Land Use, Element Balances and Environmental Impact

Course content

The course takes an ecosystem approach. The focus is on sources and sinks affecting the element balance of a system under different land uses and land use changes.

Main themes are:
• Element balance concept, including the biogeochemistry and processing of elements: deposition, fertilisation (broadly including also the use of waste products), 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.

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 modelling.


MSc Programme in Environmental Chemistry and Health
MSc Programme in Agriculture
MSc Programme in Nature Management

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

• Use element (and water) balances to estimate environmental impacts and/or benefits at different scales.
• Use complex computer models (e.g. Daisy) to calculate element balances for case areas.
• 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.

Teaching methods include: - classroom lectures - basic programming tutorials - case-based exercises - excursion with field work, training soil classification - writing and presentation of small project 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.

Approximately 1/3 of the course will be related to computer modelling thus part of the teaching will be in the computer room. One afternoon excursion will be off campus.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Oral examination, 15 minuttes
During the course three group reports are produced and evaluated. An oral exam in the reports and the curriculum are performed as a group examination with questions asked to the individual students (15 min is the approximate time used for each student).
Weight: 50% reports, 50% oral exam.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

See 'Learning Outcome'

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 30
  • Theory exercises
  • 35
  • Practical exercises
  • 40
  • Project work
  • 50
  • Preparation
  • 45
  • Excursions
  • 5
  • Exam
  • 1
  • English
  • 206