Department of Geosciences

  • Chair

    Bess B. Ward

  • Associate Chair

    Thomas S. Duffy

  • Departmental Representative

    Satish C. B. Myneni

  • Director of Graduate Studies

    Jeroen Tromp 

  • Professor

    Thomas S. Duffy

    Gerta Keller

    François Morel, also Princeton Environmental Institute

    Satish C. B. Myneni

    Tullis C. Onstott

    Michael Oppenheimer, also Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton Environmental Institute

    Allan M. Rubin

    Jorge L. Sarmiento

    Daniel M. Sigman

    Frederik J. Simons

    Jeroen Tromp, also Applied and Computational Mathematics

    Gabriel A. Vecchi, also Princeton Environmental Institute

    Bess B. Ward, also Princeton Environmental Institute

  • Associate Professor

    Stephan A. Fueglistaler

    Adam C. Maloof

    Blair Schoene


  • Assistant Professor

    John A. Higgins

    Jessica C. E. Irving

    Laure Resplandy, also Princeton Environmental Institute

    Xinning Zhang, also Princeton Environmental Institute

  • Associated Faculty

    Michael A. Celia, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    Peter R. Jaffé, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    Denise L. Mauzerall, Woodrow Wilson School, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    Catherine A. Peters, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    James A. Smith, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    Eric F. Wood, Civil and Environmental Engineering

  • Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

    Stephan A. Fueglistaler 

    Executive Committee

    Thomas L. Delworth, Geosciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

    Leo J. Donner, Geosciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

    Stephan A. Fueglistaler, Geosciences

    Stephen T. Garner, Geosciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

    Stephen Griffies, Geosciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

    Robert W. Hallberg, Geosciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

    Isaac M. Held, Geosciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

    Larry W. Horowitz, Geosciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

    Sonya A. Legg, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Geosciences

    Yi Ming, Geosciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

    Venkatachalam Ramaswamy, Geosciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

    Laure Resplandy, Geosciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

    Jorge L. Sarmiento, Geosciences

    Gabriel A. Vecchi, Geosciences, Princeton Environmental Institute

    Rong Zhang, Geosciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

    Associated Faculty

    Denise L. Mauzerall, Woodrow Wilson School, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    Michael Oppenheimer, Woodrow Wilson School, Geosciences

    Stephen W. Pacala, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    James A. Smith, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    Mark Zondlo, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Information and Departmental Plan of Study

The intellectual excitement of modern geosciences is fueled by our exploration of the dynamic forces and delicate balances that mold our planet and have rendered it conducive to life for much of its history. Our landscape is continually reshaped by the movement of cold continents atop the hot, viscous mantle, and our lives are altered by the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that attend their collision. Rocks that cover the Earth's surface sink to great depths and transform under enormous temperatures and pressures, perhaps to be uplifted as mountains and exposed to future generations by the forces of erosion. The ocean and atmosphere engage in a continuous and complex dialogue that controls the Earth's climate. Chemical reactions operating within microorganisms and on a variety of mineral and other natural surfaces are integrated into large geochemical fluxes, which distribute the resources needed for life, and life in turn alters these fluxes. This process operates within the framework of biological evolution, in which diverse organisms appear, evolve, and vanish, sometimes leaving a transfigured world in their wake. All of these processes influence our daily lives in profound and surprising ways.

Many of the great challenges to humanity, today and in the future, involve processes that are studied by Earth scientists, leading to a rapidly increasing role for the field in issues of environmental regulation and public policy. A background in the Earth sciences is an essential component of contemporary education. Practicing geoscientists study nature both in the field and in the lab. To an ever-increasing degree, they must quantify observations with the aim of not only describing the past but also predicting the future of our planet, often with the aid of rigorous laboratory and field experiments, and intensive computation and modeling. The diversity of processes that characterize the Earth as a whole requires geosciences to be an extraordinarily interdisciplinary field with direct connections to mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science. As a result of these connections, the geosciences department frequently draws students from many backgrounds. Many of our most successful graduates begin their undergraduate careers in subjects ranging from physics to English. The Department of Geosciences welcomes this intellectual variety, and our undergraduate program allows flexibility while stressing the importance of a sound understanding of the basic sciences.


All concentrators are required to take either GEO 202 or GEO 203.

Students must take an additional introductory course selected from GEO 201, GEO 202, GEO 203, GEO 255 or a Geosciences Freshman Seminar prior to graduation (but not necessarily before declaring the concentration). Students with adequate preparation may substitute a GEO 300-level course for this second introductory class. Other introductory geosciences courses, such as GEO 102 and 103 are intended primarily for non-science concentrators and do not count toward a concentration in the geosciences.

General Requirements

The following courses are required for graduation (with at most one pass/D/fail). AP credit may be used to place into a more advanced math or science course.

Mathematics Prerequisite: MAT 104 or MAT 175 or (with AP credit) one more advanced course in math.

Geosciences Core Science Requirements: There are three ways to satisfy this requirement

(1) Recommended for students without AP credit: Students must complete two core science requirements at Princeton. Five acceptable course combinations to fulfill one core science requirement are: (a) PHY 103-104, (b) MAT 201-202, (c) CHM 201-202, (d) COS 126, in addition to either COS 226 or ORF 309, (e) EEB 211, MOL 215.

(2) Recommended for students with or without AP credit: ISC 231-234.

(3) Recommended for students with AP credit: In lieu of the intro sequences, students with AP credit may choose to substitute a more advanced course to satisfy a core science requirement. For example, CHM 215, CHM 303 or CHM 305 could substitute for CHM 201-202. Permission from the UWC is required if you would like to pursue this option.

Students interested in graduate school are encouraged to take more than these minimum basic science requirements.

Departmental Requirements

Concentrators are required to take seven upper-level geosciences courses (300 level or higher) not including GEO 503.

Upper Level Science Courses: Up to two of the following courses may be substituted for GEO 300-level or above courses if they were not also used to satisfy the Geosciences Core Science Requirement. Students may substitute other advanced science courses not listed below with permission of the Undergraduate Work Committee (UWC): APC 350, AST 204, AST 301, CHM 303, CHM 304, CHM 305, CHM 306, CEE 205, CEE 303, CEE 305, CEE 306, CEE 365, COS 323, COS 333, EEB 324, EEB 355, ENV 302, MAE 221, MAE 222, MAE 223, MAE 305, MAE 306, MAT 323, MAT 325, MOL 342, MOL 345, ORF 405, PHY 207, PHY 208, PHY 301, PHY 304 and PHY 305.

Students are urged to consult with the departmental representative or their junior or senior advisor before choosing departmental courses outside geosciences. In general, the department is flexible about course selections and requirements; however, we must ensure a degree of coherency in each student's course of study.

Junior Colloquium is a weekly luncheon meeting, convened during the fall term, to acquaint juniors with research and career opportunities. This one-hour colloquium is mandatory for all geosciences concentrators (including those in the geological engineering program).

Program of Study

A set of informal programs (tracks) of study is designed to help students interested in different areas of geosciences, and to provide basic course plans that allow students to develop a strong foundation in those areas. These areas of focus include:

Geology and Geophysics (GPG). This track focuses on the structure and evolution of the Earth as a physical system, by theory, experiment, field work, and numerical simulation. The emphasis is on geological processes of global relevance, the history of the Earth, and life in the rock record. The quantitative concepts and techniques covered in class are also relevant to applied sciences and industry.

Ocean, Atmosphere, and Climate (OAC). This track specializes in the study of the coupled ocean and atmosphere system as it interacts with life to set the physical and chemical conditions of the Earth's surface. Students with backgrounds in subjects as diverse as chemistry, biology, physics, public policy, and economics who have an interest in climate and global environmental conditions will find this track a challenging and relevant addition to their coursework.

Environmental Biogeochemistry (EBG). This track focuses on the understanding of chemical and biological processes modifying the Earth's surface (atmosphere, soils, sediments, oceans), and how their interactions alter the behavior of elements or molecules responsible for different environmental processes, such as climate change, and the transport and bioaccumulation of anthropogenic contaminants.

Certificate Programs. The department offers a certificate program in geological engineering in collaboration with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, which is described in the entry for the Program in Geological Engineering. The department also cooperates in the certificate programs in environmental studies, materials science and engineering, planets and life, and teacher preparation. Several geosciences courses fulfill the requirements of these certificate programs.

All students considering a concentration in the department should see the departmental representative. They are encouraged to consult as soon as possible, even as first-year students, to aid in the design of a course of study. The department offers an open house in both the fall and spring terms to introduce prospective students to departmental courses, faculty, students, and research interests.

For full details, see the department's website.

Geoscience Advisers

Each geosciences junior and senior is assigned an adviser, who is a faculty member and part of the Undergraduate Work Committee. Students are expected to regularly meet with their advisers for discussions on curriculum, course selection, choice of junior and senior research paper topics, study abroad plans, and the like. Once the courses have been selected in consultation with the adviser, students turn in their signed fall and spring course worksheet to the undergraduate coordinator. Any course changes should also be discussed and approved by the adviser or the undergraduate chair. At the beginning of each academic year, students will be informed who their geosciences advisers are.

Independent Work

Please begin by examining the Geosciences Junior Paper and Senior Thesis Guide.

Junior Independent Work.  All juniors are required to conduct independent research in both the fall and spring terms. Each term, this work includes a written progress report, final written report, and a poster presentation of your final JP work.  Faculty members will evaluate student poster presentations and submit feedback and grades. Although geoengineers are not required to conduct JP research, some geoengineers have conducted independent research in geosciences or engineering for course credit.

Different research topics are available in any given year and some ideas are listed in the Shopping Guide, which students obtain from the undergraduate coordinator. Students are encouraged to consult with their faculty advisers for suggestions regarding selection of the JP project. If students have other exciting ideas for possible JP projects, they are encouraged to consult their faculty advisers to discuss the feasibility of these projects.

The fall JP consists of a research proposal. The proposal includes a statement of the hypothesis you are proposing to test, a literature review that motivates your work, and preliminary data collection (i.e., field work, laboratory analysis, and/or data mining) and analysis that convinces the reader you will be able to test your central hypothesis. The fall JP is presented as a poster presentation to the Geosciences Department prior to submitting a final written report.

The spring JP project is a full scientific research paper. A student may choose to work on the same topic they proposed in the fall, or on a completely new topic with a new adviser. All spring JP work must include original data analysis; a literature review by itself does not qualify as a JP project. Many opportunities for collecting data are available, either through the student's own efforts (including field work, experiments conducted in any of the several laboratories in the department, and computer simulations) or by accessing databases made available by and for the scientific community at large. The spring JP is presented as a poster to the Geosciences Department prior to submitting a final written report.

Proposals for funding to support independent work are due in late September/early October for the fall JP, and mid-February for the spring JP (but please see the ST/JP Guide for details each year as the due dates are subject to change). Part of the JP grade is awarded based on two reports submitted at two different milestones during the semester. The final grade for both fall and spring independent research is decided based on the quality of the research and the written and oral work of the student.

Senior Independent Work.  The senior research thesis project involves a much more in-depth study in the chosen topic and is a full-year effort. Students should budget their time accordingly. Each geosciences senior will choose an appropriate faculty member as senior thesis adviser in consultation with the departmental adviser and the faculty members that support the student's interests. The student is expected to conduct research in the adviser's laboratory and work closely with the adviser and/or graduate students/postdoctoral fellows.

The department publishes a Shopping Guide, which lists some research topics that the geosciences faculty members currently are pursuing. The Shopping Guide is a good starting point to identify a list of topics and research advisers from which students can select a topic and adviser for their senior independent research in consultation with the departmental adviser and faculty members. Students interested in pursuing a topic that is not part of the Shopping Guide are encouraged to approach their departmental advisore to discuss the feasibility of conducting the research either under the supervision of a faculty member in the department or in another department in the University. Many students select their projects early, in consultation with the faculty adviser, and begin the research during the summer preceding the senior year. The department and the faculty adviser usually provide the necessary funds to conduct the independent research.

The department requires that a student submit a thesis proposal (due in late September or early October) and several interim research progress reports, including the fall semester progress report, a rough draft of the thesis for feedback, and the final thesis. The goal of the interim reports is to facilitate timely adviser-student feedback, help minimize the unavoidable thesis rush at the end of the year, and ensure that the final product of the thesis is of the highest quality. In addition to writing their theses, all students give oral presentations to the faculty and students of the geosciences department. The grade for the thesis is based on the quality of the research, the written report, and the oral presentation.

Senior Departmental Examination

The comprehensive examination in the department consists of an oral examination based on the senior thesis and related topics.

Grading and Honors

Senior Thesis: You will be graded on (1) your thesis research plus written report and (2) oral presentation plus answers to questions.

Thesis Grade:

(i) Research: Quality, originality, and commitment to doing the best possible lab-, field-, or model-based research. Ability to interpret results. Grade determined by adviser.

(ii) Written thesis: Quality and clarity of writing, proper organization and citations, illustration of results, interpretation, and discussion. Grade determined by adviser and second reader.

(iii) Oral presentation: Based on quality and clarity of presentation in lecture and illustrations as well as facility in answering questions pertaining to research results. Grade determined by the entire faculty.

The final thesis grade will be set only after a meeting of the faculty to discuss and rank all theses. In general, an A on a senior thesis means that the work and write-up submitted have sufficient merit to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. The final thesis grade is reported to the registrar and appears on the student's transcript.

Academic Honors:

The department awards academic honors (Honors, High Honors, Highest Honors) based on a combination of factors, including the overall grade point average (GPA), departmental GPA, junior research papers, and senior thesis. If the student has taken more than the required courses, then the courses with the highest grades that satisfy the concentration and breadth requirements are used in the calculation. For the senior thesis and junior research papers, the assigned grades will be used. In addition to grades, dedication to research, academic participation, and the overall impressions made by the student on the faculty are taken into consideration in the honors calculation. To ensure that the quality of honors remains consistent from year to year, the faculty compares student achievements with those from previous years.


Preparation for Graduate Study

Specialization in any one of the Earth sciences today requires graduate study. Students interested in pursuing graduate studies in any of the tracks are encouraged to take advanced chemistry, physics, mathematics, and biology courses. More specific information on graduate education can be obtained from the departmental representative or other faculty members.

Field Programs. Since experience in field geology can be an important aspect of professional training, students are encouraged to take a course in field methods in geology and oceanography.

Geological Field Camp. After their freshman, sophomore or junior year, many of our students enroll in a Geosciences summer field camp (students should consult their faculty adviser in the November before they plan to attend summer field camp). Other students choose to work with a faculty member or a graduate student in the field, and may conduct independent research for junior or senior independent research as part of this opportunity. Geosciences facilitates student enrollment in these field opportunities by providing financial aid.

Experience at Sea. Students interested in ocean studies can participate in ongoing studies at sea or at the Bermuda Biological Station. The department tries to make available opportunities to interested undergraduates, particularly to those electing the OAC and EBG tracks, to participate in an oceanographic cruise at some time during their undergraduate years.

Information on other opportunities for field experience is made available annually. The student should consult the departmental representative if interested in participating in field programs.

Financial Assistance. Grants for field work in geology are available through the Tony Conway '36 Memorial Scholarship Fund. Grants for field and museum studies and research in natural history during the summer are available to students of high scholastic standing from the John Boyd '43 Memorial Fund and the Glenn L. Jepsen '27 Fund. Grants are available from the Erling Dorf '33 Fund for field work and the field course. The Howard T. Vaum Jr. '78 Fund supports studies in geological engineering in a field study program. Grants for environmental studies are available from the Princeton Environmental Institute. Students wishing assistance from any of these funds should present a proposal (two pages of research description) by February 15 to the departmental representative.

Funds are available from time to time for qualified undergraduates to serve as research assistants to faculty members during the regular academic session as well as during the summer months.

In some instances summer employment for qualified students can be arranged with governmental, commercial, or academic field parties.