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When the University of Trier was founded in 1971, the Department of Physical Geography was one of the first departments established first alongside those for Human Geography and Geography for Teachers. In the first years education focused on education of teachers. Since the late 70s, in Germany the course of studies for the so-called ‘Diplom-Geographie’, which is equivalent to the MA/MSc degree, was established. Thus, the educational objective changed from teacher training to the training of geographers who would find their jobs in civil service positions or in commercial firms.


snow melt erosion in Canada


From the beginning, the Department of Physical Geography was concerned with application-oriented education. Therefore, the course of studies for Applied Physical Geography was established in the late 70s.

The course of studies for Applied Physical Geograpy is based on a two-year undergraduate curriculum, wherein the students gather basic knowledge in Geography (Physical Geography, Human Geography) as well as in the geosciences of Biogeography, Cartography, Climatology, Environmental Chemistry, Geobotany, Geomathematics, Hydrology, Remote Sensing and Soil Science. Two subsidiary subjects have to be studied, supplementing and supporting Physical Geography and focusing on individual specialisation. Additionally, to give the students the opportunity to transfer ‘classroom-knowledge’ into reality, field courses and field trips in the Trier region and inside Germany are part of the education in the first two years. As of the third year of studies, education focuses on methodological competencies and proficiencies. Thus, in various seminars students present prepared reports about topics ranging from overall physical geography to up-to-date environmental problems. In general, seminars are interlocked with field classes and field trips, where the techniques studied in the classroom are applied to the practical problems. Accordingly, at the end of the studies, students are able to recognise and draft an environmental problem, to record proxy data, to evaluate them, and finally, make recommendations for solving the problem and for future planning. These skills, competencies and proficiencies complete the studies and are demonstrated in a thesis.

Additional to the course of study of Applied Physical Geography, Physical Geography can be studied as a subject within the course of studies of Applied Environmental Sciences. The aim of this course, similar to that of the subject of Applied Physical Geography, is to present a broad knowledge in overall geosciences with a special focus on environmental problems. In this course of studies, the curriculum requires studies in two major and two minor subjects.

Education of the students of Physical Geo-graphy is closely related to research projects running in the Department of Physical Geography. Research experience in the Department covers a wide range of topics, but most recently is focusing on overall questions of Global Change and Past Global Change, Environmental History, Watershed Management and Environmental Management. Projects in Environmental Management predominantly deal with problems in Germany like Eco-Auditing of vineyards of the Mosel valley or Eco-Auditing in industrial plants like car (VW) or shoe manufacturers (TECTRO, plastics processing). In contrast, projects in Global Change and Past Global Change and Environmental History as well as in Watershed Management also deal with problems in Central Europe as well as other regions. For many years, one of the regional core competencies is located in arid regions, demonstrated in various projects running in the hyperarid central Sahara (Chad, Niger), Persepolis basin (Iran), as in the semi-arid eastern Africa (Ethiopia) or the dry-subhumid Mediterranean (Iberian Peninsula). Additio-nally, another emphasis of our work is the investigation in high mountain areas, which connects overall questions of environmental change: e.g. the accumulation or back off of glaciers in the high mountain areas of Norway, the most recent development of permafrost soils in the mountainous areas of the Sarek national park (northern Sweden) and the Western Alps, and the investigation of the overall geoecological reactions on these changes in the cryosphere.

Regularly offered classes
for undergraduate students (1st and 2nd year)

· Introduction to Physical Geography I
(5 lessons weekly each winter term)
Earth history, Climatology, Weathering- and Soilforming Processes
Lecture and Class

· Introduction to Physical Geography II
(5 lessons weekly each summer term)
Geomorphology, Geozones
Lecture and Class

· Geomorphological Mapping
(1 week, each summer)
Field course

· Germany field-trip
(1 week, each summer)
Field trip to selected regions of Germany seen as Bavaria, Lower Saxony, Alps

Regularly offered classes
for graduate students (3rd year of)

· Special topics in overall Physical Geomorphology
(two lessons weekly, each term)
i.e., Geomorphology of Central Europe, Natural Hazards,
Quantitative Geomorphology

· Special topics in Applied Physical Geomorphology
(two lessons weekly, each term)
i.e., Human Ecology, Desertification, Soil Erosion

· Exercises with changing special topics within the following fields:
(two lessons weekly, various each term)
Environmental Management, Global Change and Past Global Change, Laboratory exercises, Ecosystems and prognosis, Nature conservation and Map reading

· Exercises in operating Geographical Information Systems
(two lessons weekly, each term)
and one ArcView exercise (each term)

· Field-course
Exercises in operating Geographical Information Systems
(two weeks, two each summer term)
… in general, combined with …
· Research exercises
(three lessons weekly, affiliating to the field course over a period of six month)

The research exercises, in general, are brought together in the Field course for graduate students. Both seminars together build a complex module, where a complex problem has to be processed and worked out. This module is very demanding of the competencies and proficiencies of the students and is a good preparation for the thesis.

· Field trip for graduate students
(two weeks, one each summer term)
Recent destinations include Spain, Mexico, Iceland, Italy, and Canada.

Head of Department
Prof. Dr. Johannes B. Ries
+49 (0)651 201-4511

Dr. Ralph Hansen
+49 (0)651 201-4533

Dr. Reinhard-Günter Schmidt
+49 (0)651 201-4523

Dr. Manuel Seeger
+49 (0)651 201 4557

Dr. Elisabeth Tressel
+49 (0)651 201-4554

Karla Trampert
+49 (0)651 201-4512

Homepage Physical Geography