A girl and a boy are standing in a sunny nature reserve. The girl smiles past the camera and has her hands crossed. The boy smiles the other way and points his finger forward.

Physical geographers, geochemists, and hydrologists contribute to the understanding of natural processes in our modern world, especially with society’s ever-increasing pressure on the environment. The Master’s programme Earth Surface and Water provides you with knowledge and skills that are essential to manage the planet sustainably, guarantee the availability of natural resources for future generations, and understand and avert natural hazards.

Explore processes at or near the Earth's surface

The Master’s programme Earth Surface and Water involves the study of natural and human-induced physical and geochemical processes, patterns, and dynamics of the Earth’s continental and coastal systems. The main subject areas you will study during the two-year programme consist of the dynamics of coastal and river systems, (geo-)hydrological processes, groundwater remediation, land degradation in drylands and mountainous regions, natural hazards, and delta evolution on centennial and longer time scales.

Focus on societal problems

Modern society puts increasing pressure on the natural environment. The Earth Surface and Water programme therefore focusses on imminent societal problems, such as society’s increased vulnerability to climate and environmental changes and to natural hazards such as drought, flood, and mass movements. It also addresses the threats and opportunities resulting from human activity on our physical environment, including the hydrological cycle.

Core areas of research

In the Earth Surface and Water programme you will study the interactions between the natural and the socio-economic systems using quantitative and spatially explicit methods. It addresses the dynamic patterns and processes of the physical and chemical components on the Earth’s surface, shallow subsurface and the coastal areas. Understanding the historic and current processes will help to predict their responses to global change.

The programme contains field observations and laboratory experiments with the latest developments in remote sensing and computational methods.

What I really like is that you can pick one specialisation and combine this with courses from different specialisations.

Anna, student Earth Surface and Water

Some examples of the programme's societal and scientific questions:

  • How do river floods affect delta systems and their inhabitants?
  • How can we use natural processes under climate change to maintain safe - yet attractive and dynamic - coastlines?
  • How to leverage remote sensing for detailed monitoring of natural processes and ecological variables?
  • Will we have enough water to sustain the world’s rapidly increasing population in 2050?
  • What is the most efficient way to clean an oil spill that enters the soil and groundwater? 

Why in Utrecht

Studying Earth Surface and Water at Utrecht University has several advantages and benefits.

  • Research developed by our staff and students has a strong international profile, encompasses scales ranging from microscopic to global, and concerns both past and contemporary processes.
  • At the start of the programme, you can select one of four tracks to suit your specific interests. These tracks offer a well-balanced set of courses that will expose you to a wide spectrum of disciplines within the Earth Sciences.
  • Utrecht University research topics form part of larger research efforts to discuss innovative, sustainable solutions to threats and opportunities arising from climate change. This results in relevant research and career opportunities.
  • You will receive excellent support from technical and electronic engineers and use state-of-the art laboratory facilities and field instrumentation. You will also have access to excellent computational tools for hydrological and coastal-river morphodynamic modelling, either developed in-house or provided by third parties such as Deltares.
  • Utrecht is the national focal point of Earth Sciences in the Netherlands and the university is situated in close proximity to applied research institutes, which stimulates collaboration.

Key facts

Earth Sciences (MSc)
Language of instruction: 
Mode of study: 
Study duration: 
2 years

Dutch & EU/EEA students: 1 June

Non-EU/EEA students: 1 April

Tuition fees: 
Dutch and other EU/EEA students (statutory fee, full-time) 2024-2025: € 2,530

Non-EU/EEA students (institutional fee) 2024-2025: € 23,765

More information about fees
Croho code: 
Accredited by the NVAO
Graduate school: 
School of Geosciences
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