MSc in Environmental Forensics

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This course is no longer being offered and the application links have been removed.

However, if you are interested in the content of this MSc course, please view details of the MSc Environmental Engineering course instead, which allows students to undertake option modules in both the Environmental Forensics and Environmental Science discipline areas.

The Programme and its International Context

According to the International Society of Environmental Forensics: 'Environmental Forensics has grown out of the need for a platform to present scientific investigations that address environmental contamination subjected to law, public debate, or formal argumentation, as well as the evaluation of the basic science that serves as underpinnings to those activities'. This MSc, offered to students from a range of science and engineering backgrounds addresses these needs.

The emerging scientific discipline of 'Environmental Forensics' aims to prove, to the satisfaction of a court of law, who is responsible for instances of pollution. By determining scientifically and incontrovertibly who caused an incidence of pollution, environmental forensics will make legal proceedings arising quicker, more straightforward, and therefore less expensive. This will remove some obstacles to brownfield development. It will also be of benefit to major projects already under way, for example, the redevelopment of the site for the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the Clyde Gateway project in Glasgow, which includes the potential site for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Understanding how pollutants behave in the environment requires a multidisciplinary approach and in the case of cost allocation or cost recovery litigation, there are benefits to using environmental forensic methods performed by a qualified expert. The term of Environmental Forensics was first used after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 for which an issue regarding the origin of the background hydrocarbons present in the Gulf of Alaska before the disaster was raised. Since then, Environmental Forensics has been extensively used to date and allocate sources of gasoline and is now also applied to most priority contaminants such as chlorinated solvents, nitrate, gasworks related wastes, herbicides, pesticides and the Stockholm convention's persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Companies are increasingly liable for environmental damage that they have caused and this has had a powerful effect in curtailing new brownfield redevelopment and major civil engineering infrastructure projects. With new legislation like the European Union Environmental Liability Directive 2004/35/EC, now more than ever companies with an international exposure face new liabilities that could reach 60% of annual profits (among publicly traded firms publishing these figures). This new legislation applies the ‘polluter pays’ principle to prevent and remedy environmental damage to land, water, natural habitats and protected species.

Enforcing authorities will have to determine whether there is environmental damage and decide on the necessary remedial measures. With its potential to dramatically cut down investigation costs, Environmental Forensics will play a central role in the enforcement of the regulations.

In the UK, environmental liabilities have generally been the remit of regulators through enforcement of environmental legislation (e.g. SEPA, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) and through negotiation between parties and insurers (e.g. brownfield redevelopment). The current 'risk-based' approach by the regulator allows for a pragmatic approach to environmental remediation, however this approach falls short in providing for a convincing 'weight of evidence' needed for legal decisions when risk and responsibility must be partitioned. Thus, over the past few years, the new area of Environmental Forensics has emerged.

Professor Robert Kalin, is a leading international figure in Environmental Forensics. An investment of over 1 million pounds was recently made by the University of Strathclyde to upgrade research laboratory facilities for Environmental Forensics to the highest international standard. Most recent advances of analytical chemistry, biogeochemistry, hydrogeology, atmospheric pollution and microbiology are now being applied to Environmental Forensics by researchers and scientists at Strathclyde.

Environmental Forensics Modules

Core Modules

Dept of Civil Engineering:

  • Site Investigation and Risk Assessment
  • Fundamentals of Environmental Forensics
  • Recycling Urban Land
  • Research Methodology with Environmental Monitoring & Analysis

Centre for Forensic Science, Dept of Pure and Applied Chemistry:

  • Essentials of Forensic Science

Strathclyde Law School:

  • UK and EU Environmental Law

Optional Modules
(All taught by Civil Engineering - not all classes may be offered each year)

  • Atmospheric Pollution Impact Assessment
  • Waste Management and Landfill Design
  • Hydrogeology
  • Pollution and Rehabilitation of Degraded Ecosystems
  • Spatial Query and Analysis using GIS
  • Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation