Master in Earth Sciences: Global Environmental Change and Policy


Program Description

Create solutions for the sustainability challenges of the Anthropocene

Earth history has entered the Anthropocene. While inherently a contested concept, the term denotes a new period in Earth history that is characterized by the unprecedented impact of human activities on the Earth’s geological and ecological systems. This specialization integrates the disciplinary insights from Earth Sciences, Environmental Economics and Environmental Policy and Governance to arrive at interdisciplinary solutions to the complex sustainability problems of tomorrow.

The first year lays the groundwork in the three disciplines and methods of interdisciplinary research, including fieldwork. From a strong grounding in Earth Sciences, we explore integrated approaches towards solving global sustainability challenges by adding the insights of environmental economics and environmental policy studies. Climate change is a central and cross-cutting theme throughout this specialization. In the second year, our students can deepen their studies in three distinct streams: energy, ecosystems and biodiversity, and water. Our motto is: “Integrating Earth Sciences, Environmental Economics and Governance to address tomorrow’s complex sustainability challenges”.

For Whom?
The specialization is for students who want to go beyond understanding the earth system but instead aim to contribute to sustainable solutions by analyzing the broader social, political and economic aspects of global environmental change. Our students are highly motivated, interested in interdisciplinarity, focused on solutions rather than limitations, and equipped with a critical and analytical mind.

Study Programme

The Earth Sciences Master’s programme is divided into three main specializations: Geology and Geochemistry, Earth and Climate, and Global Environmental Change and Policy. All these specializations start with a series of compulsory courses that provide you with a solid basis. This basis is used to further specialize, but selecting one specialization does not mean that you are restricted to just that one subject. You have the option of exploring every aspect of one specific area in great detail if you want to, but you are also free to choose your own subjects for up to a quarter of the required credits.

Compulsory courses for all specializations in the Earth Science master programme are two individual research projects and a field excursion.

Course descriptions
The Master’s programme in Earth Sciences takes two years and is worth 120 ECTS. 54 ECTS are project-related, involving a company traineeship, an orientation phase at a science journal, or participation in a research project complete with fieldwork, lab work and/or computer modelling.

A selection of compulsory courses includes:

  • Land-use change and ecosystems
  • Climate Impacts and Policy
  • Advanced Spatial Analysis
  • Designing Interdisciplinary Research

Depending on the stream students choose, the programme offers a variety of electives in energy, ecosystems and biodiversity, and water. In the first year, the programme includes a field trip. Students will study caused and solutions to a variety of sustainability problems.

Why VU Amsterdam?

International in scope
The international diversity of faculty members and students involved in Earth Sciences at VU Amsterdam make it a truly international Master’s programme. It is a programme in which the past present and future of our planet is the subject of our study.


VU Amsterdam is renowned for combining Earth Sciences specializations with other subject areas. Earth Sciences is part of the Faculty of Science, together with Mathematics and Informatics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Environmental Sciences. When studying Earth Sciences you can choose to become a broadly trained Earth scientist or focus on one of the streams offered within the three specializations.

Small-scale and high profile
The programme’s excellent reputation is partly due to the fact that

  • it is small enough to facilitate personal contact between all participants;
  • it is large enough to encompass the full range of specializations;
  • our teachers are professionals in education and research with a high international profile based on successful fundraising and international awards.

You will receive personal coaching (mentorship) throughout your studies from one of our staff members. This will help you to shape your curriculum, to gain the optimum out of your study, and to prepare for your further career. In that sense, Amsterdam and the programme are much alike: impressive but small enough to make you feel right at home.

Career Prospects

At the end of the programme, you will have acquired a sound knowledge of sustainability-related Earth Sciences knowledge, combined with the additional perspectives of economics and governance. This unique combination will enable our graduates to pursue advanced careers in research, consultancy, international organizations and companies, and governments. Graduates will also qualify for national and international sustainability PhD programmes.

Postgraduate degree programmes
After the doctoral or master degree programmes, there are opportunities to continue your educational career in a number of PhD programmes at the Vrije Universiteit, organised within a number of research schools:

  • Inter-University Centre for Geo-ecological Research (ICG);
  • Netherlands Research School for the Socio-Economic and Natural Sciences of the Environment (SENSE);
  • Research School Sedimentary Geology (NSG);
  • Integrated Solid Earth Sciences (ISES).

The PhD programme always consists of carrying out a research project, leading to a PhD thesis/dissertation, and of several compulsory or elective course modules.


Spending part of your study in external traineeships and research projects is a good way to prepare for and familiarize yourself with the labour market. The School for Earth and Environmental Sciences does not have a specific office or service mediating in external or internal traineeships and research projects. Students are advised to contact their study advisors/master coordinator or other staff members of faculty, as many of them will have elaborate contacts in trade and industry and external research institutes and universities.

In addition, students can enhance their orientation towards the labour market during 'bedrijvendagen' (business days), organized by GeoVUsie, and by attending seminars given by people from trade and industry. These are organized throughout the year at the faculty.

Last updated November 2019

About the School

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is an internationally renowned research university founded in 1880. The university offers over 150 English taught programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD level to 23,00 ... Read More

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is an internationally renowned research university founded in 1880. The university offers over 150 English taught programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD level to 23,000 students from all over the world. Students and staff of 130 nationalities create a dynamic international academic community. The University distinguishes itself in research and education through four interdisciplinary themes: Human Health and Life Sciences, Science for Sustainability, Connected World and Governance for Society. Read less