Department Systems Analysis, Integrated Assessment and Modelling

Modelling Aquatic Ecosystems

Course 701-0426-00, Bachelor course Environmental Sciences, ETH Zürich


The students are able to:

  • build mathematical models of aquatic ecosystems that consider the most important physical, chemical, biogeochemical, biological, and ecological processes.
  • explain the interactions between these processes, especially between ecological and biogeochemical processes, and the behaviour of the system that results from these interacting processes.
  • formulate, implement and apply simple ecological models.
  • consider stochasticity and uncertainty.


  • Basic concepts:
    Principles of modelling environmental systems, formulation of mass balance equations, formulation of transformation processes
  • Formulation of ecosystems processes:
    Physical processes (transport and mixing, sedimentation, gas exchange, detachment and resuspension), chemical processes (chemical equilibria, sorption), biological processes (primary production, respiration, death, consumption, mineralization, nitrification, hydrolysis, bacterial growth, colonization)
  • Consideration of Stochasticity and Uncertainty Sources, description, and propagation of stochasticity and uncertainty
  • Didactic models of aquatic ecosystems:
    Lake phytoplankton model, lake phyto- and zooplankton model, two box oxygen and phosphorus lake model, model of biogeochemical cycles in a lake, oxygen and nutrient household model of a river, benthic population model of a river.
  • Research models of aquatic ecosystems for lakes and rivers
  • Exercises: implementing and practicing the application of the didactic models using libraries of the program package for statistical computing and graphics R (


Note: This course will continue as planned with switching to electronic teaching

  • All lecture and exercise materials will be continued to be posted in the download section where you also find the course program, the comprehensive manuscript, and hints for the exam.
  • We will inform all registered students each week by email about the format of the next lecture.
  • We will have Zoom sessions during the lecture hours each week (this started already on March 18). Depending on the format of the lecture (downloadable PowerPoint Audio lecture for offline study, or fully interactive, online Zoom lecture), we will be available for both hours or only for questions towards the end of the lecture time. Please try to find a calm place with a good internet connection for the Zoom sessions.
  • We are also reachable by email for questions.
  • We will make any effort to allow you to take the exams and get your credits. The form of the exams will depend on the development of the pandemic and the ETH regulations.

We wish you a successful continuation of your studies and good health!   Nele & Peter