BA in Earth & Environmental Sciences

NOTE: In academic year 2020–2021, the Department of Earth & Environment recoded all courses from ES and GE to EE.

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 their 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 a study abroad program in Washington, D.C.; 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 BU undergraduate students, including both entering first-year and transfer students, will pursue coursework in the BU Hub, the University’s general education program that is integrated into the entire undergraduate experience. BU Hub requirements can be satisfied in a number of ways, including coursework in and beyond the major as well as through cocurricular activities. Students majoring in Earth & Environmental Sciences will ordinarily, through coursework in the major, satisfy BU Hub requirements in Scientific Inquiry I & II; Quantitative Reasoning I & II; Diversity, Civic Engagement & Global Citizenship; Communication; Research & Information Literacy; Digital/Media Expression; 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, cocurricular 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. Students declare their primary group by the end of their second year. 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 (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 (EE 491 or 492) may be applied toward fulfillment of the 16-course requirement for the major.

Required Courses

Introductory Core Courses (3)

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

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

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. Cocurricular 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.

Boston University’s study abroad and internship programs offer several educational opportunities for students pursuing study in the areas of earth and environment. The following is a sample program popular among Earth & Environment students.

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 eight SEA Semester programs: The Global Ocean, Climate & Society, Ocean Exploration, Oceans & Climate, Caribbean Reef Expedition, Caribbean Program, Sustainability in Pacific Island Communities & 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.

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 EE 401 and CAS EE 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 EE 401 or EE 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.