This introductory course lecture on Environmental Physics provides the basis for all other courses in this area of specialization within the Master’s curriculum. The objective of the lecture is to convey a fundamental understanding of the physical processes and interactions within the Earth system. The properties and dynamics of the major compartments of the environment, transport processes within and between them, and their interaction in the climate system are treated. The lecture is structured in five main parts:

  1. Introduction and Fundamentals, introduces the subject and the basics about the Earth, its fluid compartments, flow and transport within them, and the global radiation balance.
  2. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics, is a major part of the lecture and provides an introduction to the dynamics of Earth's large fluid systems. The fundamental laws of fluid dynamics and the phenomenon of turbulence are discussed.
  3. Compartments of the Environment, focuses on some compartments of Earth's environment, especially the global circulation of atmosphere and ocean, and the slow dynamics in porous media and ice.
  4. Methods and Processes, deals with a range of techniques, such as isotope methods, that are used to study various physical processes in the environment. Examples of complex processes are radiative transfer and ocean-atmosphere exchange. Numerical modelling is indispensable to tackle the complexity of environmental systems.
  5. Climate System and Synthesis, discusses the synthesis of the dynamics in the various compartments of Earth in the climate system. Modern topics of climate research are presented and the anthropogenic impact on the Earth system leads us to the concept of the Anthropocene.

The lecture Atmospheric Physics is part of the specialization in Environmental Physics within the Master’s programme in physics. Knowledge of the general lecture on environmental physics (MKEP4) is required.

„Atmospheric Physics” covers the manifold of environmental processes occurring in the Earth atmosphere ranging from fluid dynamics, to radiation transport, to cloud formation, to physical and chemical cycling of constituents. The lecture applies the principles of environmental physics (discussed in MKEP4) to the atmosphere. The lecture highlights the key role of the atmosphere in the climate system, and it discusses state-of-the-art methods and experiments how to gain insight into respective processes.

This lecture is a regularly held part of the specialization in Environmental Physics within the Master’s programme in physics. Knowledge of the general lecture on environmental physics (MKEP4) is presupposed.

„Aquatic Physics“ or „Physics of Aquatic Systems“ is a part of environmental physics that deals with physical processes in natural waters such as oceans, lakes, rivers, and groundwater. The relevance of studying the hydrosphere follows from the oceans’ pivotal role in the climate system as well as the vital importance of limited fresh water reserves. The focus of this lecture lies on the most abundant continental water reservoirs, lakes and groundwaters. However, fundamentals of physical oceanography are also treated.

In the first part of the lecture, the physical properties of water and the aquatic systems, as well as the physical processes in these systems are treated. The laws of fluid dynamics (e.g., Navier-Stokes), as well as the theory of transport processes (e.g., advection, (turbulent) diffusion, heat and gas exchange), which are known from the general lecture on environmental physics (MKEP4) are applied to these special systems.

The second part of the lecture deals with the application of environmental tracer methods to study aquatic systems, the so-called isotope hydrology. In this part, various tracers (e.g., stable isotopes, tritium, noble and transient gases, 14C) and the basics of the respective methods are introduced and it is shown how these methods can be applied to determine physical parameters of aquatic systems.

This lecture is a regularly held part of the specialization in Environmental Physics within the Master’s programme in physics. Knowledge of the general lecture on environmental physics (MKEP4) is presupposed.

The lecture „Physics of Climate” addresses the underlying physical and chemical processes of the terrestrial climate system, how the relevant compartments of the Earth (i.e. atmosphere, ocean cryosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, ... ) interact, and how their properties are determined by the various internal and external boundary conditions and constraints provided on the various spatial and temporal time scales.

In the first part of the lecture (usually held during the winter term) deals with the formation of the solar system, the sun and its variable energy input into the climate system, some features of atmospheric radiative transfer and the budget of the climate system, as well as the relevant dynamical aspects of mass, momentum, and energy transport within the climate system.

The second part of the lecture (usually held during the summer term) addresses the hydrological and biochemical cycles, the carbon cycle and the cycles of the various greenhouse gases, some thermo-dynamical aspects of the climate system, the coupled atmospheric oceanic heat engine, modelling of the climate system, climate variability and climate change and its projection.

The lectures are complemented by a weekly tutorial, which includes some home-work and practical exercises.

<\br> Information for the Summer Term 2020


Master Seminar Environmental Physics - Winter term 2021/22

The global climate system and its potential tipping points

Time: Thursday 4:15-5:45pm
Location: INF 229, SR 108/110: In compliance with 3G regulations

Update Oct2021: all topics have already been taken
Registration was open from Aug. 1st 2021 with Samuel Hammer (shammer@iup.uni-heidelberg.de)

Main Contact:
Samuel Hammer (SH), shammer@iup.uni-heidelberg.de

Werner Aeschbach (WA), aeschbach@iup.uni-heidelberg.de
André Butz (AB), abutz@iup.uni-heidelberg.de
Klaus Pfeilsticker (PF), klaus.pfeilsticker@iup.uni-heidelberg.de
Nils Weitzel (NW), nweitzel@iup.uni-heidelberg.de
Samuel Hammer (SH), shammer@iup.uni-heidelberg.de


21.10.2021 Introduction (SH)
28.10.2021 Time for reading into the topic and preparation
04.11.2021 Time for reading into the topic and preparation
11.11.2021 Time for reading into the topic and preparation
18.11.2021 Sonja Gabriel: Basic definition of the tipping points in the climate system (SH)
25.11.2021 Hannes Juchem: Amazon & Boreal Forests (SH)
02.12.2021 Ines Dillerup: Weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (WA)
09.12.2021 Aaron Mielke: Sahara greening (AB)
16.12.2021 Marvin Kinz: Permafrost degradation and the related carbon cycle feedback (WA)
13.01.2022 Robert Zimmermann: Arctic Sea Ice (KP)
20.01.2022 Irene Trombini: Antarctic ice sheets (AB)
27.01.2022 Celine Kolb: Indian Summer Monsoon (NW)
03.02.2022 Lukas Artelt: Greenland ice sheet (NW)
10.02.2022 study week
17.02.2022 Carl Becker: Marine Bio Pump (SH)


Research seminar (Marsilius):
From Models to Politics – The Role of Simulations in Climate Change Decision Making (WiSe 21/22)


For registration, please contact Dr. Sanam Vardag (svardag@iup.uni-heidelberg.de for students from physics or Marsilius participants) and Dr. Maximilian Jungmann (maximilian.jungmann@ipw.uni-heidelberg.de for students from politics)

Dr. Sanam Vardag (Physics) und Dr. Maximilian Jungmann (Politics)

Preliminary meeting will be held online (link will follow). Block course (18.-20.11) will take place in Czernyring 22/10 Room G431/432

Date and Time:
Preliminary meeting: October, 22nd 2-4 pm Block seminar: 18th November 3-6pm, 19th and 20th November: 9am-6pm

The interdisciplinary seminar addresses the role of simulations in climate change decision making. Students will learn more about the physical science basis of climate models, as well as the structures and processes of international climate politics. In addition to deeper theoretical insights, students will step into the role of decision makers in an interactive C-ROADS simulation. They will represent different states, determine their climate targets, negotiate with others, and subsequently reflect on the simulation and key drivers and barriers of climate change mitigation on the global level.

Every student will give a presentation on a specific topic. Topics will be distributed in the preliminary meeting (2 ECTS). If you wish to prepare a paper on your topic (Hausarbeit), please contact Max Jungmann.

Link to lsf:


Practical Course

Practical Course Environmental Physics

Supervisor: Dr. Udo Frieß

Contact: IUP room 310, phone: 54-5478, udo.friess@iup.uni-heidelberg.de

F50 Feldversuch mit Schlauchboot

Practical Course Environmental Physics Background:

The various research groups at the Institute for Environmental Physics explore the Earth System by utilizing state-of-art physical and chemical methods. Nearly all research projects are embedded in national or international collaborations. One of the strengths of Environmental Physics in Heidelberg is that all compartments of the environment (atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, and lithosphere)as well as the interaction between them are being explored. Typical for the research studies are elaborate measurement campaigns in the field, frequently under harsh conditions.

In the framework of this Practical Course, the students benefit from the available knowledge and abilities of the different research groups in order to develop their experimental skills. The different experiments comprise general physical principles and methods of modern measurement techniques (e.g. cavity enhanced absorption spectroscopy, differential optical absorption spectroscopy, Paul trap, ground penetrating radar, time domain reflectometry, γ-spectroscopy, and UV spectroscopy). The different topics cover many relevant aspects in environmental sciences (air-sea interaction, cycle of matter and energy fluxes, physics and chemistry of the atmosphere, aquatic systems, and soil physics) and are closely connected to current research projects at the institute.

The student's work load is considered to be 30 hours (one credit point) per experimental topic and is roughly equal to the effort of one experiment of the Advanced Physics Lab Course (PFP1/PFP2). This practical course provides an insight in the different research topics in the field of environmental physics. Therefore it is highly recommended to carry out several experiments.


Enrolment and scheduling for individual topics is accomplished via the webpage of the Advanced Physics Lab Course:

in the framework of PFP2 (Bachelor)

in the framework MVENV5 (Master)



  • Cavity-Enhanced Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy of atmospheric trace gases
    CE-DOAS is a very sensitive method for the in situ measurement of atmospheric trace gases. Atmospheric absorbers are detected spectroscopically along folded light paths with effective path lengths of several kilometres using an optical cavity with a length of less than a metre. During this experiment, NO2, an important pollutant in the urban atmosphere, will be measured and its photochemistry will be investigated.
    1. Characterisation of the optical cavity
    2. Characterisation of the spectrometer/detector system
    3. Determination of the cavity path length
    4. Measurement and interpretation of the diurnal cycle of NO2

    Instructions: CE-DOAS (F58)
    Institute of Environmental Physics, INF 229, Lab 230
  • Analysis of lake stratification and lake-groundwater interaction
    Measurements of vertical CTD (conductivity, temperature, density) profiles on a lake near Ludwgishafen (Willersinnweiher) and sampling for later 222Rn measurements in the Lab. Analysis of CTD-data, calculations of density and stability, and linking the results of CTD and tracer measurements.

    Note: field experiment with rubber boat, due to security reasons participants must be able to swim!
    Instructions: Limnology (F50/51)
    Institute of Environmental Physics, INF 229, Lab 202

  • Air-Sea Interaction: Gas transfer across the air-water interface
    Measurement of the gas transfer rate of carbon dioxide across the air-water interface utilizing conductivity and pH measurements at a circular wind-wave flume. The pH-value is estimated by optical absorption spectroscopy and pH-indicators.
    Educational objectives:
    1. Comprehension of the carbonate system of the Ocean
    2. Learn to handle state-of-the-art optical measurement techniques in Environmental Physics.
    3. Investigation of the influence of the reactivity of carbon dioxide on the transfer rate
    4. Understand the wind speed and wind-waves dependence of the gas transfer rate.

    Instructions: Air-Sea Interaction (F54)
    Institute of Environmental Physics, INF 229, "AEOLOTRON", Lab 165
  • Natural radioisotopes as environmental tracers
    The aim of this experiment is to learn about natural radioactivity in the environment and to the application of radioactive tracers in environmental research. Environmental samples (both a soil profile and an atmospheric aerosol sample) will be taken and analysed with respect to natural and anthropogenic radioisotopes using low-level gamma spectroscopy.
    The following tasks will be performed:
    1. Measurement of small activity concentrations of radioisotopes on top of the natural radioactivity background
    2. Estimation of the fallout in the Odenwald as a result of the Chernobyl reactor accident
    3. Natural radioisotopes as tracers for airmasses and aerosols

    Instructions: Radioactive tracers in environmental research (F56)
    Institut für Umweltphysik, INF 229, Lab U50
  • Atmospheric trace gases
    Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy (DOAS) is a widely used technique for the detection of atmospheric trace gases in the atmosphere. This experiment offers the opportunity to gain insight into spectroscopic remote sensing techniques, which are widely used to study the composition of the Earth's atmosphere.
    The topics covered by this experiment are:
    1. To gain insight in the chemistry of the troposphere and stratosphere, in particular regarding zone and NO2
    2. To become familiar with spectroscopy and spectroscopic analysis techniques
    3. To gain insight into the radiative transfer in the Earth's atmosphere
    4. To learn how to determine a trace gas concentration with DOAS

    Instructions: Atmospheric trace gases (F18/38)
    Institut für Umweltphysik, INF 229, Lab 238
  • Isotopic measurements of water samples and determination of fractionation coefficients in a Rayleigh process
    In this experiment, the fractionation processes of water as they occur in the hydrological cycle during phase transitions are observed qualitatively and quantitatively using state of the art spectroscopy technologies (Off-Axis Integrated Cavity Output Spectroscopy). The isotopic composition of various water samples and water vapor are determined and several applications of isotopic measurements in hydrology and climate science are motivated.
    Lab course objectives:
    1. Observation of isotopic fractionation during water evaporation
    2. Determination of fractionation factors in a Rayleigh process depending on temperature
    3. Measurement of unknown water samples and introduction to applications in climate science

    Instructions: Rayleigh-Fractionation (F55)
    Institut für Umweltphysik, INF 229, Lab 516


Note: This page serves as a brief overview of the lectures offered by the Institute of Environmental Physics, for a complete list of the current lectures, please refer to the "Lectures & Seminars" link above.