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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  Study  /  Graduate Taught  /  MSc Aquatic Science

MSc Aquatic Science

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Combining the fields of catchment hydrology, geomorphology and ecology with those of aquatic conservation and restoration, the MSc Aquatic Science gives students the fundamental interdisciplinary training necessary for a career in aquatic environmental research, consultancy and environmental protection.

Environmental issues such as pollution, habitat degradation, invasive species and climate change threaten the sustainability and quality of aquatic ecosystems. Responding to these threats the MSc Aquatic Science at UCL equips students with an interdisciplinary understanding of the structure and functioning of aquatic environments from upland catchments to the coastal zone, encompassing lakes, ponds, rivers, floodplains, wetlands, groundwaters, estuaries and shallow seas. The MSc takes an “aquatic landscapes” approach and places special emphasis on the transferal of science to practical conservation and restoration.

The MSc Aquatic Science provides an ideal foundation for PhD research, or for employment within environmental protection and conservation agencies and environmental consultancies. Students taking the course have considerable interaction with aquatic conservation professionals, who give guest lectures and take part in fieldwork. Species identification, both in the field and laboratory, is an important part of the degree as is fieldwork with major residential field classes to the North Norfolk Coast, Scottish Highlands and Dorset. Students can specialise in subjects such as water pollution, palaeolimnology and environmental reconstruction, Geographical Information Systems, hydrological modelling, restoration ecology and freshwater and marine conservation as related to current-day legislative frameworks. They will also gain transferable skills in project, survey and monitoring design, environmental governance and working with stakeholders, science report writing and communication and numerical analysis. The MSc has a substantial alumni base who attend regular course social events allowing past and present students to mingle and learn from each other. Aquatic Science students work closely with students from the MSc in Conservation and have access to a whole range of internal talks and events arranged by UCL Geography and the UCL Conservation Group.

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The MSc in Aquatic Science can be undertaken full time over a full year or part time over two years. Core modules take place in Term 1 (autumn) and consist of four courses which establish the fundamental principles of aquatic ecosystem science, key conservation issues and approaches, aquatic monitoring principles and application, study design, and data analysis. All courses take an integrated approach to aquatic ecosystems recognising catchment-based approaches and linkages between fresh and coastal waters. In Term 2 (spring) students chose from a substantial list of expert-taught specialist options, tailored to key interests and future plans.

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All students take four core Aquatic Science modules in the first term and choose a further four modules from a range of options in the second term. Additionally, students undertake a piece of original research leading to a dissertation (60 credits) of up to 12,000 words with the support of an academic supervisor.

Term one will include two residential field courses.

The following modules will be available 2018/19. Please note these may be subject to change.

COMPULSORY MODULES (Term One)
Module codeModule titleUCL Credit value
GEOG0094 Aquatic Systems 15 credits
GEOG0095 Aquatic Monitoring 15 credits
GEOG0108 Scientific Basis for Freshwater and Coastal Conservation 15 credits
GEOG0106 Environmental Data Acquisition and Analysis 15 credits
OPTIONAL MODULES (Term Two)
Module codeModule titleUCL Credit value
GEOG0034 Coastal Geohazards 15 credits
GEOG0083 Politics of Climate Change 15 credits
GEOG0091 Wetlands 15 Credits
GEOG0135 Marine Conservation 15 Credits
GEOG0096 Lakes 15 credits
GEOG0101 Ocean Circulation and Climate Change 15 credits
GEOG0067 Surface Water Modelling 15 Credits
GEOG0112 Climate Risks to Hydro-ecological Systems 15 credits
GEOG0122 Biological Indicators of Environmental Change 15 credits
GEOG0123 Non-biological Indicators for Environmental Reconstruction 15 credits
GEOG0152 Introduction to Citizen Science & Scientific Crowdsourcing 15 credits
GEOG0107 Aquatic Macrophytes 15 credits
GEOG0035 Environmental GIS 15 credits


Students on the MSc Programme also embark on a dissertation after the examinations in May, which lasts until the end of the programme in September. The department enjoys strong links with the conservation and environmental protection sector and each year dissertation placements projects are offered with a number of key organisations including PBA Applied Ecology, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), The Rivers Trusts, Thames Estuary Partnership and the National Trust. Combined with the wide range of aquatic science expertise available in the department, this leads to great variety of possible research topics for investigation.

Information on fees and funding can be found on the main UCL website.

  1. Fees
  2. Scholarships

Please note that the optional Aquatic Macrophytes field-based module in term 2 has modest additional costs associated with accommodation and transport.

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You can apply for a place on this Programme via UCL Admissions.

Potential applicants are expected to have a first or upper second-class Honours degree in a relevant discipline (e.g. Environmental Science, Geography, Oceanography, Biology, Chemistry or Engineering) from a UK university or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard. Applicants with relevant professional experience in aquatic science or environmental management will also be considered. Advice is available from the programme tutor Dr. Carl Sayer. Overseas applicants will need a recognised English language qualification. Some information relating to your country and UCL can be found here.

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Employability and graduate distinations

The MSc in Aquatic Science has seen near full employment of its students in freshwater and coastal science research, consultancy and in environmental protection and conservation organisations.

By integrating several external organisations into fieldwork and teaching, and especially through alumni involvement with the course and events that bring current and past students together, the MSc is constantly exposing students to careers possibilities, whilst also equipping them with key contacts. To prepare students for employment in aquatic conservation and research a series of dissertation “industry” placements are also offered. The programme’s focus on field working, species identification, water chemistry, study design, aquatic monitoring and modelling, science communication and importantly stakeholder-conservationist-scientist interactions also increases employability by providing students with a skills set that is highly desired by employers.

Since the course started in 2010-2011 students have taken up a variety of careers in the aquatic environmental sector. Typically at least 30% of our graduates go on to undertake further research towards a PhD (at institutions all over the world) with recent subjects ranging from micro-plastic pollution, fisheries ecology, underwater sound ecology, paleoecology, beaver ecology and natural flood management. Other students have taken up careers in aquatic environmental consultancy, conservation management (especially for the Rivers Trusts, Natural England and Coastal Partnerships), environmental protection (especially with the Environment Agency), policy design and delivery (Defra), environmental education (for the Wildlife Trusts, Field Studies Council and Citizen Science delivery organisations) and company greening and sustainability.

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