The University of Southampton

ENVS2008 GIS for Environmental Scientists

Module Overview

What is the likely visual impact of a proposed wind turbine? How do humans impact on sensitive habitats? What is the ideal location for a new development? Understanding the spatial context in which environmental processes and decision making occurs improves the ability of scientists to answer important questions regarding the impacts and management of our natural environment. This module teaches you to use a Geographical Information System to visualise, explore and model environmental data in order to further understand these important questions. No prior knowledge of GIS is assumed or required; a series of guided practical computer labs will teach you the basics of accessing data, creating informative maps and exploring and modelling the spatial processes that shape our world. You will then put these skills into practice in an independent project.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aim of this module is for students to gain practical skills in accessing, manipulating and analysing spatial data using a GIS, and to present and interpret the results of these analyses effectively.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The need for both a multi-disciplinary and an interdisciplinary approach in advancing knowledge and understanding of Earth systems, drawing, as appropriate, from the natural and the social sciences
  • The processes which shape the natural world at different temporal and spatial scales and their influence on and by human activities
  • The terminology, nomenclature and classification systems used in environmental science
  • Methods of acquiring, interpreting and analysing environmental science information with a critical understanding of the appropriate contexts for their use
  • The contribution of environmental science to debate on environmental issues and how knowledge of these forms the basis for informed concern about the Earth and its people
  • The contribution of environmental science to the development of knowledge of the world we live in
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Receiving and responding to a variety of information sources (e.g. textual, numerical, verbal, graphical)
  • Communicating appropriately to a variety of audiences in written, verbal and graphical forms
  • Appreciating issues of sample selection, accuracy, precision and uncertainty during collection, recording and analysis of data in the field and laboratory
  • Preparing, processing, interpreting and presenting data, using appropriate qualitative and quantitative techniques and packages including geographic information systems
  • Solving numerical problems using computer and non-computer-based techniques
  • Using the internet critically as a means of communication and a source of information
  • Developing the skills necessary for self-managed and lifelong learning (e.g. working independently, time management and organisation skills)
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Planning, conducting, and reporting on environmental investigations, including the use of secondary data
  • Collecting, recording and analysing data using appropriate techniques in the field and laboratory
  • Referencing work in an appropriate manner
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Recognising and using subject-specific theories, paradigms, concepts and principles
  • Analysing, synthesising and summarising information critically, including prior research
  • Applying knowledge and understanding to complex and multidimensional problems in familiar and unfamiliar contexts


The course consists of a series of lectures covering the theory, development and applications of GIS, alongside a series of practical sessions introducing a commercial GIS and its various functionalities relevant to the environmental sciences. Lecture topics will include an introduction to GIS, an overview of different data types and sources, projections and geoprocessing techniques. Practical sessions will cover proximity analysis, overlay analysis, data conversion, data projection and multicriteria site selection.

Special Features

Special needs will be catered for as required. For students with specials needs, an individual assessment with be made and appropriate arrangements made to ensure they are enabled to benefit from the exercise or an equivalent experience.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be delivered as a series of traditional lectures, accompanied with computer based practical sessions to enable students to engage with GIS software. Students will attend a field-trip to learn how to collect spatial data in the field.

Wider reading or practice50
Practical classes and workshops33
Preparation for scheduled sessions22
Completion of assessment task30
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Heywood, I., Cornelius, S. and Carver, S., (2011). An Introduction to Geographical Information Systems. 

Longley, P. A., Goodchild, M. F., Maguire, D. J. y Rhind, D. W., (2011). Geographic information systems and science. 


Assessment Strategy

Consultancy exercise - Students will submit a poster, along with a written document outlining the technical details of their analyses, and a geo database containing the data used in their analyses.


MethodPercentage contribution
Exercise 60%
Portfolio 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Exercise 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Travel Costs for placements

You will need to provide and wear your own suitable clothing when attending field courses, e.g. waterproofs, walking boots. You can purchase these from any source and costs will vary depending on your preference. You will be expected to purchase your own lunch and any additional refreshments. (clothing)

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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