Course at a glance

Subject code: L4ES

The study of Environmental Science covers an exhaustive range of subjects. This course covers a wide range of subjects, selected to give students an understanding of the extensive topics covered by the study of the environment. These specially selected units were specifically developed to cover the multidisciplinary aspects of environmental studies allowing students gain an understanding of the environment above and below the seas in addition to human interaction with nature. A level 4 Diploma award can equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to pursue a career within the field of environmental Science, or for further study at degree level.

At the end of this course successful learners will receive an accredited certificate from the CIE GLOBAL and a Learner Unit Summary (which lists the details of all the units the learner has completed as part of the course).

The course has been accredited by CIE GLOBAL . This means that Oxford Learning College has undergone an external quality check to ensure that the organisation and the courses it offers, meet certain quality criteria. The completion of this course alone does not lead to an Ofqual regulated qualification but may be used as evidence of knowledge and skills towards regulated qualifications in the future.

The unit summary can be used as evidence towards Recognition of Prior Learning if you wish to progress your studies in this sector. To this end the learning outcomes of the course have been benchmarked at Level 4 against level descriptors published by Ofqual, to indicate the depth of study and level of demand/complexity involved in successful completion by the learner.

The course itself has been designed by Oxford Learning College to meet specific learners’ and/or employers’ requirements which cannot be satisfied through current regulated qualifications. The CIE GLOBAL certificates involves robust and rigorous quality audits by external auditors to ensure quality is continually met. A review of courses is carried out as part of the endorsement process.

Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma Entry Requirements

Students must hold a Level 3 Diploma or A Level qualification to enrol onto our Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma

Basic English reading and writing skills, as full tutor support is given.

All students must be 16 years of age or above.

Study Hours

Approximately 400 hours.

Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma Course Duration

1 Year.


You can enrol on the course at any time.

Awarding Body

CIE Global

Assessment Method

Coursework only.

Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma Course Content

Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma ;
Unit 1: Using information, communication and technology ICT in the study of Environmental Science

Information, communication and technology (ICT) comprises core skills for learning. In this distance learning course utilisation of methods, tools and strategies of ICT is important in order to establish and maintain a sound working relationship with tutors and the college.

Students will need to develop ICT skills in order to communicate effectively and maximise their study progression.

The first unit of the Environmental Science course explains how to set up an ePortfolio which students will use during the lifetime of the course for storage of all their files including coursework, self-assessment activities, independent research notes and reflective journals. The ePortfolio may be requested from time to time by tutors and moderators. Students will be asked at various points in the course to upload files for this purpose. The ePortfolio will not only provide students with a structured system of unique information but once completed can be used as a resource for continuing professional development (CPD), and a body of revision for future studies.

Independent research is fundamental to level H4 study and also equips students with confidence to source and evaluate information relevant to the core course topics.

In this first unit students are presented with tools and strategies with which to begin to undertake independent research and integrate this into coursework activities, for example suggesting ways to read research articles and assimilate types of information from these.

The development of knowledge and understanding through writing skills is important for communicating ideas and arguments to tutors and other readers of written work. Therefore this unit reviews writing skills, and incorporates reflective writing into both the course and coursework activities. Reflective writing is a way that individuals can review their own approaches to learning and communication; and it also promotes pro-active implementation of skills enhancement through tutor feedback and self-assessment.

Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma ;
Unit 2: Introduction to Environmental science

The first section of the unit covers basic research methods in environmental science and statistical analysis. This is a basic revision of skills that would be acquired at level 3 study.

The unit is a general introduction to environmental science topics before subsequent units look in great detail at specific issues and topics.

As far as we know, Earth is the only planet that can support life, due to the specific conditions that are necessary in order to allow organisms to survive. The features of planet Earth which provide conditions that permit the existence and continued support of living organisms are described in this topic. This includes discussion about water and oxygen; how life on earth has changed its environment and sustainability of resources.

In order for life to survive, various environmental conditions need to be maintained, such as air and water supply, and a hospitable temperature range. If these conditions are not maintained, then some species may be at risk. An endangered species is a species (either plant or animal) that is in danger of becoming extinct through loss of habitat, habitat degradation, over hunting or harvesting, or other reasons.

The unit presents study of the hydrological, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon cycles.

Humans are one of the most successful species on the planet, and the current world population stands at approximately 6 billion. The rapid expansion of the human race has led to pressure on wildlife. There are many ways that humans can threaten wildlife, and these include both deliberate and accidental harm.

There is growing awareness that conservation is necessary if we are to avoid losing more species of wildlife. There are various methods that can be employed to help protect the environment.

Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma ;
Unit 3: Energy Management and Life Processes

Adaptation to the environment is very important. To be able to survive, all species must be well adapted to the physical and biological environment. Most organisms can only survive within a relatively narrow range of conditions called their Range of Tolerance. Species’ adaptations affect their ability to survive environmental change and control management practices in habitats protected for wildlife. Species interdependence often requires conservation of communities of species rather than individual species, due to the fact that many species rely on each other.

The assessment of species diversity is important in monitoring environmental change, damage and the success of conservation efforts. An understanding of population dynamics is important in monitoring species’ survival, breeding success and in assessing Maximum Sustainable Yields of exploited species.

Conserving the aesthetic appeal of the environment involves the maintenance of features that are natural or have been produced by human activities and give the countryside its character. Examples include woodlands, hedgerows, stone walls, in-field trees, ditches, banks, ponds and river features.

Study of the atmosphere involves consideration of the composition of the atmosphere and the processes which influence life on Earth. Global climate change and ozone depletion are considered in greater depth. The most significant layers of atmosphere for life on Earth are the troposphere and stratosphere. These are the layers which are affected by human activities, and the atmosphere may be contaminated by varying levels of pollutants.

Minerals are non-renewable resources because the amounts that exist are finite although most are very abundant. Economically recoverable resources account for a tiny proportion of the total that exists. The main limitations on mineral availability are the locations, chemical form and purity of the deposits, and the availability of technologies to exploit them. Their exploitation is economically important but can cause environmental damage.

Elements cycle around the earth continually. The element cycles occur between the gaseous, hydrological, sedimentary and biological reservoirs with varying residence times. They are driven directly or indirectly by solar energy. An understanding of these cycles aids the management of nutrient supply systems and the control of human activities. They can help when making decisions about agricultural management or when predicting the effects of global climate change.

Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma ;
Unit 4: Conservation of Resources

The demand for energy is rising, both within the UK and throughout the world as a whole. Over the past 25 years, global energy consumption has risen by around 2% every year. This rise is due in part to rising populations, but also other factors as well.

The demand for energy rises as incomes rise. The wealthier people become, the more appliances they are likely to have, and they will also tend to wish to make themselves more comfortable, by keeping warm or cooling themselves down. The demand for products increases with wealth, and the production of these goods requires the use of more energy. People also tend to take more holidays when they have more disposable income, which uses energy in transportation.

As countries become more industrialised, so there is an increase in the demand for energy.

Each type of fuel has its own advantages and disadvantages, in terms of their application to particular uses, their environmental impacts and future availability. It is important that all resources are used in a sustainable way so that they will continue to be available for future generations.

Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma ;
Unit 5: Pollution

Pollution is energy or matter released into the environment with the potential to cause adverse changes to an ecosystem. The energy or matter involved is called a pollutant. Each pollutant may have a single or multiple source, and may have a number of effects on the environment, either short-term or long-term. It may have an effect on only one species, or may affect an entire ecosystem.

It is necessary to have an understanding of the properties of pollutants and why they have caused problems. This should make it possible to predict the behaviour of new materials and therefore anticipate and prevent pollution problems.

All pollutants have sources, pathways and sinks. The source is where it came from, the pathway is the route it takes to reach various parts of the environment, and the sink is the site of accumulation or dispersal. Each pollutant may have a single or multiple source, and may take several pathways, or even be changed along the way into a new pollutant. The properties of a material determine its behaviour as to where it travels and for how long it acts.

Atmospheric pollution is a global problem. Although harmful emissions may occur in a localised area, the global atmospheric system can carry pollution far from its original source, causing damage far and wide. Effective controls of atmospheric pollution require national and international legislation and agreement to control trans-boundary pollutants.

Water bodies, including coastal waters and oceans, act as the final sink for many pollutants. Water can enable pollutants to become mobile and move through streams and rivers to other locations.

Noise is the sound produced from the vibration of either a single or multiple source. Noise becomes a pollutant when it is inappropriate to its environment or if it causes harm to structures or organisms, due to volume, duration or pitch.

When energy from radioactive particles and rays transfers to the matter they pass through and ejects electrons from the atoms, it leaves them with an electrical charge. This formation of charged atoms (ions) is called ionisation. In living tissues this can result in the breaking of bonds, such as those within DNA. DNA is very important as it holds all the information about the production of all other substances in the cell.

Solid waste and solid waste disposal, is also a source of pollution which the unit will discuss.

Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma ;
Unit 6: Ocean Formation

The ocean covers some 70% of the Earth’s surface and is home to a vast array of living organisms, all highly adapted to life in a marine environment. From the tropical fishes and corals of warm low latitudes to the animals of the icy Polar Regions; the sunlit surface of the sea to the deep dark depths of the abyssal plains, the ocean has many discrete habitats. The features of the ocean also vary with time and space from the hourly and daily movements of sediments and ocean currents to the millions of years it takes for the formation of ocean basins to their destruction.

To understand how the oceans form, it is helpful to see how the geological processes of the Earth developed and are responsible for the whole mechanism of ocean formation and destruction.

Earth and our solar system probably formed some 4,550 million years ago (Ma) when clouds of stellar dust and gas condensed from the debris of a supernova explosion; when a dying star collapsed then exploded, sending massive quantities of dust and gas into space, effectively recycling matter in the universe. Following this supernova explosion, gravity caused cold gases and particles of dust to clump together to form larger particles of solid matter, which aggregated into larger and larger particles until eventually small planets called planetesimals formed. These planetesimals were around 10km in diameter and developed a powerful gravitational force, attracting other planetesimals, large rocks and debris from space so that they gradually accreted new material and grew to the size of the planets we see in our solar system. These of course comprise of the small rocky inner planets; Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars and the large gaseous outer planets; Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

For millions of years, gravity attracted debris to the planets until there was little material left from the supernova explosion. Lighter elements were blasted out into space or contributed to the larger gaseous outer planets. The heavier elements settled closer to the Sun and became incorporated into the rocky planets. Some of the lighter debris orbits within the asteroid belt beyond Mars and cometery material orbits within the Kuiper belt, just beyond the orbit of Neptune. For the Earth, this early bombardment caused heating of the planet due to frictional energy. This heating was supplemented by radioactive decay of heavy elements. Volcanic activity was fierce and unrelenting. Heavy elements such as iron and nickel settled toward the core of the Earth and the lighter elements rose to the surface and cooled forming a thin rocky crust.

This unit explores all these stages of formation and the associated marine processes in each stage.

Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma ;
Unit 7: Biological Evolution in the Oceans

The elements which are essential for life are found in abundance throughout the universe. Elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen nitrogen and phosphorus have been produced through cosmic cycling over billions of years and form the basis of self replicating life forms under certain conditions – the most fundamental one being the presence of liquid water.

The earliest definite fossils date back to 3.8 billion years ago, although life was probably present on Earth some 4 billion years ago, a relatively short time after the formation of the Solar System and the Earth itself, which is around 4.6 billion years old. Life began with amino acids and other compounds, which combined into more complex molecules called nucleic acids (the basic constituents of genes) which were capable of self replication. Nucleic acids would have needed a substrate on which to replicate and possible surfaces include those found on clay minerals or sulfide particles.

On the early Earth, during the Hadean era (4.6 to 3.8 billion years ago) conditions were so harsh that almost all burgeoning life would have been destroyed many times over. We will probably never know how many times life began to emerge on Earth before it finally gained a foothold. The surface of the Earth was extremely hot with little land except for a few isolated islands. The weather systems would have produced severe storms and rain and there were frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, due to the convection currents in the Earth’s mantle as well as constant meteorite impacts from space. There were, however, some life forms that may have thrived in these conditions and there are specialised bacteria today that are able to survive in similar conditions. When the life first emerged at the beginning of the Archean era, 3.8 billion years ago, the atmosphere was dense and toxic.

Scientists now believe that life originates in parts of the universe that have favourable conditions which leads to the possibility that life could exist elsewhere in the universe, perhaps even within our solar system. This unit examines the origins of marine life and the classification of marine species.

Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma ;
Unit 8: Extreme Environments

Coral reefs are one of the most beautiful and diverse marine habitats on Earth, supporting an amazing collection of animals and plants. Although the tropical seas are generally unproductive areas, the reef ecosystem is completely self-contained and recycles nutrients in a highly efficient way so that primary productivity is between 30 and 250 times that of the open ocean. Around 80% of the plankton suspended in the water is taken out by corals and other suspension feeders and in sandy areas, deposit feeders such as sea cucumbers ingest the detritus that accumulates in the sediment. Grazers such as molluscs and sea urchins feed on the algae growing on hard substrates and fish such as the parrotfish, Scarus sp. feed on corals, crushing the hard calcareous skeletons using its plate-like teeth. After digesting the polyps, the skeleton is excreted as fine sand. Carnivores eat smaller fish and the whole reef system forms a complex food web.

Destruction of coral can occur by physical or biological factors, either directly by hurricanes or predators for example or indirectly by such changes as over fishing or climate warming.

Mangroves are trees or bushes which grow between the intertidal in marine or esturine conditions, covering 60-70% of sheltered tropical coastlines on a variety of substrates; sand, silt, mud, peat and even coral. They cover an area of around 160,000 km 2 and spread at a fast rate over mud flats at around 100 m/yr. They can occur on small islands and atolls but are bounded by latitudes of 35 0N and 37 0S, replacing salt marshes as coral replaces kelp on rocky substrates. The most extensive mangrove forests or mangals, which refer to the whole mangrove community, occur in the Indo Malayan region. Researchers have suggested that mangroves evolved around the Tethys Sea during the late Cretaceous with species diversity following continental drift, rather than there being a centre of diversity in the Indo West Pacific as there is for corals. A cycle of expansion and decline of mangals has been described, which is linked to marine regressions and transgressions during the late Quaternary.

Polar regions in both the Arctic and Antarctic appear superficially similar. They are both dominated by snow and ice, have cold temperatures year round and both have dark winters when the sun barely rises above the horizon and bright summers when it barely sets. However, the two polar regions are very different in their physical topography since the Arctic is a sea surrounded by land and the Antarctic is a continent surrounded by sea. Species diversity is also very different. There are no penguins in the Arctic and no polar bears in Antarctica! But apart from these obvious differences, if we look beneath the water, there are also fundamental differences in the species present in both regions. First we will look at the physical environment of the polar regions and then at the animals which inhabit such extreme environments.

Sand is produced as a result of the weathering and erosion of rock. It is transported in rivers sometimes from a considerable distance away or more locally from coastal sources and transported by currents and long shore drift. Deposits along the shore may vary from fine silty muds to coarse pebbles depending on the wave energy of the coastline. On beaches which experience high wave energy, such as those exposed to the prevailing wind and storms, deposits will tend to be course grained because the finer materials are washed away. As wave energy decreases, the deposits become finer, grading through gravel and shingle, sand, silt and finally fine clay particles. Low energy beaches with little wave action are usually composed of very fine sand or silt.

The continental shelf constitutes just 8% of the world ocean, yet this is where the majority of the fauna and flora of the benthos live. The average depth is just 200 m and lies within the photic zone, the most productive area of the sea. Sea levels vary and continental shelves change over time with submerged beaches, cliffs, river valleys and the prograding delta. Submarine processes such as wave action and currents continuously rework sedimentary deposits and so the continental margins are a dynamic and ever changing region of the sea. The continental shelves we see today are the result of continental terraces formed when sea levels were lower during glaciations 15-20,000 years ago. The average slope of the continental shelf varies between 3-20 0 depending on whether the margin is passive or active. Atlantic type passive margins are deep with a gradual slope caused by continental rifting, whilst Pacific type active margins are steep and occur at destructive plate boundaries, marked by volcanic activity and earthquakes.


This Level 4 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma can be used to gain entry to a Level 5 Diploma or Degree course in a related field.