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Global Environmental Issues

3 weeks
Course Type
Summer School, Undergraduate

Based in the heart of England where the first industrial revolutions took place, this programme will look at current global environmental issues particularly focussing on air, water and soil pollution, and strategies for emissions reduction and/or remediation of polluted sites.  

A unique interdisciplinary approach will be taken, covering the sources, flows and effects of key environmental pollutants, including laboratory and field-scale techniques and tools, and considering also the broader impacts of pollution on key ecosystems services and relevant environmental policy aspects.  The programme is ideal for students who would like to gain an understanding of how the molecular scale properties of pollutants affect their mobility, accumulation and remediation. 

The three week programme in Global Environmental Issues is delivered through varied learning sessions as follows:

At the start of the programme you will be introduced to specific environmental topics, of which you will select one to undertake your research on and then, at the end of the three weeks, you will complete a short assessed presentation (10-15 minutes) on an aspect of the topic / research that you found interesting.

To help prepare for the presentation, there will be three additional sessions:

a)     effective presentation skills

b)     information searching and library skills

c)      using data to support an argument / conclusion. 

Designing a research question

This session will focus on the process of research, how experiments are planned (field or lab-scale), how much data is needed to be statistically relevant, how the samples collected could be analysed and how to set a hypothesis.

Field research skills I

This session will focus on some key skills for field research, focussing on soil and vegetation sampling.  It will also teach observational skills and keeping of a lab notebook (including an e-notebook).   Samples can be collected for further analysis in the lab also.

Field research skills II

This session will build on the first session but will focus on aquatic measurements, such as water quality, presence of specific pollutants, and analysis of invertebrates.  Samples can be collected for further analysis in the lab also.

Lab research skills I

This session will focus on laboratory measurements, such as determination of the concentration of different pollutants, their rate of degradation, and their modes of degradation (e.g. uv light, bacterial etc.).  This session will prepare you for work with environmental modelling later in the programme.

Lab research skills II

This session will also focus on looking at impacts of pollutants on key indicator organisms, including bacteria, algae, and Daphnia (water flea).  Concepts such as dose-response, acute versus chronic exposure, adaption and resistance etc. will be considered.

Visit to our research forest – BIFoR

This day trip will give you insights into the role of forest ecosystems in mitigating climate change, as well as the range of essential services they provide beyond wood.  As part of the visit to the BIFoR forest, you will undertake a number of research activities, such as mapping the lichen distribution in control versus elevated CO2 groups, or assessing the tree health or biodiversity, again through comparison of the control versus elevated CO2 groups.

Research Taster

You will visit research groups to be introduced to the type of environmental science research that takes place, meet University of Birmingham students, see the type of equipment and processes that are used, and have the opportunity to ask questions.   Running experiments such as the recirculating stream mesocosms and BIFoR FACE experiment will also be introduced.   You will present back what they have seen / learned to peers.

Postgraduate Programme Taster

This session will be a brief introduction the postgraduate programmes that take place in the School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences, and will give you the opportunity to see and listen to the type of lectures you might receive if studying for a postgraduate degree.

Learning from mapping & modelling

This day-long session will involve the processing of datasets acquired from the various field courses, and from the BIFoR field visit, and introduction to the use of mapping of datasets (e.g. using ArcGIS) and approaches for modelling of datasets based on time- or spatially resolved datapoints.

Learning from experts

This session will be a series of mini lectures on a variety of topics such as environmental pollution and environmental transformations, sources and sinks for key pollutants, where the University of Birmingham has research strengths.  There will also be a short session on the various regulations protecting the environment, such as the bathing and drinking water directives.  These expert sessions will be consolidated with summaries and discussion following the presentations.

The learning sessions will be supplemented with excursions and events as part of the wider summer school social programme. 

This is a three week programme and is equivalent to an accredited undergraduate course (20 UK credits, 5 US credits, or 10 ECTS). All students will receive a certificate of attendance.

Please note that the programme plan is subject to confirmation for BISS 2022.

We covered such a variety of interests throughout the three weeks.

Carly, Global Environmental Issues programme

To be accepted onto the Global Environmental Sciences programme you must:

  • Have relevant subject background: students should be studying environmental science, environmental engineering, public health, biosciences or other related topics at undergraduate level. Students must be able to demonstrate relevant subject background with a translated transcript.
  • Meet the BISS Entry Requirements

Through a mixture of lectures, local field trips, research demonstrations, and hands on experience in our state of the art labs you will develop your knowledge and skills from some of the World’s leading experts in their fields. The programme will take you from theoretical understanding of the molecular scale phenomena resulting from environmental pollution to the practical significance of the application of the knowledge.

On completion of the programme, in addition to obtaining 20 credits, you will have been given a unique opportunity to: 

  1. Formulate simple relevant research questions to allow the appropriate investigation of key environmental questions, and plan field or lab experiments to address this question;
  2. Identify appropriate source of information and demonstrate the ability to search effectively for relevant items of interest;
  3. Apply findings from the literature, and your lab / field studies, to answer questions raised by specific environmental problems;
  4. Communicate conclusions and the knowledge and rationale underpinning these, to specialist and non-specialist audiences, clearly and unambiguously;
  5. Demonstrate the ability to work professionally with a considerable degree of independence.

Assessment Methods

The programme is equivalent to an accredited undergraduate course (20 UK credits) which comprises 44 contact hours.  In addition to staff led activities you will be required to undertake independent individual and group study working towards your assessment. The programme is formally assessed at the end of the three weeks. Please check with your home institution regarding the transfer of credits.

All students attending our courses will receive a certificate of attendance on successful completion of their course.