Department of Earth & Environment
Effective July 1, 2012, the Department of Earth Sciences and the Department of Geography & Environment merged to create the Department of Earth & Environment. This new department is the home of diverse research specializations and offers a variety of majors and minors related to the study of the earth and the environment.
Over the next several decades, the integration of the natural and social sciences will play an important role in determining how society tackles the increasingly complex challenges that confront us. From global environmental change to energy consumption, from deforestation to global biogeochemistry, and from earthquake prediction to coastal erosion, the integration of human systems with studies of the natural environment will provide one of the key focus areas of our research. The department maintains core research strengths in both the natural and social sciences, and includes expertise in remote sensing, surface processes, crustal and mantle dynamics, geochemistry, geophysics, marine science, terrestrial ecology, energy, environmental analyses and policy, human geography, and geographical information systems. Scholarly pursuits are rooted at the center of each of these core disciplines and, increasingly, at the interface between new and emerging cross-disciplinary fields in the study of the earth, environment, and society; including, for example, studies of long-term environmental sustainability.
The department is strongly aligned with activities in our allied research centers, including the Center for Remote Sensing and the Center for Energy & Environmental Studies. The department also works closely with the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future.
The Department of Earth & Environment offers undergraduate degrees in: (1) earth sciences; (2) environmental science; (3) environmental analysis & policy; (4) physical geography; and (5) human geography. In addition, the department offers an interdisciplinary degree with the Department of Astronomy in geophysics and planetary sciences. Field experience and/or directed study are an essential part of our curriculum. Undergraduates are encouraged to participate as field and laboratory assistants as well as to pursue independent research with faculty advisors, thereby gaining better insight into concepts and methodologies introduced in coursework. Opportunities exist for travel throughout the United States, as well as across the globe through research opportunities with faculty in the department, as well as study abroad programs.
Earth Sciences focuses on quantitative analyses of the physical and chemical processes that modify and shape the Earth. The Earth Sciences degree provides students with a broad foundation in the geosciences, including coursework and allied research in geochemistry, geophysics, surface processes, hydrology, and coastal/marine studies. Students pursuing a degree in Earth Sciences learn to document, model, and predict temporal and spatial changes in Earth’s structure, composition, and morphology, from its inner core to its outer surface. At its heart, the Earth Sciences degree enables students to apply quantitative reasoning toward understanding the historical evolution and future modification of the Earth. Students are well prepared for future careers in research, environmental consulting, environmental law, science education, and science writing.
Geophysics and Planetary Sciences
The Geophysics and Planetary Sciences degree, administered jointly by the Department of Earth & Environment and the Astronomy Department, is a multidisciplinary degree program built around an array of courses in geology, geophysics, astronomy, and physics. Students who embark on this joint major develop quantitative skills toward understanding geological structures and processes on a planetary scale. As a primary objective, the degree program allows students to develop the skills needed to study the Earth and other planets using the tools of physics. This major prepares students for research and graduate study in geophysics, geodynamics, seismology, and planetary science or careers in science education, management, geotechnical consulting, computing, or writing.
Environmental science is an interdisciplinary field of study that specifically emphasizes the linkages between humans and the environment. Students pursing a degree in Environmental Science receive training in the relevant natural science disciplines, and a clearly defined specialization in the environmental sciences. Students are engaged in lab work in a variety of courses including earth science, geography, biology, physics, and chemistry, as well as field trips and field experiments, computer languages and programming, and math proficiency. Environmental Science majors also take courses in environmental policy, natural resources, and energy policy. By the end of the degree, students have a much more complete and integrated understanding of the environment in which we live. Environmental Science graduates are well trained in quantitative methods, data analysis, and modeling used in both research and applied domains of environmental science. This training allows them to pursue advanced degrees in the field of environmental sciences itself, as well as related fields within business management, law, architecture, and medicine. Environmental Science graduates can also pursue careers in the private sector as environmental consultants and analysts; in government agencies addressing environmental protection, resource management, and change; and in nonprofit organizations interested in promoting sustainability and environmental stewardship.
Environmental Analysis & Policy
Students pursuing a degree in Environmental Analysis & Policy receive an extensive background in assessing the principal energy, resource, and environmental problems facing society. The predominant techniques of policy analysis and resource management presented through the curriculum include cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment, energy systems analysis, and computer modeling of environmental systems. Students also learn about the social and institutional framework within which resource planning, management, and policy making take place. Courses in the life and physical sciences ensure an understanding of the biophysical basis of environmental problems. There are many career options for students with a degree in Environmental Analysis & Policy. Graduate school is possible in several fields that include resource and environmental economics, law school, resource management, and environmental policy. Students gain a strong set of analytical tools that are needed by a growing number of government agencies, consulting firms, and the nonprofits that deal with a wide range of environmental analysis or energy and environmental policy making.
Human geography is the study of the spatial organization of human activity and interaction with the physical environment. The Human Geography major can follow one of two tracks: the general track combines courses in economic, political, and cultural geography; the more focused economic geography track emphasizes spatial patterns of production, consumption, distribution, and communication in the regional and global economies. Both tracks stress the application of analytical methods, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Graduating Human Geography students may find employment in urban and regional planning departments; consulting firms specializing in transportation, industrial location and retail site planning; and state and federal agencies with responsibilities for social services, economic development, and infrastructure policy. Human Geography also provides an excellent background for students planning to pursue graduate studies in fields such as business administration, transportation planning, and law.
Physical geography is the study of natural systems and cycles that interact within the Earth’s life layer where land and oceans meet the atmosphere. The major in Physical Geography is structured to provide students with a strong background in the natural sciences and expertise in three main topical areas of physical geography: (1) vegetation science, (2) hydrology, and (3) climate. The program emphasizes the application of advanced information technology to geographical analysis, through courses in geographical information systems (GIS) and remote sensing. Graduating students may find employment in firms consulting on environmental problems; research organizations addressing such diverse issues as forestry, water resources, and global climate change; state and federal agencies with environmental, wildlife, and resource mandates; and public and private sector organizations in the field of remote sensing and GIS.
The Department of Earth & Environment also offers several BA/MA opportunities and minors in Earth Sciences, Environmental Analysis & Policy, Environmental Science, Environmental Remote Sensing & GIS, Geography, and Sustainable Energy.
Related Programs and Study Abroad
Boston University Marine Program
For students wishing to develop a marine focus, particularly in connection with a biological emphasis, courses are available through the Boston University Marine Program (BUMP). In this case, the emphasis is on field & laboratory teaching and research, and includes aspects of ancient marine geology, biogeochemistry of sediments, and biota. Access is also provided to present-day natural field laboratories in the local area and in Belize. This semester program is especially well suited for Environmental Science majors, who can fulfill four major electives.
School for Field Studies
The School for Field Studies (SFS) conducts semester and summer programs in international environmental field study for Boston University credit. Programs are conducted at international centers in Kenya, Costa Rica, Australia, Bhutan, Panama, Tanzania, and Turks & Caicos. Issues addressed by the School for Field Studies centers include wildlife ecology and management, sustainable development, tropical rainforest management, and marine resources management. Program information and applications are available from the School for Field Studies Admissions Office, 100 Cummings Center, Suite 534-G, Beverly, MA 01915; 800-989-4418. Visit the SFS website.
Boston University’s Study Abroad and Internship Programs offer several educational opportunities for students pursuing study in the areas of earth and environment:
Juniors and seniors in the Department of Earth & Environment with an interest in geological science, environmental science, and environmental analysis & policy are especially encouraged to consider study abroad at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. With a combination of academic work across a wide range of disciplines, field trips, and personal travel opportunities, students enjoy a rich introduction to New Zealand life and culture. Opportunities exist for intensive study of volcanoes, mountain glaciers, alpine faults, thermal springs, coastal regions, GIS, environmental modeling, field studies in environment and community, and more.
Tropical Ecology Program in Ecuador
The Ecuador Tropical Ecology Program offers students in the Department of Earth & Environment the opportunity to spend a semester studying the vast and diverse ecosystems of Ecuador through intensive hands-on experiences. The program consists of four ecology courses based on field research in the montane, tropical rainforest, and coastal regions, as well as an intensive Spanish language course. All science courses are taught in English. This semester program is especially well suited for Environmental Science majors, who can fulfill four major electives.
Washington, DC Internship Program
The Washington, DC Internship Program offers a semester of study and work in the political and media center of the United States. The program combines a full-time internship with coursework focusing on the legislative process and foreign policy. This semester program is especially well suited for Environmental Analysis & Policy majors, who can fulfill four major electives.
Boston University Geological Society
The Boston University Geological Society (BUGS) is an organization of students who sponsor activities that complement classroom study. In addition to regular meetings and frequent fundraising events, BUGS organizes field trips, sports teams, external lectures, and career information seminars.
Gamma Theta Upsilon
Gamma Theta Upsilon is the National Honor Society in Geography.
See Honor Societies.
Environmental Student Organization
The Environmental Student Organization sponsors seminars, service, and social events during the year and is open to majors, minors, and other interested students.