BA in Earth & Environmental Sciences

The major in Earth & Environmental Sciences engages students in the study of the Earth and its habitable environments with a focus on the key natural and physical processes that shape our planet, from the geologic past to the present, and into the future. Students gain a broad foundational understanding of concepts and research techniques in the physical, life, and interdisciplinary natural sciences that inform society about the physical world and environment in which we live. Each student, in consultation with his or her advisor, chooses a focus for in-depth coursework in one of three areas: Ecosystems, Earth & Climate, and Earth Observations. All levels of the curriculum emphasize analysis of data for critical evaluation of scientific arguments related to the study of Earth and environmental systems.

Students majoring in Earth & Environmental Sciences at Boston University can take advantage of special opportunities that include BU’s Earth House living-learning community, as well as study abroad programs in Copenhagen, Ecuador, Italy, New Zealand, Washington, D.C., and Antarctica; qualified students may conduct mentored research toward Honors in the Major. The BA in Earth & Environmental Sciences prepares students for graduate study in the field or for entry-level employment in a variety of professions including environmental consulting, ecosystem management, private sector industry, governmental and private scientific agencies, science journalism, and environmental law.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate knowledge of fundamental concepts and specific topics in environmental science, Earth and climate science, and Earth observations that inform the study of planet Earth.
  • Understand the application, and limits, of problem-solving tools from the Earth and environmental sciences to represent, organize, and assess information.
  • Identify and quantitatively analyze data in order to critically evaluate scientific arguments related to the study of Earth and environmental systems.
  • Communicate effectively, both in writing and verbally, using languages from environmental science, Earth and climate science, and Earth observations to express ideas and their importance.
  • Solve complex problems in Earth and environmental sciences that require the application of scientific concepts and laboratory techniques from a combination of Earth and climate science, environmental science, and Earth observation.


All students entering as freshmen in Fall 2018 and after will pursue coursework in the BU Hub, a general education program that is integrated into the entire undergraduate experience. BU Hub requirements are flexible and can be satisfied in many different ways, through coursework in and beyond the major and, in some cases, through co-curricular activities. Students majoring in Earth & Environmental Sciences will ordinarily, through coursework in the major, satisfy BU Hub requirements in Scientific Inquiry; Quantitative Inquiry; Diversity, Civic Engagement & Global Citizenship; Communication; and the Intellectual Toolkit. Remaining BU Hub requirements will be satisfied by selecting from a wide range of available courses outside the major or, in some cases, co-curricular experiences.

The major in Earth & Environmental Sciences requires a total of 16 courses (64 credits), all completed with a grade of C or higher, as approved by the student’s advisor. Those 16 courses comprise three required core introductory courses; six required related mathematics and science courses; and seven approved principal electives, five of which must come from a single group (Ecosystems, Earth & Climate, or Earth Observations), and the remaining two of which must be chosen from outside that group. At least one principal elective course must be at the 500 level. With prior approval from faculty advisors, students may apply coursework taken as part of the BU Marine Program, the Auckland University Studies Program, the Tropical Ecology Program in Ecuador, and the Venice Environmental Studies Program (among other study abroad opportunities) toward the total of 16 courses required for the major. In addition, up to one semester (4 credits) of Directed Study (ES/GE 491 or 492) or Honors Research (ES/GE 401 or 402) may be applied toward fulfillment of the 16-course requirement for the major.

Required Courses

Introductory Core Courses (3)

  • CAS ES 107 Introduction to Climate and Earth System Science
  • CAS GE 100 Environmental Change and Sustainability
  • CAS GE 270 Data, Models, and Analysis in Earth & Environment

ES 107 and GE 100 may be taken in either order; both must be taken before GE 270. Students who have previously completed CAS MA 213 may substitute that course for GE 270.

Required Related Courses (6)

  • Calculus: CAS MA 123, 124; or MA 127; or MA 129
  • General Chemistry: CAS CH 101 or CH 109 or CH 111 or CH 171
  • Physics: CAS PY 211 or PY 251
  • Biology: CAS BI 107
  • One of: CAS BI 108; CH 102 or 110 or 112 or 172; or PY 212 or 252

Principal Elective Courses (7)

Students select seven of the following, five from a single group and any two from outside that group. At least one course must be an upper-level elective numbered 500 or higher.

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 and 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. More information about BUMP is available here.

Boston University’s Study Abroad and Internship Programs offer several educational opportunities for students pursuing study in the areas of Earth and environment.

Auckland University Studies Program

The combination of academic work, field trips, and personal travel opportunities gives students a rich introduction to New Zealand life and culture. The Auckland Internship Program runs approximately 16 weeks during the Fall Semester and 24 weeks during the Spring Semester. Students take one required course at the Boston University Auckland Center, then enroll directly at the University of Auckland or Auckland University of Technology (AUT), depending on their specific field and interests. Students take two courses at the university of their choice and complete an 8-to-10–week internship as their fourth and final course. More information about the program is available here.

Sea Education Association/SEA Semester

Sea Education Association (SEA) is an internationally recognized leader in undergraduate ocean education. SEA Semester programs are multidisciplinary learning communities that address the critical environmental issues of our time: climate change, sustainability, biodiversity, human impacts on the environment, and environmental justice. SEA offers seven SEA Semester programs: The Global Ocean, Ocean Exploration, Oceans & Climate, Caribbean Reef Expedition, Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean, Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures & Ecosystems, and Marine Biodiversity & Conservation. SEA also offers two short-term SEA Summer Sessions: Protecting the Phoenix Islands and Pacific Reef Expedition. All SEA programs incorporate an interconnected suite of courses designed to explore a specific ocean-related theme using a cross-disciplinary approach. By combining initial academic coursework in a residential environment in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, with a hands-on voyage aboard a sailing research vessel at sea, SEA allows students to put their newfound knowledge and skills immediately into practice. SEA accepts students from all majors, and no prior sailing experience is necessary. More information about the program is available here.

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. More information about the program is available here.

Venice Environmental Studies Program (Summer)

The Venice Environmental Studies Program offers students an opportunity to examine both the scientific underpinnings of climate change and sea level rise, and their effects on the economy and society. The two-course curriculum emphasizes the natural history of the Venice lagoon, as well as its more recent modifications, to illustrate the issues connected with human-driven changes in coastal bays and estuaries, sea level rise, and natural environmental dynamics. Courses are taught in English. More information about the program is available here.

Earth House

Earth House is a sustainable living-learning community for undergraduates at 7 Buswell Street, on South Campus. The historic row house and its supporting energy, water, food, and waste systems are the principal objects of inquiry for student-residents. Students take part in at least one change or upgrade in sustainability of Earth House during their residential year, while analyzing Earth House and developing a proposal for the single most environmentally and cost-effective upgrade in the physical plant or resident consumer behavior for implementation in the following year. Co-curricular credit is available through CAS EE 395/396 Earth House Sustainability Practicum. Earth House is advised by faculty in Earth & Environment, College of Engineering, and Questrom School of Business; and staff of Sustainability@BU. More information on Earth House is available here.

Honors in the Major

Students who maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 are eligible to work toward honors in the major. Requirements include completion of the two-course sequence of independent study (CAS ES/GE 401 and CAS ES/GE 402) and successful defense of a senior thesis as the primary means to graduate with honors in Earth & Environment. In appropriate circumstances, and with the approval of the Departmental Honors Committee, students may apply significant summer research toward the production of a senior thesis. In such cases, students combine independent summer fieldwork with either ES/GE 401 or ES/GE 402 as the basis for writing and defending a senior honors thesis.

Each honors student is advised by at least two faculty members, who act as first and second readers of the Senior Honors Thesis. Interested students should contact the department Director of Undergraduate Studies, who oversees departmental honors, no later than March of the junior year.