MSc Environmental Impact Assessment & Management

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
GIS and Environmental Applications

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG60951
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Geographical Information Science and Systems are now at the heart of much environmental research. This is true whether research is conducted from with the ‘home’ discipline of Geography or from an array of aligned areas and conducted by universities, agencies or the public sector. Increasingly considered as a distinct way of doing science, it is important to have knowledge of both GIS principles and their application to real-world problems and issues. This unit provides a foundation in such theory and practice covering spatial concepts, representations and problem-solving skills. The material underpins the remainder of the MSc Geographical Information Science and provides a foundation for students interested in research in environmental fields, human-environment issues and processes and core physical geography applications. The general principles are also relevant for students interested in other areas of geographic enquiry involving spatial data, spatial analysis and associated analytics.


There are no prerequisites. However, absolute beginners who are interested in ArcGIS training are not encouraged to take the unit. All University-registered students can access ESRI training materials for independent study. For more information please contact the School’s GIS & Remote Sensing Officer.


To provide students with a foundation in the principles and practice of using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in environmental research.



The unit is divided into four blocks. The following is an indicative outline of course contents. Course contents are subject to modification and will be confirmed at the start of the unit.

Block 1 is a non-assessed orientation. It provides an introduction to the key theoretical and practical foundations for the rest of the unit. This block is formatively assessed with an opportunity for students to submit work via the online submission system and receive feedback to assist with preparation for the subsequent assessed practicals.

Block 2 is the first assessed block. It provides the theoretical and practical foundations for carrying out spatial analysis of environmental applications using GIS. It is delivered through lectures and practicals with one practical surgery. The block also has staff-directed reading. 

Block 3 is an introduction to the automation of GIS-based analysis and data interrogation/manipulation. 

Block 4 is about applying the knowledge and skills gained through a project centred on an environmental topic. Most students work on a set scenario, though an alternative project can be agreed with the unit leader. Block 4 provides the opportunity to apply and further extend the theoretical grounding and practical skills covered in taught classes. Guidance on developing & designing a GIS project is provided and an introduction to the set scenario. Consultation sessions (progress meetings) and practical surgeries are used in order to encourage a staged approach to the design and delivery of the project work.

Teaching and learning methods

  • There are 3 hours per week of timetabled sessions with a mix of lectures and practicals in computer labs. Lectures include some Q&A elements with small tasks to re-enforce learning of key ideas. Practicals have supporting workbooks which can be completed as private study following scheduled classes, as required. Assessment questions are included in the workbooks for Assignment 1. In some weeks timetabled slots may be optional, e.g. practical surgeries or allocated for progress meetings. Otherwise attendance is required. In slots allocated to progress meetings contact time with the lecturer/demonstrator is not for the full session.
  • Additional opportunities for assistance and clarification are available throughout the semester through regular office consultation hours. These are open drop-in sessions.
  • The unit is supported by a Blackboard e-learning site through which students can obtain copies of presentations, practical handouts and data. Reading lists and materials for further independent work are also provided through the Blackboard e-learning site.
  • Teaching in 2022-23 will use ArcGIS Pro version 3.0 (latest release)
  • The course is normally delivered entirely within a suitable computer laboratory.
  • It is strongly advised that students wishing to take this unit have access to a suitable Windows -based computer for private study. All students have free access to installation software for home use, but the software is only available for Windows 10 operating systems. ArcGIS Pro software is not available for Mac OS X. To check that your personal computer meets the minimum hardware and software requirements, see Please contact if you have any questions about hardware or software requirements. In exceptional circumstances it may be possible to make alternative arrangements for software access.


Knowledge and understanding

An understanding of key GIS and spatial analysis principles (normally including spatial interpolation, density estimation, distance functions and overlay using multi-criteria techniques); an appreciation of the principles and methods associated with automating GIS tasks; knowledge of a range of environmental applications of GIS; knowledge of GIS project design

Intellectual skills

Skills in handling and applying technical concepts; skills in critical assessment and evaluation of GIS data, analysis and results; enhanced skills in spatial thinking; research skills.

Practical skills

Extended practical skills in GIS; skills in importing a range of geospatial data from external repositories; enhanced abilities to prepare and deliver a GIS analysis project, including producing and delivering map outputs, geospatial metadata and GIS logic charts.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Experience of communicating and expressing geographical ideas and results in written and visual (map-based) form, report-writing and spatial data handling and management.

Employability skills

The theory and practice covered in this unit are highly relevant for developing employability skills for a range of public, private and other roles outside of the university sector. For example, spatial data analysis is core to activities in environmental agencies, local and central government, consultancies and many businesses. Furthermore project design, data management and technical communication, including through map production is also relevant as generic transferable skills.



Assessment methods

Method Weight
Project output (not diss/n) 60%
Practical skills assessment 40%

Feedback methods

Assessment task


How and when feedback is provided

Weighting within unit

F1: Submission of work associated with the non-assessed practical. The non-assessed practical is in a similar style to the following assessed practical. Deadline Week 2


Mix of short-and longer answers with map/chart deliverables


Verbal feedback, individual marks and written comments (Week 4)


  0% (Formative)


A1: Submission of a practical write-up based on the practicals completed as part of Block 2. Deadline Week 6

Mix of short-and longer answers with map/chart deliverables (1,500 words)


Verbal feedback, individual marks and written comments (Week 9)




A2: The design, preparation and delivery of a GIS analysis project on an environmental topic. Deadline Week 12.

2,000 word report with map outputs

Individual marks and written comments (start of Feb 2022)



Feedback is available through staff consultation hours and informal Q&A within class. Formal feedback is also provided on coursework assignments using Black Board and Turnitin.

  • F1: Verbal feedback, individual marks and written comments (Week 4)
  • A1: Verbal feedback, individual marks and written comments (Week 9)
  • A2: Individual marks and written comments (start of Feb 2022)

Recommended reading

Two text books cover core themes which are supplemented by additional reading through the course.

Heywood, I., Cornelius, S. & Carver, S. (2011) An Introduction to Geographical Information Systems, Fourth Edition, Prentice Hall : Harlow. 

Longley, P. A. Goodchild, M. F. Maguire, D. J. and Rhind, D. W. (2015) Geographic Information Science and Systems, John Wiley and Sons: Chichester Fourth Edition.

Reading Lists should normally be managed through the JRUL 'Link2Lists' facility. This field will generically contain the URL address for the 'Link2Lists' facility, but you can amend this as you wish (either entering a different URL in this field, to the specific reading list for the course unit), or by entering supplementary free text details of the reading list.
It is although advised that the 'Link2Lists' functionality is utilised as standard.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Demonstration 2
Lectures 9
Practical classes & workshops 14
Supervised time in studio/wksp 8
Independent study hours
Independent study 117

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Richard Figueroa Alfaro Unit coordinator

Additional notes

As a guide, the course comprises around 22 hours of compulsory formal elements with the remaining 11 hours of timetabled sessions used for optional informal elements:

  • around 11 hours of formal lectures (with lecturer)
  • around 9 hours of formal practicals (with lecturer & demonstrator)
  • 2 hour formal session for the delivery of the F2 non-assessed task (see section 6)
  • around 6 hours of optional practical surgeries (with lecturer/demonstrator depending on demand)
  • optional slots within around 5 hours of timetabled progress meeting to support work on unit assessments (with lecturer/demonstrator depending on demand)


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