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Earth and Environmental Sciences

morrissey college of arts and sciences


Undergraduate Program Description

An undergraduate in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences will develop a major program in one of two majors: Environmental Geoscience or Geological Sciences. Within the requirements discussed below, programs can be designed to meet the interests and objectives of each student. Students may wish to major or to have a concentration in the department for a variety of reasons including: (1) a desire to work professionally in Earth and environmental sciences, (2) a desire to obtain a preparatory foundation for post-graduate work in Earth and/or environmental science, environmental studies, environmental policy, resource management, environmental law, or similar fields, (3) a desire to teach Earth and environmental science in secondary schools, or (4) a general interest in the discipline. Geoscientists study the Earth’s complex systems and the interrelations among the solid Earth, hydrosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere. Students trained in the Earth sciences can look forward to exciting and rewarding careers, as society continues to require ever greater amounts of energy and resources in the twenty-first century, and at the same time, will face increasing environmental problems and concerns. The department provides students with the skills and varied background needed to address these problems. Earth scientists are naturally interdisciplinary and use science to solve real-world problems. Today’s Earth scientist can choose to work in the field in almost any area of the world, in ultramodern laboratories equipped with the latest scientific and computing equipment. Whether understanding hazards and environmental challenges such as earthquakes, landslides, floods, sea level rise, and climate change, exploring for Earth's energy and mineral resources, or working with governmental agencies or industry to analyze pollution problems, the Earth and environmental sciences provide exciting possibilities for a rewarding career.

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Major Requirements: Environmental Geoscience

The field of Environmental Geoscience is interdisciplinary and evolving. This bachelor of science program serves as an excellent major for students who wish to concentrate in the scientific aspects of sustainability, including those who might not be looking toward professional careers as scientists.  Many Environmental Geoscience students go on to graduate work in environmental law, environmental policy, or sustainability studies. Students majoring in Environmental Geoscience should work out their programs closely with a departmental advisor to insure both breadth and depth in this subject area.

To provide students with training in the interdisciplinary nature of Environmental Geoscience, the major includes an introductory sequence in Environmental Systems (EESC2201–2208), consisting of nine 2-credit courses (plus associated labs, EESC2211–2218). These courses can be taken in any order and do not have prerequisites. They are recommended particularly for first-year students and sophomores. They are usually offered as two-course pairs, with one course meeting for the first half of the semester and another course meeting for the second half of the semester, in the same time slot. Students are welcome to take one or both of the courses in each of these pairs in any given semester. In general, 2–4 Environmental Systems courses are offered each semester. Environmental Geoscience majors are required to take 12 credits toward this requirement. Students have the option to take our introductory geology course, Exploring the Earth (EESC1132–1133), to fulfill 4 credits.

Students in this major must complete the following course requirements:

(A) 12 credits from EESC2201–2209 (2 credits each, plus laboratories EESC2211–2219) and/or EESC1132–1133 (4 credits)

  • Environmental Systems: The Human Footprint (EESC2201)
  • Environmental Systems: Ecosystems (EESC2202)
  • Environmental Systems: Water Resources (EESC2203)
  • Environmental Systems: The Critical Zone (EESC2204)
  • Environmental Systems: Climate Change (EESC2205)
  • Environmental Systems: Oceans (EESC2206)
  • Environmental Systems: Earthquakes (EESC2207)
  • Environmental Systems: Quantitative Methods (EESC2208)
  • Exploring the Earth (EESC1132/1133)

Note: Some substitutions are possible. Approved substitutions include: EESC1167 for EESC2201, EESC1170 for EESC2203, EESC1174 for EESC2205, and EESC1157 for EESC2206.

(B) EESC2220 Earth Materials (+EESC2221, 4 credits)

(C) At least 18 credits of elective courses. All EESC courses count toward this requirement, with the following limitations:

  • Up to 3 credits can be from 1000-level courses.
  • Up to 6 credits can be from 2000-level courses.
  • Up to 6 credits can be from approved non-EESC courses.
    (Approved courses: all ENVS courses, BIOL3210, BIOL4450, BIOL5130, CHEM2231, CHEM4475, CSCI1127, ECON2277, ECON2278, ECON3391, ECON3392, HIST2406, HIST4703, INTL2260, MATH3305, PHIL5515, PHIL5534, PHYS3301, SOCY3346, SOCY3349, SOCY3350, SOCY5562, THEO5429, or other courses, such as field camps, by permission of the Undergraduate Studies Committee.)
  • Up to 3 credits of independent study (EESC5596–EESC5598) can count toward this requirement.

(D) Senior research experience (at least 4 credits)

  • EESC5582 and EESC5583 Senior Research seminar (2 credits each), or
  • EESC5595 Senior Thesis (at least 6 credits)

(E) Three corequisite courses in Natural Sciences and Mathematics (12 credits)

  • Calculus II (MATH1101, MATH1103 or MATH1105) and
  • Two semesters of Physics with labs (PHYS2200/2050 and PHYS2201/2051), or
  • Two semesters of Chemistry (CHEM1109–1110 with labs CHEM1111–1112 or CHEM1117–1118 with labs CHEM1119–1120), or
  • Three semesters of Biology (BIOL2000, BIOL2010, and lab BIOL2040)

AP credits cannot substitute for the Physics, Chemistry or Biology corequisite (E) above. Students planning to go on to graduate programs in science are encouraged to take at least four semesters of introductory Physics, Chemistry, and/or Biology.

Information for First-Year Environmental Geoscience Majors

For those students who would like to explore the major in Environmental Geoscience, it is suggested that students take two to four of the Environmental Systems courses (EESC2201–2208, with laboratories EESC2211–2218) and/or Exploring the Earth (EESC1132–1133) during their first year. The laboratory science requirement (E above) should be taken during the first or second year.

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Major Requirements: Geological Sciences

This major combines elements of traditional Earth and environmental sciences programs and is considered excellent preparation for those working toward graduate school in the geosciences or employment in industry following graduation with a B.S. degree.

(A) Two required courses (8 credits)

  • Exploring the Earth (EESC1132) with laboratory EESC1133, 4 credits
  • Earth Materials (EESC2220) with laboratory EESC2221, 4 credits

Note: Any pair of Environmental Systems courses (EESC2201–2208, plus labs) can substitute for EESC1132.

 (B) At least 11 credits from the following courses

  • Stratigraphy and Sedimentation (EESC2264) with laboratory EESC2265, 4 credits
  • Structural Geology (EESC3385) with laboratory EESC3386, 4 credits
  • Introduction to Geophysics (EESC3391), 3 credits
  • Petrology (EESC3378) with laboratory EESC3379, 4 credits

(C) At least 19 credits of elective courses, with the following requirements:

  • Electives include all EESC courses and approved interdisciplinary options (below).
  • Up to 3 credits toward this requirement may be from a 1000-level course
  • At least 7 credits must be from EESC courses numbered 3000 or above.
  • Up to 6 credits from approved non-EESC courses can count toward this requirement (approved courses: MATH3305, PHYS3301, CHEM2231, CHEM4475, or others by permission of the Undergraduate Studies Committee).
  • Up to 6 credits from independent study or senior thesis (EESC5595–5599) can count toward this requirement.

(D) Five corequisite courses in Natural Sciences and Mathematics (20 credits)

  • Calculus II (MATH1103 or MATH1105)
  • Two semesters of Physics with labs (PHYS2200/2050 and PHYS2201/2051)
  • Two semesters of Chemistry (CHEM1109–1110 with labs CHEM1111–1112 or CHEM1117–1118 with labs CHEM1119–1120)

AP credits cannot substitute for the Physics and Chemistry corequisite (D) above.

Note: All Geological Sciences majors are strongly encouraged to take a geology summer field course, which can count toward requirement C.

Information for First-Year Geological Sciences Majors

The following courses are recommended for first-year Geological Sciences majors, if their schedules permit:

  • Exploring the Earth I (EESC1132) with laboratory (EESC1133)
  • Earth Materials (EESC2220) with laboratory (EESC2221)
  • Two semesters of Calculus (MATH1102–1103)
  • Two semesters of Chemistry (CHEM1109–1110) with labs (CHEM1111–1112)

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Minor in Geological Sciences

In addition to the two major programs, a student may choose to minor in Geological Sciences. The minor is designed to be flexible and to allow the interested student to explore an area of interest in the Earth sciences without the formal commitment of a major. Students interested in declaring a minor in the department should contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies (Professor Jeremy Shakun) to ensure they receive advising about course selections.

A minor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences consists of a minimum of six courses in the department structured as follows:

(A) Two required courses (8 credits):

  • Exploring the Earth I (EESC1132) with laboratory (EESC1133)
  • Earth Materials (EESC2220) with laboratory (EESC2221)

(B) At least 7 additional credits from departmental courses numbered 1000 or higher
(C) At least 3 additional credits from a departmental course numbered 2000 or higher
(D) At least 3 additional credits from a departmental course numbered 3000 or higher

Each student's minor program must be approved in advance by a faculty advisor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Students should be aware that many upper-level courses have prerequisites in geoscience, mathematics, physics, or chemistry. Consult this catalog or a departmental advisor, and keep in mind that these prerequisites must be considered in designing a specific minor program. The minor program allows students flexibility in their choice of courses. Minor programs can be designed to emphasize specific areas of concentration within the broad range of subjects in Earth and Environmental Sciences.

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Senior Thesis and the Department Honors Program

Students are encouraged to conduct research with professors in the department. A senior thesis is normally a two-semester project, often also involving work during the summer after your junior year (or before). To do a thesis, students register for Senior Thesis (EESC5595) each semester of the senior year. To achieve Department Honors, majors in the department need to meet the GPA criteria (3.3 in major, 3.2 overall) and provide a thesis proposal to the Undergraduate Studies Committee by the add-drop date in the fall semester. In the spring, the completed thesis, signed by the faculty research advisor, is due to the committee by 5:00 p.m. on April 20, or if that is on a weekend or holiday, 5:00 p.m. on the first regular day of classes thereafter. Students can also write a senior thesis under the Morrissey Arts and Sciences Honors and Scholar of the College programs. Theses that meet these requirements would normally meet the Department Honors requirements. Honors will be awarded upon successful completion of a thesis based on the proposed research project as evaluated by the faculty advisor and approval of the thesis and the candidate’s academic record by the Undergraduate Studies Committee. In general, all students in the department are urged to fulfill at least one of the elective courses in any major program with a project-oriented research course during their senior year. Students may propose substitutes for particular course requirements by writing to the department Undergraduate Studies Committee.

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Fulfilling the Core Requirements

Core courses in the department (numbered EESC1XXX) are designed to give non-science majors an introduction to various aspects of the Earth’s history and dynamics. The course offerings include a wide variety of subjects and approaches that reflect the breadth of the Earth sciences. This variety of courses provides maximum freedom of choice for introductory students. All of these courses presume no prior knowledge beyond high school science and all fulfill the Natural Science Core requirement. They are designed to acquaint students with some exciting aspect of the world we live in while providing a background in the methods of analysis and reasoning common to all science. EESC1125, EESC1132, and EESC1180 are courses that provide insight into the wide scope of geoscience subjects. Other Core offerings (such as EESC1146, EESC1150, EESC1157, EESC1170, EESC1172, EESC1174, EESC1177, and EESC1187) cover more specific sub-fields, such as oceanography, climate change, water resources, astronomy, or evolution. The department participates in the Core Renewal process, offering both Complex Problems (for example, EESC1501, EESC1506) and Emerging Questions (for example, EESC1701, EESC1702) courses for first-year students. Students wishing to find out more about department Core courses should contact the department at 617-552-3640 (Devlin 213) or see the department Director of Undergraduate Studies (Professor Jeremy Shakun,

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Information for Study Abroad

The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences strongly encourages students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities. An Earth scientist can never see too much of our planet. We particularly encourage students to participate in programs that include field-based courses and research experiences. Depending upon the student's major, and the courses available at the foreign school, the department can be quite flexible. We typically allow one elective per semester abroad to count toward major requirements, or two courses in unusual circumstances. Students should work out their plan well in advance with a departmental advisor or the departmental Foreign Study Advisor (Professor Jeremy Shakun,

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