GEOS1701 – Environmental Systems, Processes and Issues

Are you interested in travelling to beautiful and dramatic environments around the world and in Australia? Would you like to understand a little bit more about the climate, rivers, beaches and biodiversity of these places? Do you want to make a living working in the environment? If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of those questions then GEOS1701 – Environmental Systems, Processes and Issues may just be the course for you.

GEOS1701 will introduce you to the physical and biological systems and processes that create the natural environments of our Earth, explaining not only how they work and evolve, but how humans interact with them for better or worse. A key theme of the course is understanding the nature of some of the key physical management issues facing the world (and all of us) today and how we can sustainably manage these issues for future generations. 

This course is of interest to any science or non-science student who likes the environment and covers a range of different disciplines including Physical Geography, Earth Sciences, Environmental Science, Environmental Management, and Biogeography.

GEOS1701 is offered in Term 2

6 Units of Credit

Current handbook entry Current timetable  Course outline

Who should I contact?

The Course Convener for GEOS1701 is Professor Rob Brander ( He gives most of the lectures during the course, some of the practicals and runs the field trip.

Rob Brander is an internationally recognised coastal scientist with a research focus on rip currents and beach safety. His high media profile and efforts at science communication has resulted in the nickname ‘Dr Rip’ and an Australian Eureka Science Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science. To find out a little bit more about what he does, follow his Facebook Page ‘Dr Rip’s Science of the Surf’, or watch the following YouTube videos:

‘How to Survive Beach Rip Currents’

‘UNSW Science – Bondi Rescue improves knowledge about dangers of surf’ 

David Edwards has a significant role in the course, including delivering some of the lectures and overseeing some of the practicals. David is a geomorphologist with interests in human impacts on estuarine (both river and marine) environments. 

Associate Professor Scott Mooney delivers a series of lectures in GEOS1701 which cover what is traditionally called “biogeography” (Wikipedia has a great definition: Biogeography is the study of the distribution of species and ecosystems in geographic space and through (geological) time.) Scott’s research focuses on reconstructing aspects of past environments and environmental change with a particular focus on human impacts. He is an expert on the (pre-) history of bushfires in Australia and his work has been profiled in the media.

All of the staff involved in teaching GEOS1701 are physical scientists, trained in physical geography or environmental geosciences. We are passionate about teaching and we have drawn upon our extensive research experiences in the field to make this course fascinating, informative, relevant to the real world, and fun. That’s how you learn.

What does this course cover?

GEOS1701 examines a variety of processes operating in atmospheric, terrestrial, hydrological, coastal and ecological systems and while students are provided with a broad overview of global physical environments, emphasis will be placed on Australian examples. The concepts introduced and discussed in the lectures are reinforced through a unique variety of practical exercises and a field trip.
The aims of the course are simple. We want to: i) provide you with an understanding of how physical and bio-physical environments work; and ii) introduce you to a range of physical environmental management issues by examining the nature of interactions between humans and natural systems.
Students will also gain an understanding of how we monitor environmental process and change. Without this type of knowledge, sensible and sustainable management decisions regarding the environment cannot be made. In other words, this course has a strong practical and applied element. If there was a core course for being environmentally literate, this is it!

Major Topics Covered:

  1. Natural environments and management issues
  2. Climate systems and change
  3. Landscape evolution and hazards
  4. Hydrology, river systems and floods
  5. Coastal processes, landforms and hazards
  6. Biogeography, biodiversity and ecosystems
  7. Humans as agents of environmental change
  8. Field monitoring and measurement

Key learning goals and outcomes of the course include:

  • Fundamental knowledge of environmental systems and processes, past, present and future environmental controls, and complex human-physical relationships causing Australian and global environmental issues;
  • Critical thinking and problem solving using real data;
  • Written and oral communication;
  • Team/group work and dynamics;
  • Personalised and self-guided learning;
  • Practical skills including data analysis and reporting.

Where does this course fit into my degree?

GEOS1701 is a Stage 1 course suitable to any student interested in the topics described above, but is particularly relevant to students completing programs in Earth and Environmental or Geo-sciences, Environmental Management, Sustainability and Engineering, or Geography. The course is designed to provide students with a range of skills that will both help them in upper level courses and prepare them for work in environmental related fields.

The material and content of the course provides an excellent complement and extension from other first year courses such as:

The course also provides good preparation and background for the following second year courses:

Is there assumed prior knowledge or a co-requisite?

This is a general first year course so there are no pre-requisites. In fact, because it’s a fun and important course that is always rated highly, it’s a very good option for students (even non-science students) who are looking for an elective.

Are there mandatory activities for this course?

An attendance of at least 80% of the practicals is required to pass the course. Practicals are where you get to really interact with other students and staff and mostly involve assessments so you need to attend them.
The course includes a mandatory 1-day field trip. Last year this field trip took students to the Northern Illawarra region where they examined different vegetation types and beach and coastal systems. There is a very modest cost of about $25 that covers transportation.
Lectures are not compulsory, but if you miss them, you are really missing out on an experience. We often get friends of students coming to our lectures even though they are not in the course!

Is there anything else I should know?

There is a final exam for the course that will be scheduled during the exam period.
GEOS 1701 has always been a very popular course with students, and has rated highly in all official course student course evaluations. You are welcome to view the evaluations from 2016:

2016 Course Evaluations 2016 Student Comments

The word cloud below is generated from student comments from the course evaluation about what they liked about the course.

NB: All information provided on this page is superseded by information provided by the course coordinator or lecturer(s).