Search | Directories | Reference Tools
UW Home > Discover UW > Student Guide > Degree Programs 

Earth and Space Sciences

Department Overview

070 Johnson Hall

Earth and space sciences seeks to further the understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and their histories. The scope extends from the center of Earth to the rim of the solar system, and activities cut across traditional disciplines of physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and mathematics. The discipline examines Earth's interior structure, chemistry, motion, and dynamics; geologic hazards; processes affecting the surface environment and climate; the surrounding space environment; planetary processes; and geobiology.

Undergraduate Program

Adviser
070 Johnson Hall, Box 351310
(206) 616-8511
advising@ess.washington.edu

The Department of Earth and Space Sciences offers the following programs of study:

  • The Bachelor of Science degree with a major in earth and space sciences, with options in biology, geology, physics, and environmental earth sciences
  • The Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in earth and space sciences
  • A minor in earth and space sciences
  • A minor in climate science (offered jointly with the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and the School of Oceanography)

The Bachelor of Science degree is designed for students interested in geology and geophysics, and a career path in graduate studies or in the private sector where field and technology experiences and problem-solving skills are an important asset. The biology option enables B.S. students interested in paleontology and paleobiology to emphasize biology courses. The physics option allows for an emphasis in physics and geophysics. The environmental earth sciences option is designed for students interested in environmentally focused courses and careers. The Bachelor of Arts degree is designed for students who wish to obtain a broad understanding of earth sciences as a background for careers such as science journalism, environmental law, K-12 teaching, or environmental policy.

Bachelor of Science

Suggested First- and Second-Year Courses: MATH 124, MATH 125, and MATH 126 or ESS 310; PHYS 121, PHYS 122, PHYS 123 or PHYS 114/PHYS 117, PHYS 115/PHYS 118, PHYS 116/PHYS 119; CHEM 142.

Department Admission Requirements

Students in good academic standing may declare this major at any time.

Major Requirements

94-104 credits

  1. Science Core (35 credits):
    1. Basic Supporting Science (20 credits): MATH 124, MATH 125 or equivalent; PHYS 114/PHYS 117 or PHYS 121; CHEM 142. (Students pursuing the ESS physics option must take PHYS 121.)
    2. ESS Required 200-Level Core Courses (15 credits): ESS 211, ESS 212, ESS 213. (Students in the ESS physics option may substitute ESS 205 for one of these.)
  2. One of the four ESS Options below (minimum 59-69 credits, depending on option):
    1. Biology Option (59-68 credits)
      1. Supporting Science (25 credits): CHEM 152, CHEM 162; BIOL 180, BIOL 200; and one of BIOL 220, PHYS 115/PHYS 118, PHYS 122, MATH 126 or ESS 310, STAT 311.
      2. ESS Required 300-Level Core Courses (15 credits): three of ESS 311, ESS 312, ESS 313, ESS 314
      3. ESS 400-Level Courses (19-28 credits): ESS 400 or ESS 449/BIOL 475; ESS 418; 12 credits from ESS 400-level courses, 400-level BIOL courses from approved list (see website for current list), or any ESS 311-ESS 314 series course not taken as a required course, above. May not include independent study or seminar courses numbered ESS 489 through ESS 499. At least 3 credits from ESS-prefix courses.
    2. Environmental Earth Sciences Option (66-69 credits)
      1. Quantitative Skills (5 credits):ESS 310, STAT 311, or Q SCI 381
      2. Supporting Science (10 credits): CHEM 152 or CHEM 220; and one of CHEM 162, PHYS 115/PHYS 118, PHYS 122, MATH 126, or ESS 310 (if not taken for quantitative skills requirement, above).
      3. ESS Required 300-Level Core Courses (10 credits): two of ESS 311, ESS 312, ESS 313, ESS 314
      4. ESS Environmental Core (15-18 credits): ESS 201, ESS 326; two additional courses from approved list. See website for current list.
      5. ESS 400-Level Courses (26 credits):ESS 400; ESS 418; 10 credits from ESS 400-level courses, from an approved list of courses outside ESS, or any ESS 311-ESS 314 series course not taken as a required course, above. May not include independent study or seminar courses numbered ESS 489 through ESS 499
    3. Geology Option (67-69 credits)
      1. Supporting Science (18-20 credits): MATH 126 or ESS 310, PHYS 115/PHYS 118 or PHYS 122 and two of PHYS 116/PHYS 119 or PHYS 123; CHEM 152, MATH 307, MATH 308, STAT 311
      2. ESS Required 300-Level Core Courses (15 credits): Three of ESS 311, ESS 312, ESS 313, ESS 314
      3. ESS 400-Level Courses (34 credits):ESS 400; ESS 418; 18 credits from ESS 400-level courses or any ESS 311-ESS 314 series course not taken as a required course, above. May not include independent study or seminar courses numbered ESS 489 through ESS 499.
    4. Physics Option (59-62 credits)
      1. Supporting science (30-33 credits): MATH 126, MATH 308, MATH 324 or MATH 136, MATH 324; PHYS 122, PHYS 123, PHYS 227, PHYS 228, PHYS 321, PHYS 322.
      2. ESS required 300-Level Core Courses (10 credits: two of ESS 311, ESS 312, ESS 313, ESS 314
      3. ESS 400-Level Courses (19 credits)ESS 418; 15 credits from ESS 400-level courses or any ESS 311-ESS 314 series course not taken as a required courses, above. May not include independent study or seminar courses numbered ESS 489 through ESS 499
  3. Minimum 2.00 cumulative GPA for all ESS-prefix courses

Bachelor of Arts

Suggested First- and Second-Year College Courses: Q SCI 291, Q SCI 292 or MATH 124, MATH 125; PHYS 114/PHYS 117 or PHYS 121; CHEM 142.

Department Admission Requirements

Students in good academic standing may declare this major at any time.

Major Requirements

90 credits

  1. Supporting Science (35 credits):
    1. Basic Supporting Science (20 credits): CHEM 142; Q SCI 291, Q SCI 292 or MATH 124, MATH 125; PHYS 114/PHYS 117 or PHYS 121.
    2. Additional courses: 15 credits from department's approved list of courses in science and mathematics.  See adviser for current list.
  2. ESS Courses (55 credits):
    1. Required courses (15 credits): Two of ESS 211, ESS 212, ESS 213. One of ESS 311, ESS 312, ESS 313, ESS 314.
    2. Elective Courses: 40 upper-division credits (300 and 400 level) with at least 10 credits at the 400 level (may not include independent study or seminar courses numbered ESS 489 through ESS 499.)
  3. Minimum 2.00 cumulative GPA for all ESS-prefix courses.

Continuation Policy

All students must make satisfactory academic progress in the major. Failure to do so results in probation, which can lead to dismissal from the major. For the complete continuation policy, contact the departmental adviser or refer to the department website.

Minor

Minor Requirements: 30 ESS credits with at least 15 at the upper-division level (300- or 400-level) of which at least 3 credits must be at the 400-level (may not include independent study or seminar courses numbered ESS 489 through ESS 499.) All courses must be completed with a minimum grade of 2.0.

Minor in Climate Science: See description in the Climate Science listing in the Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Programs section of the General Catalog.

Student Outcomes and Opportunities

  • Learning Objectives and Expected Outcomes: Students who graduate with an undergraduate degree in Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) have achieved these learning goals:
    1. Have a general knowledge of the basic areas of solid earth geology and geophysics, geobiology, surface processes, space physics, and analogues of processes within the solar system.
    2. Be proficient in one of the core disciplines through the completion of requirements in one of four options: standard (geology), (geo)biology, (geo)physics, or environmental.
    3. Think critically and obtain quantitative predictions using skill sets that involve multiple disciplines and all core sciences.
    4. Have obtained hands-on experience from extensive fieldwork and/or laboratory experience.
    5. Have the ability to communicate scientific information clearly and precisely, both orally and in writing.
    6. Have the ability to read, understand, and use scientific literature.
  • Instructional and Research Facilities: See below, at end of graduate program requirements.
  • Honors Options Available: With College Honors (Completion of Honors Core Curriculum and Departmental Honors); With Honors (Completion of Departmental Honors in the major). See adviser or department website for requirements.
  • State Licensing Endorsement Available: Students interested in pursuing State Licensing for Geologists can receive guidance in course selection that meets state requirements for the geologist licensing examination (see adviser for requirements or visit department website).
  • Research, Internships, and Service Learning: Job and internship possibilities are posted in the department and forwarded by email to all undergraduate students.
  • Department Scholarships: A limited number of departmental scholarships are available. Scholarship applications are invited from all undergraduate students in the major during spring quarter. The awards are applicable to the following academic year.
  • Student Organizations/Associations: Geo Club organizes field trips and social gatherings. Information about meetings and events is forwarded to undergraduate majors by email.

Graduate Program

Graduate Program Coordinator
070 Johnson Hall , Box 351310
206-616-8511
advising@ess.washington.edu

The department offers graduate programs leading to the Master of Science (M.S.) degree and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in both geological sciences and geophysics. The programs emphasize a rigorous quantitative approach in conjunction with detailed in-situ and/or laboratory observations to address significant problems that lead to a better understanding of the Earth and its environment.

Major areas of interest are the internal and surface structures and materials of the Earth and planets; dynamic processes within the earth, oceans, atmosphere, and space environments; and their history and the interaction of life with these environments. The required curriculum is flexible to facilitate interdisciplinary research approaches. Earth and Space Sciences is also one of the core departments (with the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and the School of Oceanography) in the interdisciplinary graduate program on climate change and a participant in the astrobiology program.

Master of Science

Admission Requirements

  1. GRE
  2. TOEFL scores for international applicants. TSE scores not required.
  3. One copy of official transcripts for all colleges and universities attended, in sealed envelopes. International transcripts in the original language, accompanied by a certified English translation.
  4. Three letters of recommendation
  5. Departmental application form
  6. Personal resume and personal statement

Degree Requirements

36-45 credits

The department encourages interdisciplinary courses of study tailored to each student.

  1. Courses determined in consultation with the student's advisory committee
  2. ESS 594, each quarter offered in the first year
  3. ESS 599, every quarter (except summer)
  4. Two ESS introductory breadth courses (any 50X course)
  5. Experiential learning
  6. Data analysis course or research project with a significant data analysis component
  7. Preliminary examination (see below)
  8. Draft thesis or research paper
  9. Final examination

With Thesis: 36 credits, of which 18 must be in courses at the 400 level or above and up to 9 may be for thesis (ESS 700). Final examination

Without Thesis: 45 credits, of which 18 must be in courses at the 400 level or above, to include a 5-credit research paper (ESS 600). Final examination

Preliminary Examination: Required for every graduate student. Provides one component the department uses to evaluate admission to the PhD program. Encourages students to develop and present a research project, and get an early, structured start on graduate research. Students must show knowledge of disciplines that underlie their general area of interest (e.g., geology, geophysics, mathematics, chemistry, biology).

Doctor of Philosophy

Admission Requirements

  1. GRE
  2. TOEFL scores for international applicants.  TSE scores not required.
  3. One copy of official transcripts for all colleges and universities attended, in sealed envelopes. International transcripts in the original language and accompanied by a certified English translation.
  4. Three letters of recommendation
  5. Departmental application form
  6. Personal resume and personal statement

Degree Requirements

90 credits

The department encourages interdisciplinary courses of study tailored to each student.

Departmental requirements for graduate students in both geological sciences and geophysics.

  1. Courses determined in consultation with the student's advisory committee
  2. ESS 594, each quarter offered in the first year
  3. ESS 599, every quarter (except summer)
  4. Two ESS introductory breadth courses (any 50X course)
  5. Experiential learning
  6. Data analysis course or research project with a significant data analysis component
  7. Preliminary examination (see below)
  8. General examination
  9. Draft dissertation
  10. Dissertation defense

Preliminary Examination: An ESS requirement for every graduate student. Provides one component the department uses to evaluate admission to the PhD program. Encourages students to develop and present a research project, and get an early, structured start on graduate research. Students must show knowledge of the disciplines that underlie their area of interest (e.g., geology, geophysics, physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology).

Research Facilities

Extensive laboratory facilities are available for a wide range of experimental/field work. These include a wet chemistry laboratory, a JEOL 733 Superprobe with EDS/WDS and a high resolution laser Raman spectrometer for mineral analysis, a thermal-ionization mass spectrometer, a multi-collector inductively-coupled-plasma mass spectrometer and associated clean laboratories for analysis of stable and radiogenic isotopes, a computer laboratory, a remote-sensing laboratory with an image-processing system with LANDSAT tape library and spectral reflectance equipment, and high temperature controlled atmosphere furnaces. Also, field equipment for electromagnetic induction studies; a high-pressure/temperature laboratory, including a laser-induced phonon spectrometer and diamond anvil cells for studying such rock and mineral properties as compression, sound velocities, and thermal conductivity; a permanent, regional seismic network; a portable telemetered seismic network for studying volcanoes and active faults in western North America; geodetic-quality global-positioning-system receivers; a cold laboratory for studying problems in snow-cover geophysics, glaciology, and sea-ice research; a geophysical-fluids laboratory; two cloud microphysics laboratories; a space physics and aeronomy laboratory for preparing ground-based, balloon, rocket, and satellite experiments; and a laboratory for the study of advanced plasma propulsion concepts. Additional facilities are provided by the Quaternary Research Center (which houses state-of-the art cosmogenic isotope and stable-isotope research laboratories, palynology, snow and ice research, and a periglacial laboratory) and the Burke Memorial Washington State Museum (which houses paleontological laboratories and extensive reference collections of invertebrate, vertebrate, and plant fossils, and minerals).

Financial Aid

Most graduate students receive support in the form of teaching or research assistantships, and endowed fellowships and scholarships.