April 4, 2018

Factsheet Geosciences at Wageningen University & Research

The Environmental Sciences Group (ESG) of Wageningen University & Research consists of the Department of Environmental Sciences, which is part of the university, and Wageningen Environmental Research (formerly Alterra), a research institute for application-oriented and field-based research. Furthermore, ESG hosts ISRIC, the World Soil Information Centre and Museum.

Wageningen University – Department of Environmental Sciences

Within the Department of Environmental Sciences nine chair groups deal with geosciences.

Geo-information and Remote Sensing aims at realizing the Digital Earth of Locations by sensing a changing world, understanding human-space interactions, and empowering agro-environmental communities. Case studies range from local to global scales. Main activities are sensing and measuring, modelling and visualization, integrated land monitoring, human-space interaction, and empowering and engaging communities.

Soil Geography and Landscape focuses on developing quantitative methods for obtaining soil patterns on different scales, using expert knowledge, remote sensing, GIS, and geostatistics; interpretation in space and time of soil patterns and corresponding soil properties on different scales; and interpretations in the context of land evaluation, focusing on soil and water quality and the sustainability of land use types.

Soil Physics and Land Management addresses soil physical and hydrological processes on different temporal and spatial scales, and their central role in sustainable land and water management. Research areas are soil physics (flow and transport of water, heat, sediment and solutes), ecohydrology (soil-water-plant interactions), and land use and management (factors affecting soil degradation, conservation and restoration).

Soil Biology and Biological Soil Quality focuses on fertile soils (functioning and management of the soil biota in food production systems), soil biodiversity (conservation and utilization of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes), and soils in changing climate (effects of the soil biota on the greenhouse gas balance of the soil and on maintaining soil quality).

Soil Chemistry and Chemical Soil Quality studies the characterization of soil particles (DOM, Fe-oxides) and speciation of compounds in the soil by fundamental research and by more practically motivated studies. Chemical substances (nutrients, contaminants) interact with reactive soil particles, e.g. with organic matter, clay, iron oxide or hydroxide, and aluminium hydroxide. This will affect their bioavailability and mobility in the soil. Besides soil particles interact with each other, e.g. organic matter adsorbs onto iron oxide or hydroxide. This affects soil structure (formation of soil aggregates) and ion binding (competition effects).

Meteorology and Air Quality aims at contributing to the further understanding of atmospheric processes and their relevance to weather, air quality and climate. The focus is on atmospheric boundary layers over land and on the atmospheric aspects of the connected energy, water, carbon and aerosol budgets. Main activities are atmosphere-land interaction, atmospheric boundary layer dynamics and chemistry, air quality and aerosol budget, carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, GEWEX atmospheric boundary layer study, weather and climate studies, and urban climate.

Water Systems and Global Change aims at improving the understanding of anthropogenically driven changes in water cycles in relation to interactions between climate, water, energy and agricultural systems. Within the group there are three research lines that aim at identifying, quantifying and assessing dynamic feedbacks and interactions between water and global change (including climate change), modelled and observed at different spatial and temporal scales; impacts of global change on water, agricultural and energy sectors, including vulnerabilities and risks; and opportunities to reduce  impacts of global change through different adaptation and mitigation strategies for water and agriculture.

Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management focuses on catchment-scale hydrological processes and river basin water management. With respect to hydrology special emphasis is put on the development of physically-based and conceptual models of surface and subsurface flow processes to examine the hydrological system and its component processes and to study the effects of climate change, land-use change and other human influences on the water balance of catchments. Spatial information technology, such as remote sensing and geographic information systems, are essential tools in this field. The four main lines of the research programme are hydrometeorology, catchment hydrology, hydrogeology, and environmental hydraulics.

Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management focuses on the physical, chemical and biological processes occurring in aquatic ecosystems. The main goal is to develop new knowledge and better instruments for restoration and management of these ecosystems. The research is multidisciplinary (environmental engineering, environmental chemistry and aquatic ecology) and ranges from the laboratory scale (detailed process studies) to the scale of actual ecosystems (field studies). The multidisciplinary expertise of the team comes together in the development of integrated models for ecosystem and water quality management. The research approach thus is quantitative with a strong emphasis on state-of-the-art statistical and modelling techniques.

The research of these chair groups is embedded in two graduate schools: WIMEK (Wageningen Institute for Environment and Climate Research, part of SENSE) and PE&RC (Production Ecology & Resource Conservation).

Wageningen Environmental Research (formerly Alterra)

Wageningen Environmental Research includes four geoscientific teams:

  • Soil, Water and Land Use;
  • Earth Observation and Environmental Informatics;
  • Sustainable Soil Use;
  • Climate Change and Adaptive Land and Water Management.

Research of these teams comprises physical, chemical and biological processes and conditions that affect the quality and functions of the soil and consequently the environmental quality of water and atmosphere. Research results are applied on local, regional, national and global scales and contribute to sustainable land use and sustainable planning and management of the green environment. Research is driven by important questions related to soil biodiversity conservation, clean groundwater and surface water, reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases and chemical pollutants, and sustainable agriculture.



ISRIC serves the international community with information about the world’s soil resources to help addressing major global issues. It  operates in three priority areas:

  • soil data and soil mapping;
  • application of soil data in global development issues;
  • training and education.

ISRIC has been working for some fifty years on datasets and maps on local, national and global scales and at various resolutions. Now it is developing a wide range of datasets and web services that are crucial to solving the five big problems of our time: food insecurity, climate change, environmental degradation, water scarcity, and threats to biodiversity.

An important feature is their World Soil Museum, where visitors can learn about the role of soils in life and ecosystems and get an impression of the enormous variation of soil types in the world. The museum displays soil monoliths with accompanying data including a full profile description, soil chemical and physical data, and information on the landscape and land use.

ISRIC also has a training and education programme that provides a wide array of courses and lectures on global soils, soil and terrain classification, soil mapping and soil information systems, as well as on the use and importance of soil information for the sustainable management of planet Earth.


Wageningen University & Research have the following geoscientific facilities:


Wageningen University offers one geoscientific bachelor programme (Dutch) and three masters (English).

Bodem, Water, Atmosfeer (BSc) deals with processes in, on and above the earth’s surface. Students acquire knowledge of landscape forms; groundwater; morphology, ecology and chemistry of streams, rivers and lakes; and the influence of weather and climate. The field of knowledge includes the interrelated natural processes involving physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and geography.

Earth and Environment (MSc) addresses key issues such as water scarcity and quality, soil degradation, food supply, loss of biodiversity, vulnerability to severe weather and climate change. Within this programme students choose one out of four specializations: hydrology and water resources, meteorology and air quality, biology and chemistry of soil and water, or soil geography and earth surface dynamics.

Geo-information Science (MSc) educates specialists who can collect, manage, analyse and present spatial data using state-of-the-art methods and tools. The programme blends geo-information science methods, technologies and applications within environmental and life sciences for a changing world.

Climate Studies (MSc) focuses on adaption and mitigation to global warming, the greenhouse effect and climate change. This programme is specifically targeted at students who wish to focus on the scientific insights into climate change and on the social and economic implications of climate change in the broadest sense.

Related programmes are Internationaal Land- en Waterbeheer (BSc) and International Land and Water Management (MSc), which focus on the scientific analysis of land and water management issues on various scales. An integration of physical, technical, socio-economic and political dimensions in various approaches is sought in order to critically analyse, understand and tackle land and water management problems. The programmes pay attention to land and water management on different scales, to interactive approaches with actors at the respective levels, to the institutional aspects, and to the multifaceted consequences of the proposed interventions. One of the specializations in the master’s programme is Land Degradation and Development.