Environmental Modelling

Course Description: 

The aim of this unit is to introduce to students the idea, methodology and basic tools of environmental modeling. Models are important tools in environmental studies and management nowadays. In order to better understand environmental systems, to predict their behaviour and to develop effective management strategies it is necessary to bring together ecological, socio-economic and technological aspects of environmental problems. Some most often used tools to secure such an interdisciplinary analysis of numerous factors are system dynamics and process-based modelling techniques. The models can also be used to stimulate consensus-building among various experts and to facilitate more explicit and comprehendible communication of findings to decision-makers. Though different alternative approaches to environmental modelling are to be discussed the course mainly focuses on practical skills in process-based simulation.

Educational Approach

This course consists of laboratory-based lectures, readings, in-class exercises, homework, in-class and individual consultations and a major project (assignment). The course is based on "learn-by-doing" approach: the principles and tools described during the laboratory-based presentations will be by accompanied by students' individual work in the class. The students will develop understanding of complex environmental systems by constructing their own models using STELLA simulation software package. This is user-friendly software for visual modelling which allows non-programmers and non-mathematicians to develop and run environmental models. Ideally, models will be based upon previous students' academic and professional background and can be used later for their thesis project.

Extra credits will be given for creativity in problem solving and extensions to given tasks.

Key topics

  • Modeling for environmental sciences and management
  • Types of models
  • Causal diagrams
  • System Dynamics
  • Introduction to STELLA software package
  • Population modeling
  • Modeling of material flows through the systems (pollutants transfer, etc)
  • Modeling of cycles in nature (carbon cycle, etc)
  • Positive and negative feedback loops

Software: STELLA for exercises and assignment, other TBA packages for the case studies

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course students should

  • understand the role of modeling in environmental sciences and management, it’s advantages and limitations;
  • be familiar with main principles and approaches to modeling of environmental systems;
  • be able to develop a process-based environmental model using STELLA package;
  • formulate and analyse management strategies and scenarios.


Grading policy: 20% homework, 70% term project; 10 % critical assessment
Term Project: The task is 1) to develop a model of some environmental problem/system using STELLA software; 2) to develop and test alternative management/development scenarios; 3) interpret the obtained results; 4) public defence of the project and peer-review of other projects. The course structure encourages students to start working on the final assignment through a series of home exercises.


This course builds on student’s own environmental background and some basic mathematical skills. No prior training in math is required.