Department of Earth & Environment
The Department of Earth & Environment is the home of diverse research specializations and offers majors and minors related to the study of the Earth and the environment, coupled human-natural systems, and climate change. Interdisciplinary research and education is central to the department’s mission, and topics range from understanding how societies and political economies interact with their environment and develop policy in a rapidly changing world, to characterizing the geology, geochemistry, and climate evolution of the Earth at time scales of decades to millions of years.
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 dynamics, geochemistry, 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 provides modern geological, geochemical, remote sensing, GIS, visualization, and computing laboratory facilities for use in undergraduate and graduate research. These facilities play a critical role as part of research projects supported by the National Science Foundation, Ocean Drilling Program/Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, US Geological Survey, Sea Grant, Petroleum Research Fund, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Park Service. The facilities are also used by other researchers in the New England region.
The department is strongly aligned with activities in our allied research centers and schools, including the Center for Remote Sensing, the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, and the Pardee School of Global Studies.
Majors & Minors
The Department of Earth & Environment offers several undergraduate degrees:
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.
Students in the Environmental Analysis & Policy (EAP) major are trained broadly in the social sciences with a clearly defined specialization in the environmental field. Students receive an extensive introduction to the principle energy, resource, and environmental issues that confront society, and the analytical tools that are used to understand them.
The Bachelor of Arts in Geophysics & Planetary Sciences is a joint major between the Earth & Environment and Astronomy departments. This multidisciplinary program is built around an array of geology, geophysics, astronomy, physics, and geography courses. Students who embark on this joint major develop the skills to understand structures and processes on a planetary scale. This major prepares students for research in geophysics, geodynamics, seismology, and planetary science or careers in science education, management, geotechnical consulting, computing, or writing.
The department also offers minors in Earth & Environmental Sciences, Environmental Analysis & Policy, and Environmental Remote Sensing & GIS and jointly advises minors in Sustainable Energy and majors and minors in Marine Science.
Field experience and/or directed studies are vital to the studies of Earth and environment. 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.
Affiliated and Related Programs
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 students majoring in Earth & Environmental Sciences, who can fulfill four major electives.
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. Earth House is advised by faculty in Earth & Environment, the College of Engineering, and the Questrom School of Business; and staff of Sustainability@BU.
Opportunities exist for travel throughout the United States, and across the globe, through research opportunities with faculty in the department, as well as study abroad programs. Boston University Study Abroad offers several educational opportunities for students pursuing study in the areas of Earth and environment.
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.
Boston University students have the opportunity to directly enroll at one of Europe’s top universities, the University of Copenhagen, for a semester or an academic year. This exchange program will be of interest to students in all undergraduate fields, especially political science, history, economics, international relations, psychology, and sociology, among many others.
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.
The Sydney Internship program combines coursework at the BU Sydney Academic Center with professional work experience in or near Sydney. The program is offered during the fall, spring, and summer academic semesters. Students live in single bedrooms in fully furnished suites in the BU Sydney Academic center. In the first six weeks of the program, students complete coursework covering Australia’s dynamic history, contemporary culture, and place in the modern world. In the final eight weeks, students enroll in a 4-credit internship program while simultaneously taking a final required elective course on Australian Culture & Society.
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.
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.
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.
For a full list of Study Abroad and Internship Programs related to the study of Earth and environment, visit the study abroad and internship programs website, or speak to the undergraduate program coordinator in Earth & Environment.
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.
Environmental Student Organization
The Environmental Student Organization (EOS) is a student-run group striving to increase awareness and discussion of environmental issues through a variety of events and projects on and off campus. EOS sponsors seminars, service, and social events during the year and is open to majors, minors, and other interested students.
Gamma Theta Upsilon
Gamma Theta Upsilon is the National Honor Society in Geography.
Sigma Xi is a national honorary organization devoted to scientific research.