Undergraduate study - 2025 entry
Edinburgh: Extraordinary futures await.

MEarthSci Earth Science and Physical Geography

UCAS code: FF6V

Duration: 5 years

Delivery: Full-time

School: GeoSciences

College: Science and Engineering

Study abroad

Introducing MEarthSci Earth Science and Physical Geography

If you want to help tackle the greatest challenges facing society and the natural world, this degree is for you.

The world needs geographers and Earth scientists now more than ever before.

For example, we need them to:

  • help us address the climate crisis
  • adapt to environmental changes
  • live more safely and sustainably on our dynamic Earth

Our degree will help you play a valuable role in addressing global challenges facing our planet and society.

What will I learn?

Our (MEarthSci) Earth Science and Physical Geography allows you to combine your understanding of both physical geography and Earth processes to address global challenges.

It balances data science, programming, and computing skills with traditional field and laboratory skills, along with a knowledge of geography and Earth science.

You will learn about:

  • the structure and composition of the Earth
  • the deep-Earth processes that shape the Earth's surface and impact the landscape
  • the associated hazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and landslides

We will build on this knowledge to explore how oceans, rivers, glaciers, and human impact define the modern and ancient landscape. We will also explore how these processes, impact society.

This understanding is important for leading research on global change and many of the world's physical environmental challenges.

We have a hands-on approach to learning, so you can develop valuable practical skills. Many of your activities are similar to what professionals do in the real world. We will also teach you computational analysis and quantitative skills.

You will learn from leading national and international geographers and Earth scientists across a range of fields. We help make sure your degree has real-world relevance and makes you highly employable.

Our links also give you valuable networking and potential employment opportunities. You will be able to meet and interact with professionals from different sectors throughout your studies. You will also have the opportunity to work with practitioners and industry experts to gain valuable experience.

This degree offers you flexibility in your studies of a wide range of interests across geography and the Earth sciences. You will be able to build your degree around topics you are curious or passionate about.

For example, you may enjoy:

  • studying the Earth sciences but want greater flexibility in your honours years, or
  • studying physical geography, but also want a deeper understanding of how the Earth works

An extraordinary reputation

We are one of the largest and most successful groupings of geographers, Earth and environmental scientists in the UK. Many of us are world experts in our field.

  • We have pioneered research proving human-caused greenhouse gasses are warming our planet, which helped underpin the 2015 Paris Agreement.
  • We are working with major space agencies to monitor the environment using satellite data.
  • We are 22nd in the world in the QS World University Rankings 2024.
  • We are ranked in the world's top 50 universities for natural sciences subjects, and 4th in the UK. Across Earth and marine sciences, environmental sciences, geology, geography and geophysics, we are ranked top 10 in the UK (QS World University Rankings by Subject 2024).

Our staff will include the latest research in your teaching, and share our discoveries with you.

Video: Earth sciences and environment

Life-changing field trips

Field trips are at the heart of this programme.

We know that getting out in the world is essential for understanding how it works.

We will take you beyond the classroom so that you can apply your learning to real-life situations.

For example, you could be:

  • photographing rugged coastlines and cliffs with airborne drones
  • visiting worksites to meet Earth science professionals and find out what they do
  • hunting for fossils and chatting with your professor about their work on the latest Jurassic World film
  • surrounded by Scotland’s glorious mountains, gathering evidence to unravel its unique geological history
  • exploring the impact of climate, tectonics and sea-level change on the landscape of Spain

What do you do on a field trip?

Our field courses and day excursions are hard work and fun. Often, they will provide some of your most memorable moments.

Our hands-on approach to learning helps build your confidence and practical experience. It also gives you field skills valued by employers.

For example:

  • drawing 3D geological maps
  • documenting and analysing the types of rocks within an outcrop

  • learning to read and map a landscape, to understand the geological and geomorphological history

  • measuring glacier and river erosion and deposition

We work with a wide network of geographers and Earth science professionals in different sectors. We will arrange meetings with them at their work sites during our trips.

Our trips also help you to experience working with different types of field equipment, which will help you develop practical skills. We have a range of tools and high-tech equipment to take field measurements.

A dynamic learning experience

Your training will culminate in the opportunity to conduct your own independent research project. An experienced academic will supervise and support you through your work.

Field experiences will help create a sense of community within your cohort. You will engage in a dynamic learning experience through peer learning where knowledge, ideas, and discoveries thrive.

We sometimes also combine students from other related degrees. Working on multidisciplinary problems prepares you for the real world, where collaborative solutions are important for solving local and global challenges.

The locations and experiences of each trip will vary. We want to give you a broad understanding of how the world works. Our goal is to reduce our carbon footprint while providing you with the best training opportunities.

Our compulsory field trips or field courses are free, including travel and accommodation. To make sure our degrees are accessible and inclusive, we offer alternative learning experiences where necessary.

You can also find our blog posts and videos about fieldwork experiences on the School of GeoSciences website.

School of GeoSciences website: field trips

Edinburgh is your ideal base

Edinburgh is ranked 2nd in the UK and 16th in the world in the QS Best Student Cities 2024. Our vibrant capital is a blend of history and modern city life.

Edinburgh is not only a fantastic city to live in, it is also the perfect location to study geography and the Earth sciences. Did you know that Edinburgh is the 'birthplace' of modern geology and Earth sciences?

An ancient volcano known as 'Arthur's Seat' forms part of a magnificent park in the middle of our city. And superb geological locations are right on our doorstep, providing you with world-class outdoor training grounds. Many of these sites are of scientific importance. For example, the world-famous "Hutton's Unconformity" at Siccar Point is just a short trip away.

We will help you make the most of our local surroundings throughout your studies.

Immerse yourself among rugged coastlines, misty mountains, forest glens and sparkling freshwater lochs.

What is it really like to study with us?

No one knows what it is like to study here better than the students themselves.

Our students are sharing their experiences - from studying to living in Edinburgh and everything in between.

Get social with us:

The exciting nature of Earth science and geography means you will have a diverse learning experience during your years with us.

The way you learn will depend on the courses you take, and the nature of the topics explored.

Your programme begins with a broad grounding of topics across Earth science and the environment.

You will:

  • build on this foundation while exploring new and varied topics in the following years
  • develop independence and confidence as you progress through your studies

You can find details for compulsory and option courses through the 'Programme Structure' link below.


The information on this page is for our 5-year MEarthSci Earth Science and Physical Geography degree.

It follows the 4-year BSc Earth Science and Physical Geography degree until the end of Year 4. The degree then requires you to take an extra year of study. You will complete an additional independent research project in Year 5.

Study pathways

Most of the courses in your first and second years are shared with our range of Earth science and environment degrees.

This gives you the flexibility to switch between degrees as you discover the subjects you like best.

You will then specialise in the subjects of your choice in later years.

Explore our Earth science and environment degrees

Switching degrees

Our Earth Science and Environment degrees provide opportunities to switch between degrees in your early years. However, some later courses may not be available if you have not taken the necessary pre-requisite courses. You should discuss your interests with your Cohort Lead to ensure that these options are still available to you.

Option courses

One of the best things about a Scottish undergraduate degree is the amount of electives (called 'option courses') you can study. You have the opportunity to take a significant number of courses outside your degree in Years 1 and 2.

You can choose courses related to your degree. Or you can try something completely different and new to you.

Changes to teaching and learning

We are committed to offering high-quality education to all our students. However, please be advised that there may be changes to course options and delivery. All decisions are made to ensure we can provide the highest standards for your educational experience.

Although we endeavour to provide a wide range of optional courses to choose from, these can be subject to change or cancellation at short notice. Places on optional courses can be limited due to course capacity and timetabling constraints. It may not be possible to guarantee every offer holder their top choice of optional courses.

Data innovation

A key feature of our programme is a focus on developing your skills around the generation and analysis of scientific data, aided by a wide range of computational techniques. Demand is growing for these data skills across a range of employment sectors.

Along with your subject-specific skills, you will develop valuable transferable skills.

For example:

  • advanced computing and data skills
  • the ability to think in 3D and 4D
  • model building from limited datasets
  • the capability to integrate spatial and temporal information
  • understanding processes on a range of scales
  • extrapolating hypotheses based on small data sets
  • extracting key information from complex sets of observations
  • assessing large data sets and pattern recognition in complex data
  • dealing with complex systems and uncertainties

Changes to field trips

Field course locations may change for a variety of reasons, including the health and safety of our students, staff and communities, and to ensure we can maintain the highest standards for your educational experience. Where suitable, fieldwork will be relocated or rescheduled. We will also look at alternative arrangements that will ensure you achieve the quality learning outcomes of your degree. We will announce any changes as soon as possible.

Accessibility on field trips

We are committed to making our degree as accessible and inclusive as possible. In the event that you cannot attend all trips or only some of them, we will provide alternatives with comparable learning outcomes where necessary.

Year 1

Your programme begins with a broad grounding of topics across Earth science, geography and the environment.

Most of your compulsory subjects will be the same across our Earth sciences and environment degrees.

You will:

  • gain an understanding of the processes which shape the Earth
  • develop the skills to recognise the evidence for these processes in rocks
  • learn fundamental concepts and current ideas in physical geography
  • begin to establish fieldwork, computing and quantitative skills

Approximately half of your courses will be compulsory courses in Earth science and geography. The other half will be your chosen option courses.

Year 2

You will:

  • learn what the Earth is composed of, its minerals, and the processes that form rocks
  • learn about geomorphology and the physical processes that shape the Earth's surface at a range of scales
  • develop field skills including geological and geomorphological mapping

As in Year 1, you will have significant flexibility in your option course choices.

Year 3

Your coursework will become more focused on specialised aspects of your degree.

You can start integrating your knowledge in a range of areas. For example, you can integrate your knowledge of rock-forming processes with tectonics and sediment fluxes.

During this year, you will:

  • develop the foundation of your study direction for Year 4
  • begin research training by designing your dissertation research project

You will also join geography students on a field course. Your work will develop your field skills and provide experience in interdisciplinary learning.

In addition, you will gain expertise in specific topics through your course choices.

Year 4

You will develop expert knowledge in a field of your choice.

A significant focus will be on your honours dissertation project. This is an independent, original piece of research in your chosen specialist field.

Your project can be inspired by your area of interest, aided by our world-class facilities and top scientists. We will support you with individual supervision from an academic with experience in your chosen subject area.

Previous students have researched a wide range of topics, for example:

  • ice sheet change
  • water resources
  • geological solutions to carbon capture and storage
  • our geological and geomorphological heritage

They have also researched topics that address society’s resilience to increasing natural hazards as a result of global change, for example:

  • coastal erosion
  • sea-level rise
  • ocean acidification
  • landslides
  • volcanoes
  • earthquakes

Through fieldwork, you will apply the skills you have learned during your studies. You will work with practitioners, industry experts and researchers to gain experience in project planning, data collection and report writing.

You will also continue to study courses that further your knowledge in Earth science and physical geography.

We will also introduce you to our network of researchers and organisations that employ our graduates. Your real-world experience can be developed further by working on a range of projects relevant to society.

Year 5

You will become an independent professional capable of critical analysis and understanding of the Earth system at a high level.

The main focus will be on conducting your own advanced research project on a topic you choose with your supervisor, who will be an academic with experience in your chosen research area. You will be aided by our world-class facilities and top scientists.

Your advanced skills are also developed through independent and taught courses.

There is an emphasis on:

  • surface processes
  • the linked interactions around landscape formation and climate change

Programme structure

Find out more about the compulsory and optional courses in this degree programme.

To give you an idea of what you will study on this programme, we publish the latest available information. However, please note this may not be for your year of entry, but for a different academic year.

Programme structure (2024/25)

Our facilities

You will have access to the University's facilities across all University sites.

For example:

  • laboratories
  • libraries
  • study spaces
  • computing facilities
  • social spaces
  • leisure facilities

Our Earth Science and Physical Geography programme is delivered through the School of GeoSciences.

  • Earth sciences and environment are based in the King's Buildings campus
  • Geography is based in the Central Area campus

You can easily travel between the two campuses. It takes around 15 minutes by bus. You can also cycle (10 minutes) or walk (25 minutes).

In Year 1, many of your courses are taught in the Central Area campus. Practical classes and some teaching will also be in the King's Buildings campus.

In later years, the amount of time you spend at either campus will depend on your course choices.

Additionally, you may study at other Edinburgh campuses depending on the option courses you choose.

Institute of Geography

The Institute of Geography building is part of the Central Area campus. It is on Drummond Street, bounded by the 16th Century Flodden Wall.

You will have access to:

  • well-equipped lecture, seminar and tutorial rooms
  • a state-of-the-art IT laboratory. It has software for image processing, geographical information science and modelling
  • labs for physical geography, including soil, pollen and sediment analysis

The Institute is also close to many teaching spaces and facilities within the Central Area campus. For example, the Main Library and gym.

King's Buildings campus

Most teaching occurs within the School of GeoSciences, located at the University's King's Buildings campus. The King's Buildings (KB) is the main campus of the College of Science and Engineering.

The School of GeoSciences houses a wide range of cutting-edge facilities and services. We also host several collaborative centres of research excellence.

You will attend lectures, tutorials and practicals in our state-of-the-art theatres and classrooms.

We embrace a hands-on approach to learning, so you will also have plenty of access to our specialist research facilities, laboratories, supercomputers and field equipment.

You will:

  • have access to a range of high-tech facilities, letting you analyse various types of samples
  • collect some of these samples during field excursions and for your independent research project
  • conduct field measurements using various techniques used in earth and environmental sciences
  • have access to digital field equipment and UAV unoccupied aerial vehicles (drones) to conduct measurements using various techniques

You will also be given a dedicated undergraduate student learning space during your honours years. You can use this space for your independent work, to study with others and socialise with your peers.

Computing facilities

We also have advanced computing facilities, where you will be able to:

  • perform advanced geographic information systems (GIS) analysis
  • run cutting-edge meteorological and geophysical computer models
  • make the most out of digital field mapping tools

A cluster of science and technology companies are also located on the campus. Many of these companies are spin-out companies based on college research. There are also start-ups which have located here to build close ties with the college.

Take a virtual tour

You can take a closer look at the School of GeoSciences and explore our facilities and campus on the University's Virtual Visit site.

Discover our city's landmarks, our campuses, accommodation and get video tours - all in one place.

Take a virtual tour of the School of GeoSciences


There are no compulsory placements or internships as part of this degree, but you will have ample opportunities to gain professional experience.

For example:

  • We can help you with self-arranged internships or summer work placements.
  • Your research projects in Years 4 and 5 provide the opportunity to collaborate with an external partner.

Study abroad

There are exciting opportunities to study abroad as part of the University's exchange programmes.

Many of our students spend their third year abroad in Europe or further afield. A year abroad can give you invaluable academic and life skills.

In addition to University-wide exchanges, the School of GeoSciences has several subject-specific exchanges. We have partner universities in:

  • Europe
  • Canada
  • New Zealand

Visit: what are my options for going abroad?

How will I learn?

You will be taught by a wide range of experienced academics at the forefront of their field. Our research-led, industry informed teaching incorporates the latest developments in your field. By sharing our discoveries with you, we keep your degree up-to-date and exciting.

The types of learning styles depend on the courses you choose and the nature of the topics explored.

For example, you could be:

  • discussing how climate and tectonics interact to shape mountain belts one day, or
  • running numerical model simulations of a glacier the next

Teaching can be through a mix of:

  • lectures
  • tutorials
  • practical classes
  • laboratory work
  • workshops
  • field trips and field courses
  • project work

You will also:

  • design and execute your own research dissertation project in Year 4
  • conduct an advanced, extensive research project in Year 5

Technical training

This degree has a hands-on approach to develop you with a range of practical skills and we will carefully balance:

  • remote sensing
  • advanced data science
  • programming, computing simulations and modelling
  • use of specialist computer programmes
  • laboratory experience in a range of analytical techniques
  • observational and analytical skills in different field settings
  • geographical information systems (GIS)

You will have access to our wide range of specialist research facilities, laboratories and field equipment.

We also have cutting-edge computational facilities. They enable you to visualise and explore the scientific data created in your advanced projects.

How will you support me?

We want to help you make the most of your studies with us.

You will have access to a range of resources and activities to support you during your studies. You will be assigned a Student Adviser for the duration of your degree, who will be your main contact if you have any questions related to academic or pastoral support.

The Student Adviser works closely with academics in your degree, as well as with wider University support services. They are also able to help you with a range of administrative and practical issues, and they can direct you to relevant resources or people.

Find out more about student support

You will also be assigned a Cohort Lead who will organise activities to help you get to know the other students on your degree.

They will also advise and support you on a range of topics including:

  • course choices
  • how to develop and improve your academic skills
  • how to effectively use feedback
  • advice on your future career opportunities

For your honours dissertation project and advanced project, you will also receive individual supervision and guidance from an academic with experience in your chosen subject area.

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed in a variety of ways. The types of assessment depend on the courses you choose and the nature of the topics explored.

Assessment can be through a mix of:

  • written or practical exams, including multiple-choice exercises
  • laboratory reports and field project reports
  • practical evaluation in the field or field notebooks
  • coursework such as essays
  • posters
  • individual or group projects and presentations

You may also be evaluated in computer programming exercises. Some senior honours courses and projects in Earth sciences and environment involve computational modelling elements.

We will also assess your:

  • presentation and scientific writing skills for your independent research project in Year 4
  • advanced research project in Year 5. Your format may be a professional report or scientific paper, depending on your project.

Our planet is approaching a critical state.

As a result, the demand for geographers and Earth scientists has never been greater. With this degree, you can play a vital role in humanity's most ambitious plan for a better world.

We also want you to develop practical skills for future employers. So, many of your learning activities simulate those that professionals perform in the real world.

Our programme also equips you with valuable data skills, computational analysis and quantitative skills. Demand is growing for these skills across a range of employment sectors.

Where do our graduates find employment?

Our graduates are employed in a range of sectors.

For example:

  • government
  • energy (including renewables)
  • environmental planning and regulation
  • geographical information systems (GIS)
  • hydrogeology and geomorphology
  • risk and hazard management
  • geotechnical engineering
  • environmental consultancy
  • land and water management
  • carbon capture and storage
  • geoconservation
  • science communication and education

Our graduates have gained employment in roles such as:

  • GIS analyst/consultant
  • geotechnical engineer
  • environmental engineer
  • environmental consultant
  • geo-consultant
  • geological surveyor
  • energy resources manager

The skills you develop with us are also highly transferable. Our graduates are working in fields that seek quantitative science skills, such as management and finance.

A sustainable future

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a call for action to address the significant global challenges of our generation.

There are 17 overarching goals with a timeline set to 2030. Nearly all countries in the world have committed to this plan, with societies rapidly adjusting to meet these goals.

They address challenges such as:

  • climate change
  • environment
  • water
  • food inequality
  • protecting our planet

Earth sciences and geography are at the heart of these efforts.

With this degree, you can work in fields that directly contribute to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

You will join a world-leading University, playing a vital role in tackling the numerous complex climate challenges. We are driving efforts to mitigate climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy.

Our research is internationally renowned in the areas of carbon capture and storage, as well as negative emissions (also known as greenhouse gas removals). We are working within the UK and across the world on the delivery of net-zero emissions targets to meet the UN Paris Agreement.

Further study

Our programmes also prepare you for competitive entry into relevant postgraduate degree programmes. A significant proportion of our students progress to further postgraduate study and research.

Careers Service

We support you in recognising the many possibilities ahead.

Our award-winning Careers Service plays an essential part in your wider student experience. We also support you after graduation.

We provide:

  • tailored advice
  • individual guidance
  • internships and networking opportunities (with employers from local organisations to top multinationals)
  • access to the experience of our worldwide alumni network

We invest in your future beyond the end of your degree. Studying here is about laying the foundations for your future success. Whatever shape that takes.

Visit our Careers Service

Standard entry requirement

The standard entry requirement is:

  • SQA Highers: BBBB by end of S5 or AABB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB - BBB in one set of exams.
  • IB: 32 points with 655 at HL - 30 points with 555 at HL.

Minimum entry requirement

The minimum entry requirement for widening access applicants is:

  • SQA Highers: BBBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: BBB.
  • IB: 30 points with 555 at HL.

More information for widening access applicants

Required subjects

The grades used to meet our entry requirements must include:

  • SQA: Highers: two of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics, or Physics at B. Higher Applications of Mathematics is not accepted in place of Higher Mathematics. National 5s: English at C and Mathematics at A.We will accept combinations of Mathematics and Physics both at grade B to meet this requirement.
  • A Levels: two of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Geology, Mathematics, or Physics at B. GCSEs: English at C or 4 and Mathematics at A or 7. We will accept combinations of Mathematics and Physics both at grade B, or Mathematics, Science plus Additional Science all at grade B to meet this requirement.
  • IB: HL: two of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics (Analysis and approaches only) or Physics at 5. SL: English at 5 and Mathematics (Analysis and approaches only) at 5 (if not at HL).

Find out more about entry requirements

International applicants

We welcome applications from students studying a wide range of international qualifications.

Entry requirements by country

Mature applicants

We welcome applications from mature students and accept a range of qualifications.

Mature applicant qualifications

For direct entry to second year the standard requirements must be exceeded, including the following:

  • SQA Advanced Highers: Highers at AABBB to include three of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics or Physics. Plus Advanced Highers at BB to include Biology, Chemistry*, Geography, Mathematics* or Physics* (*include at least one). Higher Applications of Mathematics is not accepted in place of Higher Mathematics.
  • A Levels: ABB in one set of exams to include three of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Geology, Mathematics* or Physics* (* include at least one).
  • IB: 32 points with 655 at HL to include three of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics (Analysis and approaches only), or Physics at 5.
Other entry pathways

Entry to many degrees in Science & Engineering is possible via other qualifications (eg HNC/D, Access, SWAP).

Regardless of your nationality or country of residence, you must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies.


For SQA, GCSE and IB students, unless a higher level is specified in the stated entry requirements, a pass is required in English at the following grades or higher:

  • SQA National 5 at C
  • GCSE at C or 4
  • Level 2 Certificate at C
  • IB Standard Level at 5 (English ab initio is not accepted for entry)

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 6.5 with at least 5.5 in each component. We do not accept IELTS One Skill Retake to meet our English language requirements.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 92 with at least 20 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 176 with at least 162 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with distinctions in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 65 with at least 54 in each component. We do not accept PTE Academic Online.*

We also accept a wider range of international qualifications and tests.

Unless you are a national of a majority English speaking country, your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start of the month in which the degree you are applying to study begins. If you are using an IELTS, PTE Academic, TOEFL or Trinity ISE test, it must be no more than two years old on the first of the month in which the degree begins, regardless of your nationality.

English language requirements

(*Revised 24 May 2024 to change PTE Academic requirement from total 62 with at least 54 in each component, and to clarify that we do not accept PTE Academic online.)

This information is part of a government initiative to enhance the material that higher education institutions provide about their degree programmes.

It is one of many sources of information which will enable you to make an informed decision on what and where to study.

Please note that some programmes do not have Discover Uni data available.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees for MEarthSci Earth Science and Physical Geography

Additional costs

The School of GeoSciences does not charge extra fees for compulsory field trips or field courses.

Costs of travel, accommodation and general upkeep on compulsory field trips are covered by the programme, thanks to the continued support of our generous alumni community.

However you are responsible for any incidental/personal expenses. This may include suitable outdoor clothing and footwear.

Excursions as part of optional courses have extra fees, which vary depending on the nature of the field trip.

Dissertation costs

There may be some costs associated with your dissertation research project, including field costs. You can design your dissertation project to reduce costs.

The School of GeoSciences also provides a £200 allowance for using facilities to support your dissertation project in Year 4, and again for your advanced research project in Year 5.


For more information on how much it will cost to study with us and the financial support available see our fees and funding information.

Fees and funding

More information

How to apply

School: GeoSciences

College: Science and Engineering