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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 (GIS) 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.

Aims and Objectives

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
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
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


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 accessing, manipulating and displaying data of different types; collecting your own data; basic spatial analyses such as buffer and overlay analysis; an introduction to terrain analysis; cartographic techniques; and problem solving.

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.

Preparation for scheduled sessions22
Completion of assessment task30
Wider reading or practice50
Practical classes and workshops24
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., (2015). Geographic informationsystems and science. 


Assessment Strategy

Consultancy exercise - Students will submit an online map illustrating an environmental topic of their choice. This will be supported by a reflective commentary on the analysis and design process. Exam - students will be examined on all aspects of the course covered in lectures and practical sessions in a short answer exam.


MethodPercentage contribution
Consultancy Report 60%
Examination 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Portfolio 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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