Our Disciplines

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Environmental sciences

With increasing pressure on our natural environment and natural resources, the environmental science group in our Department faces exciting challenges aimed at developing and presenting cutting edge programmes in order to deliver on demands from policy makers and society. The group works closely with the University’s Centre for Environmental Studies (CFES) on various levels, as well as the Laboratory for Atmospheric Studies (LAS). Research ranges from integrated ecosystems to international involvement in climate change and health. 

The environmental scientist studies processes, relationships and interdependence in the natural environment and human impact on it. Most careers in this field focus on managing and monitoring the environment, as well as environmental planning. Legislation in South Africa concerning national environmental management provides that all bodies concerned with activities that have an impact on the environment shall develop an environmental policy. It also means that environmental impact studies must precede all new developments. 

Environmental specialists act as consultants in the fields of environmental analysis and management, environmental law, environmental standards, environmental management systems and environmental auditing. They are needed by professionals in private sector institutions involved with environmental issues, such as transport and civil engineers, town and regional planners and landscape architects. government departments, for example the Departments of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries, Water and Sanitation, Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development,  and parastatal organisations such as the SABS and the CSIR, also offer career opportunities in the various specialised fields related to environmental science. Graduates can furthermore pursue an academic career.



Geography is a bridging science which links the human sciences with the natural sciences. Geography is also a spatial science, studying the location and distribution of cities and human activities, such as agriculture and tourism, as well as the processes, patterns, problems and potential answers associated with these activities. In addition, geography is a planning and management science aimed at improving the quality of life of all people. 

Geographers study the relationship and interaction between people and the environment. They specialize according to their interest and aptitude. This determines the nature of the problems on which they work and for which they seek solutions.

There are three main career fields in geography, namely teaching, research and the application of geographical knowledge and skills in practice. Geographers can focus on environmental management; urban issues such as squatting; regional and rural development; or environmental issues, including pollution and the destruction of ecosystems through activities such as mining, agriculture and tourism. Geographers in the private sector are generally employed by real estate, planning, architectural and engineering firms, and by banks, tourism organisations, environmental conservation bodies and industry. Government departments involved with environment, forestry and fisheries, water and sanitation, agriculture, rural development and land reform, tourism and education, and Statistics South Africa, also employ geography graduates. Many geographers are self-employed. They are mainly involved in areas such as marketing, planning, development, tourism, cartography, remote sensing, environmental analysis and environmental auditing.


Geomorphology forms part of physical geography. Research and teaching activities cover a range of topics including rock weathering, slope processes (such as soil erosion and mass movements), fluvial processes and biogeomorphology. A multidisciplinary approach is taken where application to the fields of geology and engineering geology, zoology, botany, architecture and landscape architecture are emphasised.

Graduates with a background in geomorphology are employed as ecologists, erosion control specialists, hydrologists, wetland specialists, and other environmental fields. Graduates can also consider registering with SACNASP upon completion of their studies.

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Geospatial data science

The field of geosaptial data science has advanced significantly over the past decade with a never ending increase in spatial data, and in particular a need for integrated analyses of such data in order to provide answers about the status of our living environment. The geoinformatics group in our Department is regarded as one of, if not, the best in the country. State of the art technology and the best software available is used in research and in accredited education programmes in order to prepare students for exciting future careers in geoinformatics.

Geoinformatics concerns the nature and function of geographic information including its collection, storage, analysis, visualization, interpretation and distribution. Geographic information is information with implicit or explicit reference to a location relative to the Earth. Geoinformatics provides the scientific foundation for geographic information systems (GIS), i.e. the software, hardware, data and people for collecting, processing, managing, analysing and visualizing geographic information. The volumes of geographic information and the use of GIS are rapidly on the increase. New applications are being developed daily in a wide range of applications from utilities to environmental management.

The undergraduate programme in Geoinformatics offers a pathway to an interesting career: either as a registered Geoinformatics professional, or the degree in Geoinformatics could be a complementary qualification to a career in another discipline such as environmental science, geology or geography.

Graduates with a BSc (Geoinformatics) readily find work at organisations such as Geographic Information System (GIS) vendors (ESRI or lntergraph), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), GIS consultants (AfriGIS, GeoTerralmage, GISCOE), civil engineering consultants (Aurecon, SSI), the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), South Africa's National Mapping and National Geospatial lnformation (NGI), or any municipality in the country. Many government departments (e.g. Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries, Science and Information, Statistics South Africa, Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform, and Water and Sanitation) also employ GISc professionals.

Graduates of BSc Geoinformatics qualify to register as Candidate GISc Technologists with the SAGC. Graduates of the BScHons Geoinformatics qualify to register as Candidate GISc Professional Practitioners with the SAGC.

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Our Department is the only in Africa south of the equator that offers internationally recognised programmes in meteorology in close collaboration with the South African Weather Service. Meteorology focussed on the physics and flow dynamics of the atmosphere in order to generate mathematical models used for prognostic weather forecasting on different time scales. Some of the most advanced models are used in numerical weather prediction and climate change research.

Weather and climate are fundamental in people's lives since daily activities, such as agriculture, sport, travel and tourism, depend on it. In the long term they may even determine whether humankind survives or not. There is increasing concern that people's activities may irreversibly change weather and climate. Similar concerns exist on air pollution. Meteorologists and atmospheric scientists are interested in understanding how the physics and dynamics of the atmosphere work. Meteorology is the study of atmospheric phenomena. This not only includes the physics, chemistry and dynamics of the atmosphere, but also is extended to include many of the direct effects of the atmosphere upon the earth’s surface, the oceans, and life in general. The goals of meteorology are the complete understanding, accurate prediction and artificial control of atmospheric phenomena.

A BScHons Meteorology degree is required to become a professional meteorologist and this degree complies fully with the Basic Instruction Manual for Meteorologist as prescribed by the World Meteorology Organisation. To be considered for the BScHons Meteorology degree, you should first complete your BSc Meteorology degree.

Professional meteorologists work as weather forecasters, researchers, climatologists and lecturers. Meteorologists are employed by institutions involved in the study, interpretation and prediction of weather and phenomena relating to the climate. The South African Weather Service (SAWS), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), some universities, agricultural institutions, municipalities and industries employ meteorologists who mainly practise as specialists.

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Earth observation

With new satellite technology remote sensing or our ability to observe and record our living environment from a distance, has advanced significantly over the past decade. The remote sensing group in our Department collaborates over a wide front with the most prominent national groups (e.g. HartRAO, CSIR and other universities) and has contacts with the South African Space Agency (Sansa). These networks are used to develop high quality courses in the theory and application in remote sensing. The remote sensing group is also building on an increasingly wider international network.

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Social geosciences

Social geosciences forms part of the traditional human geography. With many modern day risks as a result of population growth, migration, urbanisation and human pressure on our natural and other resources, the social geoscience group in our Department faces many unique challenges related to our changing living environment. 

Geographers focusing on social sciences are generally employed by real estate, planning, architectural and engineering firms, and by banks, tourism organisations, environmental conservation bodies and industry. Government departments involved with environmental affairs, forestry and fisheries (DFFE), water and sanitation (DWS), agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD), tourism (DoT), basic education (DBE), higher education and training (DHET), and Statistics South Africa, also employ geography graduates. Many geographers are self-employed. They are mainly involved in areas such as marketing, planning, development, tourism, policy formulation, and environmental auditing.


- Author Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology
Published by Christel Hansen

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