Program overview

The bachelor of science (B.S.) degree in Earth Sciences focuses on fundamental processes that shape the evolution and functioning of the Earth and other objects in our solar system. Earth scientists study big questions, such as how planets form and evolve, or what controls the landscapes around us. Earth scientists also solve problems affecting society, such as water and resource supply, sea level rise, and natural hazards. The Earth Sciences degree combines material from across the physical sciences to prepare students for the competitive graduate school and career marketplace. Along with the standard Earth Sciences major, we offer concentrations in geology, geophysics, ocean sciences, and planetary sciences; bachelor of arts (B.A.) combined majors with Environmental Studies and with Anthropology; a degree in Environmental Sciences and an Earth Sciences minor.


The Earth & 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? What controls the distribution of various elements on Earth?
  • What is the history of life on Earth? What are the causes and effects of past mass extinctions? How do humans impact the Earth System?
  • 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 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. 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.

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

E&PS currently includes 21 faculty, 8 research scientists, approximately 60 graduate students, 120 undergraduate majors and minors, numerous researchers and technical support staff, and excellent facilities on a beautiful campus overlooking Monterey Bay.