Seminar on "Earth system science for sustainability studies"

Postgraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content


Earth system science goes beyond traditional climate research by including also biogeochemical cycles in climate studies and thus providing key links to sustainable development, e.g. in terms of energy and food production. Students will be made familiar with the interplay between biogeochemical, physical, and human-induced processes in the Earth system under human perturbations of matter and energy fluxes. The course should enable the students to embed their research into grand societal challenges and contribute to tackling these.


Each semester a focused topic will be chosen (such as the obtainability of the 1.5 deg target for global warming). Each student will summarise one key publication in a presentation. All students will discuss with the presenter afterwards and give him/her feedback.

In general, the scope of the seminar includes:

- clarification of the terms sustainability and sustainable development and its goals
- perturbation of global elemental cycles (C, N, P, Si, O) through human interaction on land and in the ocean and their relation to sustainable development (ecosystem health, demographic evolution, and food production)
- multiple climate mitigation targets including impact-thresholds on ecosystems (land and ocean)
- overview on Earth system models including biogeochemical interactions and the simulated Earth system feedbacks (including methods for evaluations with help of observations, such as emergent constraints)
- introduction to integrated assessment modelling
- biogeochemical cycles and circular economies
- links between pollution and climate change
- the role of stakeholder engagement in solving global change issues.
- examples for transdisciplinary researc
- biodiversity changes under climate and environmental forcing
- interactive land-use change modelling
- biofuel, carbon capture, and storage
- critical appraisal of geo-engineering attempts
- ocean protected zones
- greenhous gases, energy production, and urban planning
- grand challenges of societal transformation towards sustainability
- solution pathways

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the course the student should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:



The student
- has an in-depth insight into at least one of the grand challenges for society and some tools to help tackling it
- has an overview about the various branches of global change research
- has obtained advanced knowledge about global biogeochemical elemental cycles and their anthropogenic perturbations



The student
- is able to participate in interdisciplinary discussions on sustainability/societal transformations
- is able to adjust her/his master thesis work towards a contribution to solving grand challenges of societal relevance
- is able to participate in cross- and transdisciplinary research projects
- is able reading and understanding cross-disciplinary scientific texts within sustainability science


General competence

The student
- gathers experience in presenting new findings to others in an understandable form
- understands, critically evaluates, and summarises an interdisciplinary paper from the peer-reviewed literature
- can evaluate scientific papers with respect to ethical, scientific, and technical aspects



Level of Study


Semester of Instruction

Autumn. Runs only if enough students enrol.
Enrolment to this course is based on application. Application deadline is Thursday in week 33 for the autumn semester.
Please, see this page for more information:

Place of Instruction

Required Previous Knowledge
Master student at the Master`s Programme in Meteorology and Oceanography or equivalent programmes.
Access to the Course
Access to the course requires admission to a master`s programme at The Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences.
Teaching and learning methods
Seminar (introduction of topics by teachers, students prepare presentations, 2 hours per week).
Compulsory Assignments and Attendance

Attending the teaching activities. Preparation and presentation summarising one key publication to the course participants.

Valid only in the semester it is approved.

Forms of Assessment
Participation in lectures and discussions. Preparation and presentation of a publication where the presentation material has to be submitted.
Grading Scale
Pass/ fail
Assessment Semester
Examination only in semesters when the course is taught.
Reading List
The reading list will be available within June 1st for the autumn semester and January 1st for the spring semester.
Course Evaluation
The course will be evaluated by the students in accordance with the quality assurance system at UiB and the department.
Examination Support Material
Programme Committee
The Programme Committee is responsible for the content, structure and quality of the study programme and courses.