Earth and Planetary Sciences

A232 Earth and Marine Sciences Building

(831) 459-4089

Programs Offered

Earth Sciences B.S.

Environmental Sciences B.S.

Earth Sciences/Anthropology Combined Major

Earth Sciences Minor 

Earth Sciences M.S.

Earth Sciences Ph.D.

Other Programs of Interest

Environmental Studies B.A.

Environmental Studies/Earth Science B.A.

Chemistry B.S.

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology B.S.

Science Education B.S.

The Earth and Planetary Sciences Department teaches and conducts research in a wide array of topics. We seek to answer questions such as:

How did the Earth form? How has it evolved since then? What makes up the interior of the Earth? How were Earth’s ocean and atmosphere generated, and how have they changed through time?

What is the history of life on Earth? What are the causes and effects of past mass extinctions?

How do mountain ranges form? What causes earthquakes? What causes island chains to form? What controls the evolution of glaciers? How do we prevent coastal erosion? How well can we predict tsunamis?

What has Earth’s climate been like in the past? How will climate change in the future? What changes are likely in Earth’s atmospheric properties?

What controls the supply and quality of our freshwater resources?

How are other planets in our solar system different from Earth? How did they evolve to their present state? How have the impacts of asteroids on Earth and other planets affected their evolution?

A variety of methods and tools are used to help us address these questions. Geologists examine rocks and geologic formations in order to understand the processes that control their formation and evolution. Geochemists and mineralogists examine the chemical and mineral composition of rocks, sediments, and fossils using a variety of sophisticated analytical instruments. Geophysicists use seismometers to not only record earthquakes, but also to learn about the deeper parts of the Earth, which are studied in tandem using high-pressure experiments. Environmental scientists collect samples of the atmosphere, rivers, lakes, and the oceans, sometimes requiring the use of aircraft and ships. Spacecraft have visited and explored all of the planets in our solar system. Space-based satellites have provided a massive amount of data about Earth over the past few decades. Scientists from all disciplines use computer models to help them understand these complex systems.

The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences offers a number of degrees that teach undergraduate and graduate students the knowledge and skills necessary to address these and many other questions. Along with the standard Earth sciences major, we offer degrees with concentrations in environmental geology, geology, ocean sciences, and planetary sciences. We also offer combined majors with environmental studies and anthropology. A minor in Earth sciences is also available. We offer courses across a wide range of topics, allowing students to tailor the curriculum to their interests. Courses are comprised of not only classroom lectures, but frequently field trips, laboratories, and computer exercises are involved. Many related courses are offered by other departments such as Ocean Sciences, Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology, Environmental Studies, Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Astronomy and Astrophysics. The university capstone requirement is often fulfilled by attending the departmental field camp, or by completing a senior research thesis, but other choices are also possible.

Graduates of our department continue on to a variety of careers, such as:

  • Business and industry
  • Geological and environmental consulting
  • Governmental agencies at the federal, state, and local level
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Research at universities, governmental research institutions, or other scientific agencies
  • Graduate/professional school in areas such as science, engineering, teaching, law, public health, business

For more information about the people in the department, their areas of interest, departmental facilities, contact e-mails and phone numbers, and how to apply to join our department as an undergraduate or graduate student, please see our website.