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Subject Summary: Part IB Quantitative Environmental Science

Quantitative Environmental Sciences (QES) is designed to integrate the physics, maths, biology, and chemistry behind environmental issues and models of environmental systems. Students will explore how Natural Sciences will be instrumental in solving the real-world problems that we are currently facing and will continue to face in the coming decades. The course is broadly structured around the presentation of key environmental systems, and the fundamental mathematical principles underlying designing models to study environmental challenges. Students will also gain experience in breaking down scientific challenges to policy makers through writing a policy paper. The practical component will teach students how to build simple numerical models in Python to visualise environmental datasets and operate a simplified climate model. In the final term, students will learn about how the energy transition will impact environmental systems, and where solutions to the future climate crisis may lie.

The course will begin with an overview of how the surface of the planet functions, with introductory lectures on the global carbon cycle, hydrological cycle, the source of energy on the planet, how oceans move. Michaelmas term will focus on groundwater flow, surface water, ice dynamics, and atmospheric chemistry, with consideration of challenges in groundwater contamination, flooding, ice melt and sea level rise, and air pollution. In Lent term, we will consider the global environment, how the oceans, and atmosphere serves to redistribute heat, energy and carbon around the planet, and the role of the oceans, land, and atmosphere in the global climate system.

QES is a multidisciplinary course, taught by lecturers from Maths (DAMTP), Chemistry, Earth Sciences, and the British Antarctic Survey.

Programme Specification: Part IB Quantitative Environmental Science

This course is taught by the Departments of Earth Sciences, Chemistry, and DAMTP.


  1. To teach a cross disciplinary course on the use of Mathematics in environmental studies and in solving environmental challenges;
  2. to engender an understanding of the role that natural scientists (in particular) will play in designing solutions to environmental challenges (air pollution, groundwater pollution, climate change) that students will face over the course of their lifetimes;
  3. to learn to apply the maths that students have been taught to environmental problems and how to put the maths students know into simple code to understand what data is telling us;
  4. to build an understanding of how Earth’s surface environment functions, where energy comes from, where there are environmental challenges and what the nature of the solutions to these environmental challenges might be;
  5. to understand how policy makers can benefit from the outcomes of environmental models and where and how science can inform policy.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course students should:

  1. understand how knowledge of physics, chemistry and biology informs models of environmental systems;
  2. be able to write code in python to build simple environmentally relevant models (e.g. a box model for carbon, or a flow model for groundwater);
  3. be able to work with large environmental datasets (e.g. data incorporation, visualisation, regression);
  4. understand how to disseminate scientific concepts to a general audience (e.g. policy makers or the public).

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, supervisions and online practicals. The practicals are done in the students own time, but with drop-in sessions with demonstrators available during the week.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • one unseen written examination (for aims 1-5 and learning outcomes 1 and 4);
  • one unseen computational exam (for aims 1, 3 and learning outcomes 1-3);
  • one lab report base on the practical component (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 1-3);
  • one policy paper (for aims 2,3 and 5, and learning outcome 4).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: A level Mathematics

Recommended: A Level Further Mathematics


Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.