M.Sc. Physical Geography: Climate and Environmental Sciences

Environmental processes and dynamics are driven by the diverse properties of physical systems on global, regional, and local scales. Accelerating climate change affects the underlying processes and thereby landscape dynamics, and moreover socio-ecological systems.

These changes impose fundamental research challenges and, as a consequence, increase the volume of spatial data. At the Institute of Geography in Erlangen, climatic changes and their effects are studied from different research perspectives, with a (non-exclusive) focus on high-mountain environments.

Research foci of the Physical Geography branch of the Institute of Geography are climate research, environmental studies, and geoinformatics, each with various sub-fields. Our institute is internationally recognized and involved in many international collaborative projects and has a special focus on high mountain regions (e.g., in the European Scandinavian Mountains, the Alps, the Andes, High Asia and the Himalayas, East Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean), but also on polar regions and drylands. Besides, we are active in various projects inside Germany and the province of Bavaria. A strong link exists to Cultural Geography via the research field society-environment-interactions.

The institute has excellent research facilities in electronic data processing systems and laboratories which are intensively involved in student training to warrant a modern, practical, and applied education. In detail, the institute disposes of a soil and sedimentary lab, adendroecological lab, and a stable isotope lab. In climatology, you are trained in various meteorological measurement techniques and climate modelling, and in the field of GIS and remote sensing, you learn advanced methods of special functions, concepts, and implementation of modelling algorithms.

The MSc programme offers the opportunity to specialise in one major subject area of Physical Geography by giving students the opportunity to take advantage of an individually tailored Master’s programme; this will enable a specific qualification in a chosen field of interest. In-depth modules and the possible topics for the Master’s thesis mirror the three research pillars at our institute in Erlangen:

Climate & Environmental Sciences is a two-year (4 semesters) degree programme that is taught in English and comprises 120 ECTS credit points. All students start with a thorough education in scientific writing, an introduction to climate and environmental sciences and two graduate seminars on one of the three research topics. The first three semesters are dedicated to the individual specialisation, in particular due to state-of-the-art as well as novel methodological training.

The fourth semester is dedicated to the Master’s thesis, which focuses on one of the chosen major topics. Semesters abroad are not compulsory, but can be arranged (e.g. through the ERAMUS programme and partnerships with universities).

The Master’s programme has a clear research focus and qualifies participants for a PhD at a University or for scientific work in research institutions or governmental agencies. Graduates also qualify for a large variety of exciting and challenging positions in consulting, management, data analysis, or public services.

Research at our institute covers an unusually wide spectrum of climate science. It comprises the “reading” of climate proxy data (e.g., tree rings, soil properties), the access of climate phenomena from space, and the simulation of climate processes with the help of supercomputers. These areas are mirrored in the teaching program, yet the pivotal part of the climate research specialization is the practice of a modern, physical climatology: numerical modeling of mechanisms and processes, with a focus on the atmosphere and cryosphere of Earth; the analysis of large climate data sets through state-of-the-art statistics; and direct meteorological measurements span up an exciting framework that unifies empirical evidence and the value of computer models.

The courses put these methods in the light of topical issues, for instance, understanding the interplay of climatic subsystems in the challenging environment of high mountains (atmosphere, glaciers, hydrology); practicing seasonal predictions; or sharpening the sense for future climate projections.

The master program offers a profound modular methodological education with an emphasis on different remote sensing and GIS techniques. Our classes are closely linked to applications in the research foci in glaciology and climatology as well as in biogeography and spatial ecology. You will learn to process and analyze various Earth observation data types, ranging from optical multi- and hyperspectral to radar data. The classes will introduce you in hands-on exercises and practical applications to analysis techniques such as radar interferometry and machine learning algorithms. We provide cross-links to numerical modelling and field measurements.

With our course program we aim at current and future demands and challenges in regard to processing of large data amounts (“big data”). All classes provide the opportunity to acquire versatile programming and scripting skills that enable efficient data processing as well as the customization and the development of new algorithms. This combination of geoinformatics modules with thematic knowledge links modern data analysis and acquisition techniques with an in-depth process understanding that is required and demanded for data interpretation in the respective research fields.

Our institute comprises excellent facilities to acquire multiple kinds of data on the environment. The generation of environmental data is a key qualification in basic and applied research to study effects of climate change on different components of the physical environment, including soils and sediments, water, and plants or other organisms. In the teaching program, we offer various lab courses in the soil lab, the tree-ring lab, and the stable isotope lab.

Here, you are trained in sampling strategies, preparation techniques and state-of-the-art analyses methods, and data assessment and interpretation. The lab courses are embedded in practical research applications like the impact of climate change on trees and forest ecosystems, climate reconstruction from natural archives, and environmental changes caused by human impact.

Please read the following carefully.

1. Due to the course structure, we strongly recommend to start in the winter term.

2. Successful applications must proof good basic knowledge in Physical Geography or a related subject as well as basic technical skill sets, e.g. GIS or programming/scripting. Note that the examination regulations require you to have at least 30 ECTS (40 ECTS starting summer term 2021 onwards) in one or more geography-related subjects (e.g. ecology, climatology/meteorology, GIS, soil science and geomorphology, hydrology, forestry, and environmental physics). Applications without specific motivation letter, with too little geography-related background, or from entirely technical subjects (e.g., mechanical engineering) will be dismissed.

3. Please be aware of the minimum Bachelor entry grade of at least 2.3 or better (without additional exam) or 2.3-2.5 (with additional exam). Grades below this threshold will be excluded from further review. Grades refer to the German higher education system or equivalent.

4. If the minimum entry grade is fulfilled, yet theextent of your geography-related background is not clear enogh, we will offer you a coaching (digital meeting) after your application to help you assess the fit with our program.

5. Applicants have to proof intermediate knowledge of the English language (level B2) according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or an equivalent score in an internationally recognised test. The proficiency of a basic knowledge of German (A1) has to be proven within the first academic year.

Applications for the M.Sc. Physical Geography: Climate & Environmental Sciences shall be submitted online via the campo web portal.


The application deadlines are 31 January for the following summer term (starting in April) and 15 July for the following winter term (starting in October). It is therefore possible to start studies either in the summer or winter semester. Due to the structure of the programme we strongly recommend to start in winter.

For more information about enrolling for the Masters program, please visit the FAU website.

For questions regarding application and admission, please contact our student advisor:

Dr. Birgit Schwabe

Studien-Service-Center / alle Geographie-Studiengänge
Wetterkreuz 15
91058 Erlangen

Please also refer to our information on study registration.

[notice]Please always note our current information, dates and announcements. There you will find important information about introductory and teaching events.[/notice]

PG Masterseminar (PGMAS)