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Environmental Science - Ecosystems and Human Health MSc

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  • Objectives
    Do you want to: * understand how your activities impact the environment? * improve your understanding of infectious diseases with respect to the Environment and Human Populations? * map diseases and the spread of pollutants? * model and risk manage how climatic change / hazardous events will influence human health and the environment? * understand how environmental change will effect present and future generations?
  • Entry requirements
    Entry Requirements Normally at least a second class honours degree or equivalent. Applicants with appropriate experience and other qualifications will be considered.
  • Academic Title
    Environmental Science - Ecosystems and Human Health MSc
  • Course description
    Climate change, the AIDS epidemic, loss of biodiversity: how can we make sense out of this apparent chaos?

    This MSc addresses the dynamics of environmental change and human impacts and how these affect ecosystems and human health. The course will graduate a new breed of practitioner who understands the issues and methodologies, and how these can be developed into ameliorating the potential adverse effects of environmental systems and human well being. The course will be in demand from environmental managers, people involved in environmental monitoring in public health practitioners and health authorities.

    Course Details

    The Earth's environmental systems sustain all life and set the baseline that supports all human societies. Human impacts on these systems have never been so intense and these now affect energy and nutrient cycling, ecosystem health and even the climate. The scale of impacts has shifted from local to regional and in many cases to  global proportions.

    This new MSc programme will address the dynamics of environmental change and human impacts and how these affect ecosystems and human health. The course will educate a new breed of practitioner who understands the issues, the methodologies and how these could influience the potential adverse effects of environmental systems and human well being. The course will be of particular interest to environmental managers, people involved in environmental monitoring in government and industry, public health practitioners and health authorities.

    Resources and Society


        * To develop students’ understanding of the complex interactions of societies and their environments, from the perspective of those societies; particularly in relation to resource utilisation issues.
        * To develop a critical awareness of how these interactions are unevenly experienced.


       1. Interpreting and theorising the environment:
          Depending on how environmental problems are theorised, different solutions tend to be proposed. This section will expose students to different approaches to environmental problems in order that they can understand the fundamental ideologies which underpin arguments which are often put forward as ideologically ‘neutral’

       2. Resource Use and Waste:
          Many of the environmental problems facing society are a direct result of natural resources exploitation. In particular, the consumption of non-renewable energy resources is thought to be contributing to global climate change and local environmental degradation. The increasing scarcity of clean drinking water and arable agricultural land are related to resource utilisation patterns.

       3. Globalisation:
          The 21st century is characterised by a global economy (including global trade, hyper mobility of capital flows and investment) high speed information flows, international migration (from the high skilled beneficiaries of the global knowledge economy to those victimised by war and, increasingly, environmental disaster) and international governance. In order to understand the nature of social/environment interactions it is critical to understand the nature of the society, which both produces and experiences environmental problems.

       4. Environmental Justice:
          It is important to understand how societies distribute environmental problems (either intentionally, or as a by-product of existing uneven structures) and this element of the module will introduce students to the concepts of vulnerability and environmental justice by working through examples of mal-distributions.

       5. Environmental legislation:
          This takes place at a number of scales and students will examine environmental legislation at the international, European, national, regional and local scale. They will consider conflicts between the scales and between different stakeholders.Resources and Society

    Ecosystem Function


        * To provide a solid grounding in ecological principles, their application to biodiversity and an appreciation of the influence of human activities on these processes.


        * Ecological Principles
        * Earth systems and their interactions
        * Ecological energetics and Nutrient cycles
        * Factors influencing Biodiversity
        * The Biogeography of Earth
        * Biological stability, homeostasis and sustainability
        * The Gaia hypothesis
        * How and What should we conserve?
        * Biological Extinctions in earth history, present and future
        * Is development sustainable

    Environmental Change


        *  To understand the processes which cause environmental change, how they are measured, how future change is predicted and how to interpret trajectories in elements of ecosystems and human health. Interactions between human impact and the environment will be examined.


       1. Introduction: brief overview of the relationship between climate and biophysical and social systems. Introduction to global networks (e.g. IGBP) and agreements (e.g. Kyoto).

       2. The instrumental record of climate and what it reveals about variability and reliability of climate. Coverage of methods and causes of recent climate variability.

       3. Past global changes: methods, reliability, global data sets and case studies. What these reveal for the full range of climate variability and on driving forces behind climate change. Selected case studies.

       4. Past climates and societal responses. Case studies.

       5. Models and future climates. Types of models, testing models, reliability and uncertainty. Global networks and IPCC selected regional scenarios.

       6. Future impacts on biophysical systems, agriculture, human health, resources, energy usage. Case studies and directed project work.

       7. Rapid change caused by natural hazard processes: earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, hurricanes, etc.

    Environmental Hazard and Risk


        * To address various aspects of the relationship between hazard and risk, how risk is perceived and how government/industry/individuals assess risk in relation to natural, anthropogenic and occupational hazards in our environment.


        * Conceptualising Hazard and Risk
              o Probability and the concept of risk
              o The Risk management cycle: risk assessment frameworks
              o Human versus Environmental Risk Assessment
              o Exposure characterisation: environmental transport and fate of chemicals
              o Hazard characterisation: toxicity endpoints from gene to community
              o Dose-response profiling: low dose effects and non-monotonic dose response relationships
              o Point-deterministic and probabilistic risk assessment procedures
        * Ecotoxicology
              o An introduction to environmental toxicology
              o Toxic substances in the aquatic environment
              o Aquatic toxicity testing in the laboratory
              o Field studies in aquatic toxicity
              o Bioaccumulation and Bioavailability
              o Metabolism of Pollutants
              o Structure-Activity Relationships
              o A Specific Example: oestrogenic chemicals in the aquatic environment and their effects on fish
              o Single chemical versus mixture toxicity: modelling mixture effects
              o Monitoring of the Aquatic Environment
        * Risk Perception and Management
              o The precautionary principle: late lessons from early signs
              o Risk management and risk communication
              o Perception of risk and stigma: socio-political influences on risk assessment



        * to identify and examine approaches used in understanding ecosystem related human health problems.
        * to examine and develop a critical understanding of ecosystem level public health interventions.


       1. Introduction to Epidemiology
              * What is epidemiology; what are the disciplinary specialties?
              * Epidemiological methods and study designs
              * Disease classification systems
              * Global burden of ill health and well being
              * Assessing the strength of association from epidemiological data
              * Data Sources (mortality and morbidity statistics) & descriptive measures of health status

       2. Urban and Industrial Environments and Public Health
              * The role and functioning of the ‘urban ecosystem’ how urban living affects human health
              *  Industrial environments, pollution and impact on ‘natural ecosystems’ and disease

          Aquatic Ecosystems & Waterborne Disease
                The importance and distribution of ‘clean water’
                Self-regulating natural systems and human disruptions
                Pathogen and other water contaminants – sources, sinks and transmission

       4. Rural Landscapes and Their Management
              * The importance of domestic and wild animals in human disease
              * Agricultural practice and human health
              * Management and disruption of ‘natural ecosystems’
              * The wider role of insects and other ‘small’ creatures in disease

       5. Earth System Regulation and Forcing
              * Seasonality and the cyclic nature of human health
              * The role of climate and climate change
       6. Public Health Futures
              * Human health and wellbeing
              * The role of the evolving global village
              * Constructing healthy living environments and maintaining health ‘ecosystems’
              * Health legislation, regulation and planning

       7. Cross-cutting themes
              * Surveillance & Monitoring: data collection, analysis & interpretation
              * Ecological Complexity: natural ecosystems & human populations
              * Public Health Interventions: traditional & ecological

    Spatial Epidemiology


        * Provide an overview of important health and environment interactions
        * Develop a framework for using modelling to enhance understanding
        * Allow students to gain useful modelling skills


       1. Introduction to Spatial Epidemiology
              * The basics: Geographic Information Systems, spatial analysis and their place in epidemiolog.
              * The role of spatial epidemiology in the study and practice of public health

       2. Locating ill health
              * Making maps that identify specific ‘locations’ – pin maps of case locations
              * Understanding GIS basics – tools and data management

       3. Populations, communities and disease
              * Making discrete maps that represent community wife health status
              * Understanding ‘ecological’ data and the tools and methods to process it

       4. Spatial surfaces and models
              * Representing continuous data and phenomen
              * Understanding the role and function of continuous surfaces in mapping

       5. Ecosystem dynamics and modelling
              * Understanding and representing simple ecosystem dynamics
              * The use of spreadsheet tools in modelling dynamic systems

       6. Constructing simulated worlds

              * Cross cutting theme is modeling as a tool towards understanding

                   1. Geographic Information System
                          o Visualisation of environment-health interactions
                          o Spatial data modelling of interaction

                   2. Computer simulation of dynamic processe
                          o Temporal simulation
                          o Spatial processes

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