Environmental science

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Environmental science is an interdisciplinary field of study and research that deals specifically with the environment in terms of ecology and the effects of human activities on this environment. Due to the traditional subjects such as biology , chemistry and physics , which played a key role in its creation, environmental sciences are part of the natural sciences . Since the end of the 20th century, various independent courses in environmental science have developed. However, environmental scientists are also referred to as scientists who have not completed relevant courses but are active in the field of ecology, for example. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker is one of the best-known representatives in Germany .


Depending on the focus, there are a large number of natural and human sciences disciplines that are involved in environmental sciences. The following list is therefore not complete, but only names the most important subject areas:

In addition to these subject areas, which are both actively and passively involved, there are a number of auxiliary sciences that, as in all disciplines, have a supportive effect, but are not researched by environmental science itself. These include statistics (mathematics), social sciences, psychology and computer science. Computer science is particularly important, as it would not be possible to record complex systems without its help.

The central specialist library for the sub-areas of environmental science in Germany is the ZB MED at its location in Bonn .

Research and application areas

Due to the interdisciplinary and interdisciplinary work of environmental sciences, there are numerous specialists in research, teaching and practice who are mostly active in the following areas.

Environmental science aims to examine the natural systems influenced by humans, but also to describe the laws of an environment that is largely uninfluenced by humans. So she deals e.g. B. From the point of view of geologists with the anthropogenic pollution of the groundwater , biologists with the effects of pollutants on living beings, physicists and doctors with the effects of radioactivity on living beings, chemists with the behavior of pollutants. Engineering sciences deal with environmental science topics in the form of environmental technology . Cultural studies work together with environmental sciences by dealing with the social perception of environmental problems ( environmental sociology ) or with the history of environmental protection and environmental awareness ( environmental history ). The humanities also deal with the environment. B. by formulating your own environmental ethics . In law and economics , the areas of environmental law and environmental management systems are gaining in importance. At the intersection of natural, social and human sciences, geography deals with the human-environment relationship. Specialist scientists in the individual disciplines and interdisciplinary trained environmental scientists (see degree programs) then deal with the following questions from the above-mentioned perspectives:

  • current environmental changes, e.g. B. Global warming
  • social impact of environmental changes
  • Environmental pollution and environmental damage
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • Reconstruction of past environments

In the course of time, new sub-areas such as population ecology and autecology have developed.


Environmental science is offered in courses at technical colleges and universities. Depending on the focus, these include the subjects of environmental chemistry , environmental physics , biology (ecology, botany and zoology), environmental informatics , environmental management , communication , environmental law , criminal law , administrative law , European law and construction law . The focus and affiliation of the course to a department or faculty varies depending on the university. Other natural science courses in the environmental sciences are geoecology and landscape ecology . Applied environmental engineering , environmental engineering and thus the area of ​​environmental systems research are hardly represented in the environmental sciences, but also belong to the environmental sciences . The latter area is based on a combination of technical engineering , social science and applied social research ( empiricism ) of the 1970s and computer science, which has been gaining in importance since the 1980s . Environmental systems research encompasses findings and currents of the environmental movement that have flowed into many academic and practice-oriented sub-disciplines. The University of Kassel / University of Kassel and the University of Bielefeld stood out in particular . The protagonists of this time are the sociologist and systems researcher Niklas Luhmann in dualism research and the planner Lucius Burckhardt in economics . In Kassel the graded diploma study model was developed in connection with practice-oriented basic research and application ( Kassel model (study) ).


In Germany, the courses of study have been offered with a diploma since the beginning of the 1990s and have now been converted to the bachelor's and master's degrees in the interests of Europe-wide recognition. The subject is offered at the following universities (selection):

The interdisciplinary distance learning course in environmental sciences (infernum) has existed in the field of distance learning and further education since 2000 as a cooperation between the FernUniversität in Hagen and the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT in Oberhausen. This course was initially designed as a postgraduate course , but is now open to all students.


In Austria, courses have been offered as individual diploma courses at the University of Graz since the early 1990s. Since the 2003/2004 academic year, the Environmental Systems Science course has been run as a Bachelor's and Master's degree.


In Switzerland, the Environmental Sciences course was introduced at ETH Zurich in 1987. The reasons for this were also the environmental disasters of Chernobyl in April 1986 and Schweizerhalle in November 1986.


  • E. Brandt: Law. With 13 tables. Springer, Berlin 2001. (Study of environmental sciences)
  • G. de Hahn, I. Donning, B. Schulte: The environmental study guide . Ulmer, Stuttgart 1999.
  • W. Härdtle: Natural Sciences. With 20 tables. Springer, Berlin 1999. (Study of environmental sciences)
  • F. Müller-Rommel, H. Meyer: Social Sciences. With 14 tables. Springer, Berlin 2001. (Study of environmental sciences)
  • S. Schaltegger (Ed.): Study of environmental sciences. Economics. In: E. Brandt (Ed.): Series of publications "Environmental Sciences". Springer, Berlin 2000.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Environmental scientist: Heuss Prize for von Weizsäcker , report in the Stuttgarter Nachrichten on April 9, 2011
  2. ^ Matthias Schaefer : Dictionary of Ecology , 5th revised and expanded edition, Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 2012
  3. ↑ Subject of study at Bielefeld University
  4. ^ Institute for Environmental Physics, Bremen
  5. ^ Faculty 09 - Agricultural Sciences, Nutritional Sciences and Environmental Management
  6. ↑ Subject of study at the University of Greifswald ( Memento of the original from December 22, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.uni-greifswald.de
  7. Information from the University of Koblenz-Landau ( Memento of the original from January 5, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.uni-landau.de
  8. Major of the Leuphana University of Lüneburg
  9. Bachelor's degree in environmental sciences at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg
  10. Information on the Bachelor's degree in Environmental Geosciences at the University of Trier
  11. Infernum - Interdisciplinary distance learning in environmental sciences
  12. Study of environmental systems science at the University of Graz
  13. Department of Environmental Sciences - History ( Memento of the original dated May 12, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.env.ethz.ch