• University of Leeds

Planet Earth: Understanding and Protecting our Environment

Learn about the physical geography of Earth and discover how to use this knowledge to protect our natural environment.

813 enrolled on this course

An illustration of water circulation cycle in nature in red to represent global warming
  • Duration

    2 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Discover the Earth’s natural systems and how human activity affects them

On this two-week course from the University of Leeds, you will discover the processes of the hydrosphere, the geosphere, and the biosphere and explore the impact of human activity and climate change on our planet.

Discover the hydrosphere and the impact of human activity on the water cycle

You’ll start by looking at the water cycle and the ways in which human activity and climate change affect it. You’ll learn how Leeds scientists monitor the quality of water and how this influences aquatic life and agriculture.

Then, you’ll explore the cryosphere, discover the role of ice in regulating the Earth’s climate, and the impact of glacier recession.

Understand the biosphere and explore how ecosystems are affected by a changing environment

The study of the biosphere is that of ecosystems. You’ll take a closer look at how human activity is changing the biosphere by exploring the ecosystems of tropical forests, their contribution to nature, and how this is affected by climate change.

Explore the changing geosphere

You’ll learn how human activity in the form of coastal erosion, intensive agriculture, and mining for fossil fuels is affecting the geosphere. You’ll also explore the role of soil and learn how we can evaluate the impact of climate change by studying rocks and fossils.

Discover how scientists are addressing environmental problems

You’ll learn about natural flood management techniques and managing coastal erosion based on research by the University of Leeds.

You’ll then explore how invasive species are altering ecosystems, look at how scientists are monitoring their spread, and propose ways to restore the natural balance. You’ll also find out how scientists are monitoring the effects of climate change and how they can inform effective land use management in future.

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  • Week 1

    The changing environment

    • Welcome to the course

      Before you get started, take some time to meet the educators who will support you throughout the course. You'll have the opportunity to meet your fellow learners and plan your learning journey.

    • The changing hydrosphere

      In this activity, you explore the way in which the hydrosphere – the water on the planet in all of its forms – is being affected by the action of humans.

    • The changing biosphere

      In this activity, you investigate the effects that humans are having on the biosphere. You find out how research enables scientists to understand these changes and suggest ways to avoid further harm to ecosystems.

    • The changing geosphere

      In this activity, you are introduced to the geosphere – the solid parts of the Earth – rocks and soils. You explore how the geosphere provides researchers with evidence of how human actions are influencing the geosphere.

    • Summary

      To conclude the first week of the course, you have the opportunity to reflect on the week and explore the Glossary.

  • Week 2

    Protecting and managing a changing environment

    • About Week 2

      This week, you discover some specific challenges affecting the natural environment, such as flooding and invasive species. You explore the actions that environmental scientists and physical geographers are taking to address them.

    • Managing changes to the hydrosphere

      In this activity, you explore how the changing hydrosphere is affecting rivers and coasts, and discover what can be done help to reduce the effects of a warming climate.

    • Biodiversity: Ecosystems out of balance

      In this activity, you find out how invasive species are altering existing ecosystems. You also explore the role that citizen scientists have to play in monitoring ecosystems where they live.

    • Understanding the Earth’s systems: The role of critical zone observatories

      In this activity, you explore how scientists use sites across the world to monitor and understand the effects of changes to the natural environments of planet Earth.

    • Summary

      In this final activity, University of Leeds alumni talk about where their studies have led them. You also have the opportunity to test the understanding of your learning during this course.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

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Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain the key process of the natural environment; the hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere, and interpret them as a series of interlinked systems
  • Investigate the impact of human activity on natural environmental systems
  • Compare a range of approaches to environmental protection and management
  • Explore the academic and employment opportunities in physical geography and environmental science

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in understanding the earth system and exploring how to improve the relationship between humans and the environment.

It offers a great insight to studying for physical geography and environmental sciences as an undergraduate or fresher at university level.

The course is part of the Going to University collection. Completing this course can help improve your university application by broadening your understanding of geography and environmental studies, and by developing your independent learning skills.

The course can also be used by high school and college teachers to enhance classroom teaching or for independent learning.

Who will you learn with?

I am an Associate Professor of Marine Micropalaeontology in the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds. My research interests are climate change and marine biodiversity.

Who developed the course?

University of Leeds

As one of the UK’s largest research-based universities, the University of Leeds is a member of the prestigious Russell Group and a centre of excellence for teaching.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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