At IE University, we believe in providing practical, hands-on learning experiences to enhance the academic experience.

As part of this commitment, learners in the Bachelor in Environmental Sciences for Sustainability are given various opportunities to take their studies outdoors. They regularly participate in field trips to unique and diverse locations, including the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park and the Río Tinto.

Why Río Tinto?

The Río Tinto is an extraordinary, 100-kilometer-long river—approximately 62 miles—located in Andalusia in the southwest of Spain. With its acidic waters and high metal concentrations, it provides the perfect conditions to study diverse processes, from Martian surface analogues to biotechnological applications for metal recovery.

The heavy metal pollution of the Río Tinto is a result of natural geological deposits and the historical mining practices in the region. Students have a chance to carry out on-the-ground investigations into the impact that this has had on the ecosystem while also considering key sustainability and health issues around mining activity.

This year’s trip to Río Tinto included a jam-packed itinerary. Accompanied by faculty members Irene Sánchez-Andrea, a professor of the Bachelor in Environmental Studies for Sustainability, and Juan Carlos Silva, the program’s academic director, the group set off on a three-day exploration of different locations in the Río Tinto area.

Studying the Río Tinto

The Río Tinto trip was the ideal opportunity to conduct fieldwork and gather raw data for lab analysis, all while gaining crucial insights into complex environmental issues. On the first day, students collected sediment samples near the town of Berrocal. They measured water and sediment pH, registering levels as low as 2.4 at this location—a sign of very high acidity. 

Highlights from the second day included a visit to the Peña de Hierro mine, where students used a tunnel to reach the deepest levels. Afterward, they went on an excursion to Corta Atalaya, the largest open-pit mine in Europe. They discovered the history of mining activities in the area and witnessed the impressive heights large-scale mining operations can reach. 

In the evening, students had some time to explore the neighborhood of Minas de Ríotinto, which was built for British employees of the Río Tinto Mining Company. Curiously, the first Spanish football team also originated in Río Tinto after mine workers brought the sport from England and popularized it in the region!

On the final day, there was a visit to the Ríotinto Mining Museum. Students then made a last stop to collect water samples from various locations, both affected and unaffected by mining activities. This was essential to be able to draw hypotheses about the source of metal pollution in the waters of the Río Tinto.

A challenge for the spring

Apart from complementing various courses in the program such as Geology, Instrumental Methods for Environmental Assessment, and Principles of Ecology, the trip also provided essential input for the students’ spring semester challenge. This is an integral part of the learning experience.

Based on the Challenge Based Learning (CBL) approach, which fosters problem-solving skills and interdisciplinary collaboration through exposure to real-world issues, the spring semester challenge lets students apply their expertise to a specific, practical scenario. This year, they are tasked with studying the impact of—and issues related to—the installation of a copper mine in Otero de Herreros, a town close to Segovia.

Thanks to their experiences in Río Tinto, our students have a firsthand understanding of the multifaceted challenge that a mine installation can present in terms of environmental impact, community engagement and ethical considerations. Drawing on that knowledge, they can now offer innovative, sustainable and realistic solutions tailored to a relevant, local context.

Unlock new paths

Our Bachelor in Environmental Sciences for Sustainability graduates go on to a wide range of careers in different sectors, both in corporate and public institutions or in the world of research, among others. Areas vary from environmental consulting and environmental risk and impact assessment to effective natural capital management, sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation. 

Whatever path they choose, students exit the program with the skills that they need to make an impact and drive change toward a more sustainable world.

“Thanks to their experiences in Río Tinto, our students have a firsthand understanding of the multifaceted challenge that a mine installation can present.”