Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

BSc Environmental Geoscience

UCAS code: F630

Duration: 4 years

Delivery: Full-time

School: GeoSciences

College: Science and Engineering

Introducing BSc Environmental Geoscience

Are you fascinated and curious about the world around you? Do you want to learn more about the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the soil beneath your feet? The Environmental Geoscience programme may be for you.

Our planet is facing numerous challenges, such as global climate change, pollution, and environmental degradation. Each of those challenges is related to processes that link changes in the atmosphere, the ocean, and the solid earth, which are components that control environmental conditions on Earth.

Environmental geoscience is the in-depth study of these different components and the processes that maintain and modify them. Not only does it cover the natural processes that have controlled Earth's history, but crucially, how modern human activities are affecting our planet today.

Through this programme, you will develop a scientific understanding of environmental processes controlling the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.

You will use this knowledge to study how the environment and climate have changed over time and how human activity may change the planet in the future.

This skill set will equip you to address critical questions about the processes controlling environmental conditions on Earth:

  • What were the drivers of environmental change in the Earth's past? How will these processes change in the future?
  • What is the interaction between humans and the environment and our impact on the world?
  • What are the effects of pollution and environmental change on the sustainability of marine ecosystems?
  • How can we safely and sustainably manage the use of energy and materials resources to ensure the continued functioning of modern society?

The Environmental Geosciences programme will enable you to develop a scientific understanding of environmental processes. You will cover core topics in modern environmental sciences in a variety of settings, including practical laboratory and fieldwork.

You will have plenty of opportunities to gain hands-on experience. Your most important laboratory is the outside world, and we place a great deal of emphasis on delivering practical and field-based experiences. You could be assessing the water quality in a river in the highlands on one day and swimming in coral reefs collecting water samples on another. These field trips give you valuable hands-on experience, where you can apply what you have learned in the classroom to real-life situations. Edinburgh is an ideal location for this rapidly evolving subject, with many sites of environmental interest right on your doorstep.

If you choose to study Environmental Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, you will become part of an academic community in one of the leading geosciences departments in the UK, and one of the top-ranked universities in the world. As a result, you will experience teaching and learning at the forefront of this knowledge. You will learn from earth scientists who are undertaking world-leading research in a wide range of areas.

We hope that by studying this degree, you can play a vital role in our transition into a more sustainable society.

Field Trips

You will have plenty of opportunities for hands-on experience through our local and international field trips. As part of the programme, you will go beyond the classroom to apply the skills you have learned to real-life ecological and environmental problems.

For example, you could be surrounded by rugged mountain scenery examining soil quality, practising field mapping, sampling stream and ground water. You could also find yourself on a boat, investigating the chemical and physical properties of seawater.

The locations and experiences of each trip will vary, enriching you with a broad understanding of how the planet works. The trips enable you to gain experience using many different pieces of research field equipment as possible. You will learn to become familiar with using field tools to obtain and interpret field measurements such as:

  • assessing biodiversity and water quality
  • measuring chemical and physical properties of seawater
  • mapping the three-dimensional structure of rock sequences
  • analysing microfossils retrieved from the bottom of the ocean
  • estimating the change of life in the ocean through time

Field trip locations for longer excursions have included the Scottish Highlands, the Lake District in England, and Jamaica. In addition, numerous courses include short residential field trips.

Please note:

As the content of the programme is updated to reflect the advancing subject matter and student feedback, the location of field trips may change. Field trips may also be changed due to Covid-19, and 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. Any changes will be announced as soon as possible.

Decisions will be made to safeguard the health and safety of our students, staff and community, and to ensure the highest standards for educational experience.

*(Revised 13 November 2020 to included notice about field trip changes.)

Field trip costs

The School of GeoSciences does not charge extra fees for compulsory field trips or field courses. Our Earth science degrees involve a significant element of field study. As such, we are pleased to be able to support our students as they learn practical and highly-prized skills.

Due to the continued support of our generous alumni community, all costs of travel, accommodation, and subsistence on compulsory field trips are covered by the programme. However, incidental/personal expenses are to be met by the student.

What is it really like to study with us?

Visit our student blog, where our students share their experiences of undergraduate study, living in Edinburgh and everything in-between.

Focused 3-year BSc(Hons) pathway

This programme gives you the opportunity to shorten the length of your studies by one full year.

If you know exactly what you want to do and are eager to get started on your career as soon as you can, this pathway might be for you.

You can earn the BSc (Hons) qualification in just three years. You could even complete the three-year BSc then undertake a full one-year postgraduate masters to earn yourself two separate degrees just over four years.

Through this focused route, there is an inevitable reduction in course flexibility, as you will study the specialised courses of environmental geoscience with fewer option courses.

When starting your studies with us, you will join a student cohort who are commencing their second year (Year 2) of study. However, there is no additional increase to your study workload.

You will undertake the same number of courses in your first year as your Year 2 peers, but you will be completing the Year 1 and Year 2 compulsory courses within your first year.

This means you will have fewer option courses than your peers, but will still complete all of the required compulsory courses.

You must be suitably qualified to apply for a focused pathway option (also known as Year 2 Direct Entry or Second Year Entry). Ensure you view the entry requirements under ‘Second Year Entry’ below.

Year 1

Your programme begins with a broad grounding across earth science topics.

You will gain an understanding of the processes which shape the Earth. You will develop practical skills in recognising the evidence of these processes in rocks, both in the field and in the laboratory. This includes studying the fundamental physical and chemical principles shaping the modern Earth as well as introducing Earth’s evolution through time and the life it hosts. In addition, core skills in mathematics are part of the teaching programme.

You will also gain key practical skills in mapping and cross-section analysis, developed during an integrated field trip. Prior trips have included the Lake District.

One of the most exciting things about the Environmental Geoscience degree is the fact that you have the opportunity to take a significant number of courses outside your degree programme in Years 1 and 2. You can choose courses that are closely related to your degree or try something completely different and new to you.

Year 2

From Year 2, you will study processes controlling the chemical composition of the Earth’s surface, the composition of rocks, and chemical processes that affect nutrients and pollutants. You will also be introduced to various aspects related to oceanography with a focus on the relation between the physical, chemical, and biological processes active in the modern ocean and their changes through time.

You will take part in several field trips, where you can practice many of the theoretical concepts learned in lectures and laboratory practicals. Previous locations have included the Lake District.

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

Year 3

During your junior honours year (Year 3), you will be introduced to key environmental processes controlling the hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere. Crucial aspects of natural environmental/climate change through time will be introduced. This broad basis allows you to deepen your knowledge through a selection of optional courses during the senior honours year.

In the Easter holidays (vacation) you will take a specialist field course, designed to develop skills in observation, sampling, measurement and interpretation of natural environmental processes and human impacts. Previous trips have been to Jamaica.

A further field course takes place towards the end of Year 3, which covers coastal and marine processes. As the content of the programme is updated to reflect the advancing subject matter and student feedback, the location of the field course may change. Previous field courses have taken place in the Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory, Oban.

In the summer between Years 3 and 4, you will begin an independent research project, mixing field and laboratory studies. This is continued and culminates in your final year dissertation.

Year 4

You will deepen your theoretical understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological processes which control the Earth's near-surface environment, backed up by practical skills in measurement and interpretation of these processes.

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

Option courses will be available from the School of GeoSciences that allow you to focus your degree on areas of environmental science that interest you.

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 (2020/21)

Our facilities

In Year 1, many of your lectures are taught in the Central Area close to the city centre. Practicals and other teaching take place within the School of GeoSciences or the wider King's Buildings campus. Depending on courses selected, in later years, you will be located primarily at the King's Buildings campus.

Depending on the option courses selected, you may also study at various University campus locations in the vibrant city of Edinburgh.

You can access the University's libraries and IT facilities, and the School's laboratories provide a personal workspace with computing and microscope facilities during your honours years.

The School houses a wide range of cutting-edge facilities and services. It is involved in several collaborative centres of research excellence.

As part of your programme, you will have access to this range of high-tech facilities enabling chemical and physical analysis of various types of samples. You will collect some of these samples during field excursions, which are a central component of our programmes. During these excursions, you will also conduct field measurements using various techniques used in ecological, atmospheric, and earth sciences.

In addition to these analytical facilities, there are excellent computing facilities, including geographic information systems (GIS), meteorological, and geophysical computer models. You will become familiar with many of these facilities and techniques while studying here.

Research and Teaching Facilities

How will I learn?

We encourage you to review the Programme Structure - Degree Programme Table to see compulsory and option courses. Individual course details will show you the types of learning activities you will participate in.

The exciting nature of environmental geoscience means you will have a diverse learning experience throughout your years with us. Teaching is through a mix of lectures, tutorials, practical classes and workshops, field trips and project work.

You will have access to the University's specialist research facilities and laboratories for analysing a broad range of samples. You will use our cutting-edge computational facilities to visualise and explore scientific data that you will create in your advanced projects.

You will also develop a range of transferable skills, including:

  • report writing
  • oral presentations
  • data analysis and interpretation
  • critical thinking
  • group working

As the programme progresses, you will enhance the ability to work independently and manage project work. Your training will also equip you with unique skills in problem-solving, making you ideally suited to work in environments where solutions to complex challenges need to be found based on limited available data.

Through your degree, you will be expected to study for approximately 200 hours per 20 credit course. How this time is divided varies, and is dependent on courses you choose to study, and nature of the topics explored. Typically you will do 60 credits of study for each of the two semesters, usually three courses. This study time includes time allocated for self-directed learning as well as “contact time” with staff, which includes lectures, tutorials, practicals, and field trips.

Depending on the option courses you choose, during the first two years (pre-honours), you should expect to have approximately 17 hours a week of lectures, tutorials, and practicals. As you progress into the 3rd and 4th years of study (honours), you will be expected to spend more time on independent work and self-directed study.

In your final year, you will design your dissertation project with guidance from our expert academics, helping you develop skills to become a researcher in your own right.


One of the main ways we teach is through lectures, and these are the main form of contact you have with academic staff. Most lectures last 50 minutes. Most lectures are recorded to support the revision of the material covered.


Practicals allow you to apply the knowledge acquired in lectures and tutorials and develop a range of practical skills. It’s important to recognise that the skills you learn in practicals are transferable beyond the immediate course. They can be applied in other courses, in dissertations, and even beyond your degree.


Many courses include tutorials. Tutorials are a form of small group teaching that is facilitated by a tutor. Tutorials are an essential opportunity for you to:

  • discuss specific topics in more depth
  • develop skills in critical thinking
  • communicate your understanding
  • work as part of a team
  • receive feedback
  • ask questions

Field trips

Field trips are a significant component of our Earth Science degrees. Field trips are hard work, fun, and will provide some of the most memorable moments of your degree. They are an excellent way to learn, enabling you to apply the knowledge and skills you have developed in lectures to real-world contexts. Field trips are part of your course, and there are no additional costs.

Self-directed study

Emphasis is placed on independent work, and you will need to be well-motivated and organised.

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed in a variety of ways, depending on the courses you choose to study in your programme and the nature of the topics explored. Assessment might include:

  • written or practical exams and quizzes
  • practical evaluation in the field or field notebooks
  • coursework such as essays
  • individual or group projects
  • presentations

You may also be evaluated in computer programming exercises. Some senior honours courses and projects in Environmental Geosciences will involve computational modelling elements.

In your final year, there are elements of assessed presentation and scientific writing skills. You will also complete a dissertation.

Programme details

Find out more about this programme's aims, what you will learn, how you will be assessed and what skills and knowledge you will develop.

To give you an idea of what to expect from 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 details (2020/21)

During the Environmental Geosciences programme, you will learn to become an independent, quantitative researcher who can apply critical skills in solving complex, real-world problems. The activities you undertake during your degree simulate those that environmental science professionals perform in the real world.

You will also acquire a range of transferable skills that allow you to make significant contributions to the world in which you live and work. You will be equipped with: * critical thinking * ethical understanding * teamwork * project management skills

These combined skill sets are essential to future employers.

Our graduates are highly sought after by energy (including renewables) and resource companies, environmental consultancies, and the financial sector. Many also find employment in the areas of environmental planning and regulation, geoconservation, science communication and education, as well as engineering.

Examples of roles our graduates have obtained include geoscientist, national park ranger, water quality engineer, geo-consultant, waste resource management, hydrogeologist, resource discovery, environmental consultant, sustainability consultant, policy advisor, and energy resources management.

The School of GeoSciences is one of the largest groupings of geoscientists in the UK. You will have access to our wide range of research and industry networks, as well as a world-class experience with real-world relevance. Under the guidance of academics who are leaders in their field, you will be equipped with sought-after skills in environmental research.

We have a professional advisory board that provides support on employability skills.

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

Standard entry requirement

The standard entry requirement is:

  • SQA Highers: AABB - ABBB by end of S5 or AAAB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: AAA - ABB.
  • IB: 34 points with 555 at HL - 32 points with 555 at HL.

Minimum entry requirement

The minimum entry requirement for widening access applicants is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB.
  • IB: 32 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*, Environmental Science, Geography, Mathematics*, or Physics* (*include at least one) at B. National 5s: English at C and Mathematics at A. If you achieved a B in Mathematics, please contact the College of Science and Engineering Admissions Office.
  • A Levels: two of Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Geography, Geology, Mathematics, or Physics at B. GCSEs: English at C or 4 and Mathematics at A or 7. If you achieved a B or 6 in Mathematics, please contact the College of Science and Engineering Admissions Office.
  • IB: HL: two of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics (from 2021, Mathematics: Analysis and approaches only) or Physics at 5. SL: English at 5 and Mathematics (from 2021, Mathematics: Analysis and approaches only) at 5 (if not at HL). If you do not have Mathematics please contact the College of Science and Engineering Admissions Office.

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: AAB to include two of Biology, Chemistry*, Geography, Mathematics*, or Physics* (*include at least one).
  • A Levels: AAA in one set of exams to include Mathematics, plus two of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Geology, or Physics.
  • IB: 38 points with 666 at HL to include three of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics (from 2021, Mathematics: Analysis and approaches only), or Physics at 6.
Other entry pathways

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

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


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
  • SQA Standard Grade at 3
  • SQA Intermediate 1 at A
  • SQA Intermediate 2 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 module overall 6.5 with 5.5 in each component
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Special Home Edition) 92 or above with 20 in each section. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • Cambridge English: Advanced or Proficiency overall 176 with 162 in each component
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with a distinction in all four components

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

English language qualifications must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the degree you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

English language requirements

*(Revised 27 April 2020 to include TOEFL-iBT Special Home Edition.)

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 BSc Environmental Geoscience

Additional costs

The School of GeoSciences does not charge extra fees for compulsory field trips or field courses. Our Earth science degrees involve a significant element of field study, and we are pleased to be able to support our students as they learn practical and highly prized skills.

Due to the continued support of our generous Alumni community, all costs of travel, accommodation, and subsistence on compulsory field trips are covered by the programme. However, incidental/ personal expenses are to be met by the student.

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


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