Specializations / Course guides

The following course guides are intended for students pursuing an MSc degree in Climate Science at the University of Bern. They provide an overview of the courses that can be taken in preparation for a master's thesis in one of the six specializations.
Recall that a specialization is not a module in the strict sense, but rather a label on your diploma that indicates the broader topic of your master thesis (see the FAQ section).
Hence, none of the courses listed below are mandatory from an administrative point of view but attendance may be required or recommended by a supervisor.
Introductory courses are primarily meant as a door-opener for students without a major or minor in the bachelor's degree in the respective field; advanced and specialized courses may be available to these students as well, but may require more effort. See also the description of course levels.
Statistics courses are highly recommended in any case, as they are an essential tool for most theses, and many professional careers.

Introductory courses
For students without a BSc degree in Atmospheric Sciences or related fields, there are four courses at a bachelor's level:
  • Meteorology I and II
  • Climatology I and II
These courses are complementary, i.e. with a focus on different areas, so you can select freely and depending on availability.

Advanced-level courses
Examples for more advanced courses are:
  • Weather and Climate Data, a self-learning course with basic R or Excel required
  • Remote Sensing in Climatology
  • Micrometeorology Field Course, acceptance with knowledge of “Climatology II” or equivalent.
Master-level courses offered each year are
  • Meteorology III and
  • Climatology III
They quickly repeat the fundamentals of the respective BSc-level courses and go on from there.

Seminars that apply the knowledge from the above lectures to big datasets using programming tools and statistical methods are
  • Climate Risk Assessment
  • Seminar in Climatology
Participation in these courses is limited. You will get a spot, but maybe in just one of them and only on your second try.

Specialized courses
Depending on your prior knowledge and your interests, you may pick from a wide range of specialist courses, from both Univ. Bern and ETH Zürich, for example:
  • Atmospheric Circulation and Modes of Variability
  • Atmospheric Physics
  • Climate Modelling
  • Microwave Remote Sensing
  • Large-Scale Weather Dynamics
  • Atmospheric and Aerosol Chemistry
Wild Cards may apply for preparatory or other courses.
Moreover, some of the higher-level courses in Statistics might be of interest for you.
Please note also the BIP-M requirements for forecasting services at MeteoSwiss.

This specialization combines coursework from a range of disciplines in the Faculty of Sciences, Univ. Bern, as well as from ETH Zürich, PSI, or WSL. Topics at the interface of the disciplines are paleosciences, climate impacts, water and ice, or Earth system modeling, among others. For experimental theses make sure you take some lab courses. For data-driven theses you will need skills in programming and statistics.

Introductory courses
There are a number of entry-level courses in the various fields, although they might feel like advanced-level to some. Depending on your background, one of the following courses may open the door to a particular research field:
  • Methods of Climate Reconstructions
  • Quaternary Paleoclimate and Paleoenvironment
  • Quaternary Climate Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems: Concepts and Observations
  • Limnology and Paleolimnology
  • Micropollutants in the environment
  • Remote Sensing in Climatology

Advanced- and specialist-level courses
There is a substantial number of available courses to deepen your knowledge, whether on an advanced or specialist level, and from a range of disciplines, e.g.:
  • Environmental Radionuclides and Nuclear Dating
  • Environmental- and Limnogeology
  • Environmental Radionuclides and Nuclear Dating
  • Hydrological Process and Modelling
  • Carbon Cycle
  • Glaciology and Ice Cores
  • Introduction to Climate and Environmental Physics
  • Stable Isotopes
Complementary coursework may stem from the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and Actuarial Science, ETH Zürich, and from methodological courses such as
  • Dendroecological Field Course
  • Quaternary Dating Course
  • Spatial statistics

Introductory courses
The GSCS offers a number of entry-level courses in Ecology, with a focus on Paleoecology, and one course with a specific focus on Agriculture. You can also get in touch with the research field in courses on laboratory work or dendrochronology, among others. Courses that do not necessarily require prior knowledge include:
  • Climate and Agriculture
  • Global Change Ecology
  • Dendroecological Field Course
  • Palaeoecology and Palaeoclimatology of the Alps and their forelands
  • Holocene Vegetation History of the Central and Southern Alps
Advanced-level and specialist courses
The list below may be of interest for students with and without background in Ecology.

Paleo-Climate and Ecology:
  • Advanced Plant Biology: Paleoecology
  • Paleoclimatological and Paleoecological Excursion to the Swiss Plateau and the Alps; with application, basic knowledge may be required
  • Quaternary Climate Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems
  • Plant metabolism
  • lnternational Training School on Quantitative Wood Anatomy using ROXAS
  • Tree rings and climate
Ecological aspects in other fields:
  • Economics of Biodiversity and Climate
  • Environmental epidemiology applied to climate sciences
  • Philosophical issues in understanding global change

There are now more than 60 ECTS available from courses in the field of Climate and Environmental Economics. This large selection allows you to arrange your curriculum in this field according to your preferences:
  • For novices, the online course “Microeconomics for Non-Economists” or the course “Economic Evaluation of Environmental Goods” may be the right choice.
  • For students with a background in Economics, the full elective coursework may be done in this field, and admission to a PhD in Economics is open.
See the student guide below on how to become a specialist in Climate and Environmental Economics.

A specialization in Social Sciences or Humanities will most likely be associated with a master thesis in Political Sciences or History, respectively.
The common perspective for these two specializations is that our master's program offers only a handful of courses. This means that you will need to expand your knowledge in other research fields and disciplines.
In any case, we recommend using the 10 ECTS elective courses upon approval (Wild Cards) for specialized coursework and tools for a master thesis in Humanities or Social Sciences.

Introductory courses
In principle, the following courses should be within reach for all students in Climate Sciences. These are alternating courses / seminars with changing contents to meet the requirements by the host institutes.

Political Sciences:
  • Environmental Policy I and II
Environmental History:
  • Climate and Society in History
  • Introduction into Historical Climatology

Advanced-level and specialist courses
Given the small number of elective courses for the two specializations, three paths for potential extensions appear:

The Social Sciences are closely related to Economics, so this path may be the most common for most students with an according background or willingness to put in more effort, e.g.:
  • Microeconomics
  • Economic Evaluation of Environmental Goods
See also the 'Student's Guide Economics' wihich explains introductory and advanced courses in Economics.

Natural Sciences and quantitative methods
Combining tools from Social and Natural Sciences is increasingly recognized as a necessity when addressing climate change. This means that understanding the "physical" climate system and the ability to apply quantitative methods becomes very valuable. Hence, you may invest in introductory and advanced-level courses in Atmospheric Sciences or Climate and Earth System Sciences (see the respective course guides). Moreover, we encourage taking Statistical Methods for Climate Sciences, which may require some effort but is clearly feasible for students with a background in Social Sciences. As an example, you may build your expertise in Historical Climatology / Climate History, which requires both qualitative and quantitative approaches.

Interdisciplinary path
Other courses with a humanities, social-science, interdisciplinary perspective include coursework from multiple disciplines, such as:
  • International Environmental Law
  • Climate Sciences in Conversation with Climate Law
  • Philosophical issues in understanding global change
  • Methods of Climate Reconstructions
  • Environmental epidemiology applied to climate sciences
This path has certainly its advantages in terms of a holistic view on the climate challenge. However, we feel that choosing too many courses from too many different fields can lead to a loss in real expertise.