How can science guide environmental management, address key challenges of supporting society, includes field visit to Oostvardersplassen.
  • System Innovation and Transition Management: Climate, energy and agricultural systems are all changing discover how understanding their dynamics is important for governance and sustainability.
  • Click here for further details and a full list of courses.
Environmental management of high Andean ecosystems. During the field school in Peru MSc Earth Science students work with locals and NGOs to improve practices (click here to find out more)

The Environmental Management track can be taken in conjunction with the “Science for Sustainability” minor offered by the Faculty of Science, or other free elective courses to broaden your program.

During the course you will do an internship to get direct experience of working outside academia. Organisations hosting internships in recent years have included:

MSc track Earth System Science

February 17, 2023

At the University of Amsterdam the MSc Earth Science is split into two tracks, one of these is entitled: “Earth System Science”. Earth System Science is a research intensive track focused on understanding the fundamentals of abiotic and biotic interactions across the globe and through time. During this degree you will spend around 6 months studying to pick up specialist knowledge and skills, and around 18 months actively developing yourself – in your key areas of interest – through project work.

The taught part of the Earth System Science track includes courses such as:

  • The Earth System: Learn how to analyse Earth system function across space and through time.
  • Analysis & Modelling Lab: Develop skills in data handeling, analysis and modeling relevant to Earth science.
  • Biogeochemical Cycles in the Earth System: Study how the dynamics of carbon and nitrogen link to societal challenges.
  • Climate Change: Explore the scientific basis for climate change an its implications for the environment and society.
  • Environments Through Time: Consider and analyse environmental change on timescale relevant to landscapes, societies and climates.
  • GIS and Remote Sensing in Ecosystem Dynamics: Learn how to use large remotely sensed datasets to gain insights into geological, geomorphological and soil systems.
  • Click here for further details and a full list of courses.
Clare Lee (on one leg, left) during field course in Peru successfully published her literature review which she conducted as part of her MSc in Earth Sciences at the University of Amsterdam.

In addition, free elective courses are possible from across the University of Amsterdam, or at other approved organizations or universities, i.e. it is possible to pick up skills in other specialisms (for example in languages, AI, or programming), or study a course at a university abroad, and have this included within your University of Amsterdam MSc Earth Science degree.

The project part of the Earth System Science track includes two research projects, or one research project and one internship with an external organization (such as a company or NGO). MSc research projects are often closely linked to active research within the Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics. Some projects and literature reviews conducted by our MSc researchers reach a high enough level to be published in international scientific journals, either on there own or as part of a wider collaboration. Examples of recent papers including MSc researchers (highlighted in bold) are:

  • Lee, C.M., van Geel, B. & Gosling, W.D. (2022) On the use of spores of coprophilous fungi preserved in sediments to indicate past herbivore presence. Quaternary 5, 30. DOI: 10.3390/quat5030030
  • de Nijs, E.A. & Cammeraat, E.L. (2020) The stability and fate of Soil Organic Carbon during the transport phase of soil erosion. Earth-Science Reviews 201, 103067. DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2019.103067

New Look MSc Earth Sciences (University of Amsterdam)

February 8, 2023

The MSc Earth Sciences at the University of Amsterdam has a new look for the start of the next academic year (starting September 2023). Drawing on the international research expertise of our staff it is now possible to tailor your studies within two complementary tracks:

  • Earth System Science: Focused on fundamental aspects of Earth science, such as biogeochemical cycles, climate dynamics, and past environmental change. Our education follows our research in exploring how abiotic and biotic elements of the Earths system interact through time and across the globe.
  • Environmental Management: Focused on the interface between Earth science and society, key topics include: management of coastal systems, ecosystem dynamics in urban environments, and the relationship between science policy and ethics. During your internship you will have the opportunity to engage with societal partners to develop skills and projects.
Judith Kirschner completed a MSc Earth Science project on past fire activity, and now is a PhD researcher in fire dynamics at the European University of Cyprus.
Mo Adam examining sediments in the high Andes during the MSc Earth Science Geo-ecosystem Dynamics field course in Peru (2022).

For both tracks education is delivered through lectures, field courses, laboratory practical’s, and data analysis. Furthermore, you will get the chance to develop your own research agenda by conducting a project with one of our scientists, or at an external partner or university. In addition to expert knowledge our graduates have transferable skills in data handeling, numerical analysis, and science communication.

To find out more about our program visit click here to visit the MSc Earth Sciences pages on the University of Amsterdam web site.

Palaeoecology course 2022 goes archaeology…

September 16, 2022

As part of this years BSc Palaeoecology course at the University of Amsterdam we visited the Department of Archaeology. Organised by Anja Fischer we visited the human bone collection, the animal bone collection and the archaeobotany section. Amazing collections and lots of opportunities for cross faculty projects and teaching.

In addition to explaining the physical reference collections Anja also explained how she has been developing data mining techniques to allow information to be synthesised from the thousands of archaeological reports across the Netherlands.

She used this approach to make new discoveries about the role of urban farming and ruralisation in Dutch history. Her findings formed a report for the Dutch national heritage organisation (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed) which can be downloaded for free (in English).

Fischer, A., van Londen, H., Blonk, A., Visser, R.M. & Renes, J. (2021) Urban Farming and Ruralisation in The Netherlands (1250-1850): Unravelling farming practice and the use of (open) space by synthesising archaeological reports using text mining. Nederlandse Archeologische Rapporten 68. Download free here.

Palaeoecology course UvA 2022

September 15, 2022

The University of Amsterdam (UvA) palaeoecology course is underway. The course is part of the BSc Biology program and the “Earth & Ecology” minor of the BSc Future Planet Studies.

Week 1 (last week) we got everyone up to speed with the fundamentals of palaeoecology (including: key principles, depositional environments, dating methods) and laboratory skills (pollen, phytolith and macrofossil identification). This week (week 2) we are out and about (coring sediments, surveying vegetation and visiting the archaeology department). By the end of the week the students will (should!?) have generated sufficient data in the laboratory and field to be able to identify the location from which their mini-project “mystery slides” were taken. Next week (week 3) will be number crunching to generate the statistical support for their ideas and inferences.

Students collecting sediments using a Russian corer at Langenboom (September, 2022). These samples were recovered in collaboration with the BosGroep Zuid Nederland as part of an ongoing project to gain new insights into the nature of the past landscape in the Netherlands and aid conservation efforts.

Scientific Archaeology 2021

November 13, 2021

The Science in Archaeology 2 course, run as part of the minor in “Archaeology Today” by the Amsterdam Centre for Ancient Studies and Archaeology (ACASA), is currently underway. This year I have again contributed to this course with a weeks worth of activity related to detecting past human impacts. During this week we have focused on what sorts of evidence contained within the sedimentary record can be used to track human actions. We focused in particular on the manipulation of fire regimes and the the abundance of animals in landscapes (i.e. extinctions vs. introductions of domestic species). To illustrate how past human activities can be detected in landscapes I tapped into some recent publications I have been involved with (eastern Andean flank, Samoa and Mauritius) and the students selected papers in line with their own focus to discuss. Here is what they came up with…

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Scientific Archaeology 2020

November 20, 2020

This year my contribution to the Science in Archaeology course (VU Amsterdam) was done online due to the COVID-19 restrictions. The course comprised live online lectures, pre-recorded video clips and case study discussions. The focus was how to detect past human impacts on the landscape and we explored many proxies including: charcoal, diatoms, egg shells, non-pollen palynomorphs, phytoliths, and pollen. In the final session of the humans impacts section of the course each student presented a case study paper that they had chosen. Here is what they chose:

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Scientific Methods in Archaeology

November 21, 2018

VU AmsterdamOver the last two weeks I have been giving my lectures at the VU Amsterdam “Scientific Methods in Archaeology” bachelor program. In my lectures we think about how to detect past environmental change with particular reference to tracking past human activities. As part of our exploration of past human-environment-climate interactions each student is asked to choose a scientific article, summerise it, and we then discuss it in class. The three papers sected this year covered the Neolithic of the Netherlands (Weijdema et al., 2011), a overview of Mediterranean and north African cultural adaptations to drough events during the Holocene (Mercuri et al., 2011), and an exploration of the role of humans in mega-faunal extinctions in South America (Villavicencio et al., 2015). All papers provided interesting points of discussion and an opportunity to think about different aspects of how we investigate past environmental and societal change.

Read the full student summaries below.

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Environments Through Time paper presentations

November 6, 2018

The 2018 edition of the University of Amsterdam masters course “Environments Through Time” is now up and running. The course sits at the interface between ecology, physical geography and archaeology and seeks to provide students with a better understanding of how long-term (>100’s years) datasets can provide insights in to past environmental change.

In the first week of the course the students had to present their ‘favourite’ paper in just three (3) minutes! Quite a challenge and lots of fun. This years selection of papers themed around:

  • mega-fauna extinctions (Bakker et al., 2016; Gill et al., 2009; van der Kaars et al., 2017),
  • impacts of human land use practices (Bitusik et al., 2018; Carson et al., 2014; Chepstow-Lusty et al., 2009; Gauthier et al., 2010; Tisdall et al., 2018), and
  • climatic drivers of vegetation change (Haug et al., 2001; Tierney et al., 2017; Tudhope et al., 2001).

For full list of papers presented see below.

In the second and third weeks (now ongoing) students get to deconstruct published chronologies and conduct time series analsis of multi-proxy datasets. Data for these excercises is frequently is extracted from databases such as Neotoma, Pangea, NOAA – paleoclimatology datasets database and the Global Charcoal Database – which shows the importance of these open access databases for developing effective research led eductation, as well as pushing forward to frontiers of research.

Environments Through Time is taught in English, delivered by myself (William Gosling), Crystal McMichael and Milan Tunissen van Manen and currently has 31 registered students from MSc Biological Sciences and MSc Earth Sciences degrees.

Full list of papers presented by students on the Environments Through Time course in 2018 Continue Reading

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