NIGK17000U Land Use and Environmental Modelling

Volume 2024/2025

MSc Programme in Agriculture
MSc Programme in Environmental Science
MSc Programme in Nature Management
MSc Programme in Global Environment and Development


Environmental modelling is increasingly used in land management. To make decisions on sustainable land management, quantitative estimates of impacts (e.g. flux of N leaching in kgN/ha/yr) are needed for the range alternative strategies. Such data on impacts ususally comes from models. The course takes an ecosystem approach and use simple as well as more advanced models to quantify environmental loads under different land uses and from land use changes.

Main themes are:
• Element balance concept, including the biogeochemistry and processing of elements: deposition, fertilisation, weathering, plant uptake, litterfall, net mineralisation, leaching and gaseous losses.
• Water balance and its components including modelling here of.
• Soil characteristics and variability: Investigations in the field, importance for element balance and modelling calculations.
• Mass balances of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and base cations.
• Integrated models for transport and loss of water, matter and gasses.

We use element balance calculations and exisisting empirical and dynamic models that are comparable to model software used in enviromental or agricultural consultant companies.

Common types of terrestrial ecosystems are addressed, including intensively managed agriculture and semi-natural ecosystems such as forests, at scales from fields to watersheds. The impact of land use change e.g. due to less intensive management or afforestation is analysed.

The examples, assignments and student reporting is related to three parallel case studies: a river catchment with restored hydrology, a groundwater abstraction area in a complex landscape, and a simplified agricultural area for detailed modelling. The work on the case studies is performed in groups and a group report is submitted for each of these three cases.

Learning Outcome

The aim of the course is to give the students a fundamental understanding of the effects of different land uses on element cycling, element balances and element losses from terrestrial ecosystems. The students will achieve skills in using element balances, simple empirical models and more complex modelling tools to quantify impacts on the environment at different scales. The competences achieved are essential for work related to environmental analysis, assessment, management and research on issues related to various land uses and land use changes.

After completing the course the student should be able to:


  • Summarize land use impacts (agriculture, forestry) on environmental problems.
  • Describe C, N and P cycling under agricultural and forest land uses as well as the mutual interactions of these cycles in wetland soils.
  • Reflect on the variability of soil characteristics (including on the practical problems of soil mapping) and their influence on water and element fluxes.



  • Use element (and water) balances to estimate environmental impacts and/or benefits at different scales.
  • Use models to calculate element balances and environmental loads for case areas.
  • Understand and relate critically to results generated by environmental models.
  • Communicate knowledge on environmental problems related to land use.



  • Evaluate components in element balances as well as water balances and how these components are influenced by land use.
  • Predict potential environmental impact from various land uses and from land use change.
  • Discuss problems related to scaling and to obtaining reliable data.

We use scientific papers and reports. Please see Absalon.

Knowledge on processes in the plant-soil system as e.g. in the courses 'Soil, Water and Plants' (Jord, Vand og Planter) or ‘Environmental Chemistry in Biological Systems’ (Miljøkemi i Biologiske Systemer) or equivalent courses.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.
Teaching methods include: - classroom lectures - basic programming tutorials - case-based exercises - one excursion with field work - writing and presentation of small project reports. The case-based exercises initiated or completed in the class room form the main content of the project reports. These reports are produced as group work.
Approximately 1/3 of the course will be related to computer modelling thus you need to bring a computer and install software. One afternoon excursion will be off campus.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 32
  • Preparation
  • 129
  • Exercises
  • 40
  • Excursions
  • 5
  • Total
  • 206
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester

Teachers give written and/or oral feedback on drafts of the three reports produced as part of the course. Oral feedback will also be part of the discussion following group presentations.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 20 minuttes
Type of assessment details
The student will draw 1) one of the three submitted reports and 2) a question related to the curriculum. The reports are not graded but the theme of the report forms the basis of the first half of the oral exam. For the second half the question is drawn from a known pool of questions.
Exam registration requirements

Three project reports submitted

All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners

Re-submission of reports no later than three weeks before the re-examination, individual oral examination, 20 min.

Criteria for exam assesment

See 'Learning Outcome'