Department of Environmental Geography


Spatial heterogeneity of the environment and human activity causes the impacts of global environmental change to depend on location and context

Environmental Geography

The department is structured around two major research directions: 1) Land System Change and 2) Adaptation to Climate Change Risk. Spatial heterogeneity of the environment and human activity causes the impacts of global environmental change to depend on location and context.  The identification of vulnerable people and places under conditions of environmental change is of prime importance in designing effective adaptation strategies and planning.

The department develops innovative methods to support policy and planning by spatial analysis, simulation models and scenario studies across multiple scales. The department conducts research in local case studies, at the regional and national level, as well as at the global level. This multi-scale approach enables the local findings to be evaluated in a global context, while global models are confronted with the reality in local studies across the world. Explicit attention is given to feedback mechanisms and the emergence of spatial patterns as a result of interacting human-environment processes.

The interdisciplinary expertise of the department is mostly applied in projects that address issues relevant to stakeholders and society at large. The researchers have a strong expertise and experience in bridging different disciplinary perspectives of environmental change and integrated assessment modeling. The complexity of the environmental problems requires the integration of data from many sources and multiple disciplinary perspectives. For this reason, the department staff is capable of resolving problems of integration that are both technological and human in nature. Prof. dr. ir. Peter Verburg is head of the department which consists of about 35 PhD students and staff members

“Understanding the spatial heterogeneity of socio-ecological systems requires a truly interdisciplinary approach”


Publications of the department are listed here.

Land system change

Land system change is the result of many interacting processes across multiple scales involving different economic sectors and a wide variation of actors. Different land uses may lead to competing claims given that land is a limited resource. Policy and land use planning aim at enhancing the synergies between different land uses, providing ecosystem services by the land system, and carefully addressing the trade-offs between different choices. The department aims at improving the overall understanding of land system change and ecosystem services by using a spatial, multi-sectoral perspective across multiple spatial and temporal scales. Spatial models for simulating scenarios of land use change and ecosystem service demand and supply are developed and applied. Models range from agent-based models at local scales to integrated models of land use system change at continental to global scales. Models are used to test hypotheses of land use transitions, evaluate integrative scenarios and make ex-ante assessment of specific policies, including agricultural policy reform or biofuel policies. Researchers of the department have developed the CLUE (including CLUE-s, CLUE-Scanner and Dyna-CLUE) model that is one of the best-known operational land use models and widely used throughout the world. Further tools include a range of methods for quantifying and mapping ecosystem services, agent-based modelling of land chang decisions and the global land system change model CLUMondo.

Illustrative publications include:

  • Verburg PH, Koomen E, Hilferink M, Pérez-Soba M, Lesschen J-P. 2012. An assessment of synergies between climate change adaptation measures and ecosystem services in Europe. Landscape Ecology. 27(4): 473-486. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10980-012-9715-6
  • Van Berkel D, Verburg PH. Planning for multifunctionality: using an agent-based model to support participatory policy design. Landscape Ecology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10980-012-9730-7
  • Asselen S, Verburg PH. Land cover change or land use intensification: simulating land system change with a global-scale land change model. Global Change Biology. In press. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1111/gcb.12331
  • Schulp CJE, Lautenbach S, Verburg PH. 2014. Quantifying and mapping ecosystem services: Demand and supply of pollination in the European Union. Ecological Indicators 36:  131-141. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1016/j.ecolind.2013.07.014

maps afd 

Adaptation to climate change risk

A strong expertise on the development of methods for risk analysis and evaluation of associated costs of damage due to flooding and drought is available in the department. Dynamic links between hydrological models, land use models and economic damage assessments have been established to allow an integrated analysis of exposure, damage and possible adaptation options. These studies involve projections of people, assets and their location, in combination with estimates of future hazard probabilities based on and climate scenarios. Adaptation measures are evaluated in different contexts ranging from local measures such as small sand dams to store water in areas suffering droughts (e.g., in Kenya and Ethiopia) and urban planning and risk management in coastal cities such as Rotterdam (the Netherlands), Jakarta (Indonesia), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), and New York (USA). Several new research activities focus on the impacts of climate change and climate variability on water related issues at the global scale, including developing models to asses flood risk at the global scale, assessments of the impacts of El Niño on flooding, global assessments of adaptation costs in the water supply sector, and global analyses of spatial and temporal patterns in water scarcity.

Illustrative publications include:
  • Aerts, J., Botzen, W., Bowman, M., Ward, P.J., Dircke, P., 2011. Climate adaptation and flood risk in coastal cities. Earthscan, Oxford, UK, 330pp.
  • Ward, P.J., De Moel, H., Aerts, J.C.J.H., 2011. How are flood risk estimates affected by the choice of return-periods? Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 11, 3181-3195, doi:10.5194/nhess-11-3181-2011.
  • Bouwer, L.M., Vermaat, J.E. & Aerts, J.C.J.H. (2008). Regional sensitivities of mean and peak river discharge to climate variability in Europe. Journal of Geophysical Research, 113, D19103.
  • Kummu, M., Ward, P.J., De Moel, H., Varis, O., 2010. Is physical water scarcity a new phenomenon? Global assessment of water shortage over the last two millennia. Environmental Research Letters, 5(3), 034006, http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/5/3/034006


Contributing to higher level education 
Within IVM the Spatial Analysis and Decision Support department makes a strong contribution to the MSc programme Environment and Resource Management, the BSc and MSc Earth Science and Economy, the distance learning initiative UNIGIS and many other courses within VU University Amsterdam and the Amsterdam University College. Besides organizing and contributing to these programmes the department contributes to IVM’s PhD programme and hosts several PhD students.

MSc Environment and Resource Management: http://www.environmentmaster.nl
BSc Earth Science and Economy:http://www.falw.vu.nl/nl/opleidingen/bacheloropleidingen/aarde-en-economie/index.asp 
MSc Earth Science and Economy: http://www.falw.vu.nl/nl/opleidingen/masteropleidingen/earth-sciences/specializations/earth-and-economics.asp  
UNIGIS: http://www.unigis.nl  
IVM PhD programme: http://www.ivm.vu.nl/en/teaching/PhD-programme/index.asp

International Leadership
The Department chairs, under the overall auspices of the IGBP and IHDP programmes, the Global Land Project. The Project has evolved into the largest network in the field of Land Science. In addition, the department is a core member of Alternet (Europe’s biodiversity research network), the Ecosystem Service Partnership, and the European Land Use Institute. Within Amsterdam the department collaborates within the Amsterdam Global Change Institute. 

GL project logo

More information

Researchers: Staff Department Spatial Analysis and Decision Support
Brochure: Brochure Department Spatial Analysis and Decision Support

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