Climate Science

Program Offerings

Offering type

Climate science is math, physics, chemistry, biology and computer sciences, applied together to understand how Earth's climate works, how it has changed in the past and how it will change in the future. Whether students are interested in policymaking, sustainability, natural hazards, city planning, pollution, geoengineering, natural resources, energy or conservation, a broad and accurate understanding of climate science is required.  The minor in climate science is offered by the Department of Geosciences.

Goals for Student Learning

The primary goal of the climate science (CS) minor is to provide fundamental climate literacy to students who may not have completed the sequence of math, physics, chemistry, biology and computer science prerequisites for the geoscience major. The goal is to develop a rigorous and accessible curriculum that allows any Princeton student to learn the climate science they need in order to pursue climate science–facing careers and make informed decisions as citizens on a changing planet.


There are no prerequisites for the minor. However, some 300-level and above advanced elective courses have their own prerequisites.

Admission to the Program

Students must declare the minor by April 01 of their junior year. Before declaring, students should get their planned coursework approved by the director of minors (DoM) [a member of the undergraduate work committee (UWC), chaired by the director of undergraduate studies (DUS)].

Program of Study

Students start with 3–4 core classes. These core courses are taught every year and represent a comprehensive climate science curriculum designed to be accessible to non-STEM majors.

After finishing 3–4 courses in the core curriculum, students choose 1–2 capstone electives. These capstone electives are designed to build on knowledge gained from the core courses and focus deeper attention on specific aspects of climate science. For students who have completed the prerequisites, there also is a collection of climate-related advanced electives that they can substitute for core or capstone courses with permission of the DoM.

In practice, only GEO courses are accepted for the minor, so there are no relevant restrictions on double-counting courses with the student’s major. A geosciences major is not permitted to minor in climate science.

No other, non-credit-bearing work is required.

Core Courses (choose 34)

  • GEO102 Climate: Past, Present, and Future
  • GEO103 Natural Hazards
  • GEO202 Ocean, Atmosphere, and Climate
  • GEO203 The Habitable Planet

Capstone Electives (choose 12)

  • GEO360 Water Resources and Pollution
  • GEO362 Earth and Climate History
  • GEO366 Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation, Policy
  • GEO367 Assessing Climate Mitigation Strategies

Advanced Electives

  • GEO361 Earth’s Atmosphere
  • GEO363 Environmental Geochemistry
  • GEO369 Environmental Materials Chemistry
  • GEO370 Sedimentology
  • GEO416 Microbial Life
  • GEO417 Environmental Microbiology
  • GEO425 Ocean Physics for Climate
  • GEO428 Biological Oceanography
  • GEO470 Environmental Chemistry of Soil


  • Chair

    • Thomas S. Duffy
  • Associate Chair

    • Blair Schoene (fall)
    • Frederik J. Simons (spring)
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Satish C. Myneni
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • John A. Higgins
  • Professor

    • Curtis A. Deutsch
    • Thomas S. Duffy
    • Stephan A. Fueglistaler
    • John A. Higgins
    • Adam C. Maloof
    • Satish C. Myneni
    • Michael Oppenheimer
    • Allan M. Rubin
    • Blair Schoene
    • Daniel M. Sigman
    • Frederik J. Simons
    • Jeroen Tromp
    • Gabriel A. Vecchi
    • Bess Ward
  • Assistant Professor

    • Jie Deng
    • Elizabeth Niespolo
    • Laure Resplandy
    • Xinning Zhang
  • Lecturer with Rank of Professor

    • Venkatachalam Ramaswamy
  • Lecturer

    • Thomas L. Delworth
    • Leo Donner
    • Stephen T. Garner
    • Stephen M. Griffies
    • Robert W. Hallberg
    • Larry W. Horowitz
    • Yi Ming
    • Rong Zhang

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.


GEO 102A - Climate: Past, Present, and Future (also ENV 102A/STC 102A) Not offered this year SEN

Which human activities are changing our climate, and does climate change constitute a major problem? We will investigate these questions through an introduction to climate processes and an exploration of climate from the distant past to today. We will also consider the impact of former and ongoing climate changes on the global environment and on humanity. Finally, we will draw on climate science to identify and evaluate possible courses of action. Intended to be accessible to students not concentrating in science or engineering. Two 80-minute lectures per week. D. Sigman

GEO 102B - Climate: Past, Present, and Future (also ENV 102B/STC 102B) Not offered this year SEL

Which human activities are changing our climate, and does climate change constitute a major problem? We will investigate these questions through an introduction to climate processes and an exploration of climate from the distant past to today. We will also consider the impact of former and ongoing climate changes on the global environment and on humanity. Finally, we will draw on climate science to identify and evaluate possible courses of action. Intended to be accessible to students not concentrating in science or engineering. Two 80-minute lectures per week and one three-hour laboratory per week. D. Sigman

GEO 103 - Natural Disasters Spring SEL

An introduction to natural (and some society-induced) hazards and the importance of public understanding of the issues related to them. Emphasis is on the geological processes that underlie the hazards, with some discussion of relevant policy issues. Principal topics: Earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, tsunami, hurricanes, floods, meteorite impacts, global warming. Intended primarily for non-science majors. Two lectures, one three-hour laboratory. B. Schoene

GEO 202 - Ocean, Atmosphere, and Climate (also ENV 326) Spring SEN

The ocean and the atmosphere control Earth's climate, and in turn climate and atmospheric changes influence the ocean. We explore the circulation of the ocean and atmosphere, their chemical compositions and their interactions that make up the climate system, including exchanges of heat and carbon. We then investigate how these circulations control marine ecosystems and the biological and chemical cycles of the Earth system. The final part of the course focuses on human impacts, including changes in coastal environments and acidification and warming that result from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. One weekly precept complements lectures. B. Ward

GEO 203 - The Habitable Planet (also ENE 203) Fall QCR

This course introduces solid Earth system science, quantifying the underlying physical and chemical processes to study the formation and evolution of Earth through time. We discuss how these processes create and sustain habitable conditions on Earth's surface, including feedbacks and tipping points as recorded in the geologic record. Topics include: stellar and planetary formation, plate tectonics, the geologic record, natural resources, the hydrologic cycle and sedimentation, paleoclimatology, and the "Anthropocene". Students will apply these topics to the recent geologic past to assess the impact of humans on their environments. E. Niespolo

GEO 255 - Life in the Universe (also AST 255/CHM 255) Fall QRSN

GEO 300 - Summer Course in Geologic Field Methods Spring SEL

Introduction to modern geologic field methods, with local and regional problems studied from a residential base camp. One option is the five week University of Houston-Yellowstone Bighorn Research Association (YBRA) course based in Red Lodge, Montana, run by the University of Houston. Alternatively, students may attend field courses offered by other institutions after obtaining approval from the Undergraduate Work Committee of the Department of Geosciences. Financial aid is available through the Geosciences Department. A. Maloof, L. Goodell

GEO 311 - Global Air Pollution (also CEE 311/CHM 311/ENE 311) Spring

GEO 360 - Topics in Environmental Justice in the Geosciences (also ENV 356) Spring SEL

Humans have profoundly altered the chemistry of Earth's air, water, and soil. This course explores these changes with an emphasis on the analytical techniques used to measure the human impact. Topics include the accumulation of greenhouse gases (CO2 and CH4) in Earth's atmosphere and the contamination of drinking water at the tap and in the ground. Students will get hands on training in mass spectrometry and spectroscopy to determine the chemical composition of air, water, and soil and will participate in an outreach project aimed at providing chemical analyses of urban tap waters to residents of Trenton, NJ. J. Higgins

GEO 361 - Earth's Atmosphere (also CEE 360/ENV 361) Fall SEN

This class discusses fundamental aspects of Earth's climate with a focus on the fundamental atmospheric processes that render Earth "habitable," and how they may respond to the forcing originating from natural (such as volcanoes) and anthropogenic (such as emission of carbon dioxide and ozone-depleting gases) processes. S. Fueglistaler

GEO 362 - Earth History (also ENV 362) Spring SEN

The chemical cycles of ocean and atmosphere and their interaction with Earth's biota. Topics include: the origin of the ocean's salt; the major and biologically active gases in the atmosphere and ocean; nutrients and ocean fertility; the global carbon cycle; the reactive chemistry of the atmosphere. Prerequisites: CHM 201/202 or higher; GEO 202 and/or GEO 361; or permission of the instructor. Three lectures. J. Higgins

GEO 363 - Environmental Chemistry: Chemistry of the Natural Systems (also CHM 331/ENV 331) Fall SEN

Covers topics including origin of elements; formation of the Earth; evolution of the atmosphere and oceans; atomic theory and chemical bonding; crystal chemistry and ionic substitution in crystals; reaction equilibria and kinetics in aqueous and biological systems; chemistry of high-temperature melts and crystallization process; and chemistry of the atmosphere, soil, marine, and riverine environments. The biogeochemistry of contaminants and their influence on the environment will also be discussed. Two 90-minute lectures. Prerequisite: one term of college chemistry or instructor's permission. S. Myneni

GEO 365 - Evolution and Catastrophes Not offered this year SEN

This course introduces students to the evolution of life and mass extinctions based on a broad survey of major events in Earth history as revealed by the fossil record. Concepts and techniques of paleontology are applied to all aspects, including colonization of the oceans, invasion of land, mass extinctions and evolutionary radiations. The roles of major catastrophes in the history of life are evaluated, including meteorite impacts, volcanism, climate change, and oceanic anoxia. One three-hour lecture. Prerequisite: One 200 level or higher GEO course. Staff

GEO 366 - Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation, Policy (also ENE 366/ENV 339/SPI 451) Spring SEN

An exploration of the potential consequences of human-induced climate change and their implications for policy responses, focusing on risks to people, societies, and ecosystems. As one example: we examine the risk to coastal cities from sea level rise, and measures being planned and implemented to enable adaptation. In addition, we explore local, national, and international policy initiatives to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The course assumes students have a basic background in the causes of human-induced climate change and the physical science of the climate system. Two 90-minute lectures, one preceptorial M. Oppenheimer

GEO 369 - Environmental Materials Chemistry: Researching in Field and Laboratory (also ENV 388/MSE 369) Spring SEN

The course covers concepts related to the chemistry of inorganic and organic materials found in the pristine and contaminated settings in the Earth surface environments, with an introduction to the modern field sampling techniques and advanced laboratory analytical and imaging tools. Different materials characterization methods, such as optical, infrared, and synchrotron X-ray spectroscopy and microscopy, will also be introduced. Field sampling and analysis of materials from diverse soil and coastal marine environments will be the focus during the second half of the semester. S. Myneni

GEO 370 - Sedimentology (also CEE 370/ENV 370) Spring SEN

A treatment of the physical and chemical processes that shape Earth's surface, such as solar radiation, i.e., deformation of the solid Earth, and the flow of water (vapor, liquid, and solid) under the influence of gravity. In particular, the generation, transport, and preservation of sediment in response to these processes are studied in order to better read stories of Earth history in the geologic record and to better understand processes involved in modern and ancient environmental change. Prerequisites: MAT 104, PHY 103, CHM 201, or equivalents.Two lectures, required spring break field trip, students do lab work as groups on their own time A. Maloof

GEO 371 - Global Geophysics (also PHY 371) Fall SEN

An introduction to the fundamental principles of global geophysics. Taught on the chalkboard, in four parts, the material builds up to form a final coherent picture of (how we know) the structure and evolution of the solid Earth: gravity, magnetism, seismology, and geodynamics. The emphasis is on physical principles including the mathematical derivation and solution of the governing equations. Prerequisites: MAT 201 or 203, PHY 103/104 or PHY 105/106. Two 90-minute lectures. F. Simons

GEO 372 - Rocks Spring SEL

This course serves as an introduction to the processes that govern the distribution of different rocks and minerals in the Earth. Students learn to make observations from the microscopic to continental scale and relate these to theoretical and empirical thermodynamics. The goal is to understand the chemical, structural, and thermal influences on rock and mineral formation and how this in turn influences the plate tectonic evolution of our planet. This course has two lectures, one lab and a required Spring Break fieldtrip. Prerequisite: One introductory GEO course and GEO 378. B. Schoene

GEO 373 - Structural Geology Fall SEL

The nature and origin of the deformed rocks composing the crust of Earth considered at scales ranging from atomic to continental. Tectonics and regional geology of North America. Two lectures, one lab and a required Fall Break fieldtrip. B. Schoene

GEO 374 - Planetary Systems: Their Diversity and Evolution (also AST 374) Not offered this year SEN

Examines the diversity of recently discovered planetary systems in terms of fundamental physical and chemical processes and what this diversity implies about the origin and evolution of our own planetary system. Topics include: the formation and dynamics of planets and satellites, planetary migration, the evolution of planetary interiors, surfaces and atmospheres, the occurrence of water and organics, and the habitability of planets and planetary systems. Recent discoveries from planetary missions and extrasolar planet observations are emphasized. Prerequisites: GEO 207, 255, or instructor's permission. Two 90-minute lectures. Staff

GEO 375 - Environmental Fluid Mechanics (also CEE 305/ENE 305) Fall SEN

GEO 378 - Mineralogy (also MSE 348) Spring SEN

Minerals are the fundamental building blocks of the Earth. They are the primary recorders of its past history. A knowledge of minerals and their properties is an essential underlying component of most other disciplines in the geosciences. This course will provide a survey of the properties of the major rock-forming minerals. Topics include crystallography, crystal chemistry, mineral thermodynamics and mineral occurrence. Emphasis will be on the role of minerals in understanding geological processes. Laboratories will focus on hand specimen identification and modern analytical techniques. T. Duffy

GEO 417 - Environmental Microbiology (also CEE 417/EEB 419) Fall

The study of microbial biogeochemistry and microbial ecology. Beginning with the physical/chemical characteristics and constraints of microbial metabolism, we will investigate the role of bacteria in elemental cycles, in soil, sediment, and marine and freshwater communities, in bioremediation and chemical transformations. Prerequisites: One 300-level course in chemistry or biology, or instructor's permission. Two 90-minute classes, this course is normally offered in the Spring. B. Ward

GEO 418 - Environmental Aqueous Geochemistry (also CHM 418) Spring

Application of quantitative chemical principles to the study of natural waters. Includes equilibrium computations, weathering and diagenetic processes, precipitation of chemical sediments, and pollution of natural waters. Two lectures. Prerequisite: one year of college chemistry. Previous or concurrent enrollment in CHM 306 recommended. A. Kraepiel-Morel

GEO 419 - Physics and Chemistry of Earth's Interior (also PHY 419) Fall

The Earth is a physical system whose past and present state can be studied within the framework of physics and chemistry. Topics include current concepts of geophysics and the physics and chemistry of Earth materials; origin and evolution of the Earth; and nature of dynamic processes in its interior. One emphasis is to relate geologic processes on a macroscopic scale to the fundamental materials properties of minerals and rocks. Three lectures. Prerequisites: one year of college-level chemistry or physics (preferably both) and calculus. Offered alternately with 424. T. Duffy

GEO 420 - Topics in Earth Science

These courses cover one or more advanced topics in modern Earth science. They are offered only when there is an opportunity to present material not included in the established curriculum; the subjects vary from year to year. Three classes or a three-hour seminar. Staff

GEO 422 - Data, Models, and Uncertainty in the Natural Sciences Fall QCR

This course is for students who want to turn observations into models and subsequently evaluate their uniqueness and uncertainty. Three main topics, taught on the chalkboard, are elementary statistics (inference), heuristic time series (Fourier) analysis, and model parameter estimation via matrix inverse methods. Prerequisites: MAT 201 and 202. Theory lectures and classroom Matlab instruction in alternating weeks. Two 90-minute lectures/classes. F. Simons

GEO 424 - Introductory Seismology (also CEE 424/ENE 425) Spring SEN

Fundamentals of seismology and seismic wave propagation. Introduction to acoustic and elastic wave propagation concepts, observational methods, and inferences that can be drawn from seismic data about the deep planetary structure of the Earth, as well as about the occurrence of oil and gas deposits in the crust. Prerequisites: PHY 104 and MAE 305 (can be taken concurrently), or permission of the instructor. Two 90-minute classes. J. Tromp

GEO 425 - Introduction to Ocean Physics for Climate (also MAE 425) Fall

The study of the role of and mechanisms behind oceanic transport, storage and exchange of energy, freshwater and momentum in the climate system. Exploration of ocean circulation, mixing, thermodynamic properties and variability. Understanding the physical constraints on the ocean, including Coriolis-dominated equations of motion, the wind-driven and thermohaline circulations, and the adjustment of the ocean to perturbations. El Niño, oceans and global warming & sea ice. Three 50-minute classes. G. Vecchi and S. Legg G. Vecchi

GEO 428 - Biological Oceanography Fall

Fundamentals of biological oceanography, with an emphasis on the ecosystem level. The course will examine organisms in the context of their chemical and physical environment; properties of seawater and atmosphere that affect life in the ocean; primary production and marine food webs; and global cycles of carbon and other elements. Students will read the current and classic literature of oceanography. Prerequisites: college-level chemistry, biology, and physics. Two 90-minute classes. B. Ward

GEO 441 - Computational Geophysics (also APC 441) Spring

An introduction to weak numerical methods used in computational geophysics. Finite- and spectral-elements, representation of fields, quadrature, assembly, local versus global meshes, domain decomposition, time marching and stability, parallel implementation and message-passing, and load-balancing. Parameter estimation and "imaging" using data assimilation techniques and related "adjoint" methods. Labs provide experience in meshing complicated surfaces and volumes as well as solving partial differential equations relevant to geophysics. Prerequisites: MAT 201; partial differential equations and basic programming skills. Two 90-minute lectures. J. Tromp

GEO 442 - Geodynamics (also PHY 442) Fall

An advanced introduction to setting up and solving boundary value problems relevant to the solid Earth sciences. Topics include heat flow, fluid flow, elasticity and plate flexure, and rock rheology, with applications to mantle convection, magma transport, lithospheric deformation, structural geology, and fault mechanics. Prerequisites: MAT 201 or 202. Two 90-minute lectures. A. Rubin

GEO 464 - Quantifying Geologic Time Spring

Theory and methodology of radiogenic isotope geochemistry with a focus on geochronology as applied to topics in the geosciences, including the formation and differentiation of the Earth and solar system, thermal and temporal evolution of orogenic belts, and the rates and timing of important geochemical, biotic, and climatic events in earth history. Two 90-minute lectures. B. Schoene

GEO 470 - Environmental Chemistry of Soils (also CHM 470/ENV 472) Spring

Focuses on the inorganic and organic constituents of aqueous, solid, and gaseous phases of soils, and fundamental chemical principles and processes governing the reactions between different constituents. The role of soil chemical processes in the major and trace element cycles, and the biogeochemical transformation of different soil contaminants will be discussed in the later parts of the course. Prerequisites: GEO363/CHM331/ENV331, or any other basic chemistry course. Two 90-minute lectures. S. Myneni

GEO 471 - Introduction to Water Pollution Technology (also CEE 471/URB 471) Fall SEN