Undergraduate Program

The undergraduate major in earth and environmental sciences provides an understanding of the natural functioning of our planet and considers the consequences of human interactions with it. The program for majors aims to convey an understanding of how the complex earth system works at a level that will encourage students to think creatively about earth system processes and how to address multidisciplinary environmental problems. The breadth of material covered provides an excellent background for those planning to enter the professions of law, business, diplomacy, public policy, teaching, journalism, etc. At the same time, the program provides sufficient depth so that graduates will be prepared for graduate school in the earth sciences. The program can be adjusted to accommodate students with particular career goals in mind.

The department's close affiliations with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the Earth Institute at Columbia (EI), and several departments within the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences afford opportunities for students to participate in a wide variety of research programs. Summer employment, research and additional educational opportunities are available at Lamont and GISS. The department encourages majors to become involved in a research project by their junior year.

All majors and concentrators, when planning their programs of study, should regularly consult the directors of undergraduate studies and make themselves aware of the requirements for their particular program.

Environmental Science Major

The environmental science major curriculum provides an introduction to a variety of fields of study relevant to the environment. Environmental science majors are required to take three semesters of introductory courses and to develop a grounding in basic physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics. Here, students are allowed some choice depending on interest. With this introduction to the earth's environment and equipped with a knowledge of the basic sciences, students are prepared to choose a set of upper-level courses in consultation with an undergraduate adviser. All environmental science majors are required to complete a research project, providing a practical application of mastered course work. This research culminates in a senior thesis. The research and the thesis are usually done at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory with guidance from a faculty member or research scientist (free shuttle bus between Morningside and Lamont for undergraduates). However, other options are also possible.

Environmental Science majors have an option to complete the special concentration in environmental biology for environmental science majors.

Earth Science Major

The major in earth science follows a similar rationale, but is designed to allow students to pursue particular fields within the earth sciences in greater depth. Compared with the environmental science major, one fewer introductory course is required, while one additional advanced course should be part of the plan of study. The earth science major also offers the possibility of in-depth field experience through a six- to eight-week geology summer field course, arrangements for which are made through another university. The research and senior thesis capstone requirements are the same as for the environmental science major. The geology summer field course may be used as an alternative means of fulfilling the capstone requirement in the earth science major.


The program for concentrators serves students who want more exposure to earth and environmental science than is provided by introductory-level courses. The program aims to provide students with experience in data analysis and a thorough introduction to the Earth's systems.

The concentration in environmental science and the concentration in earth science are designed to give students an understanding of how the Earth works and an introduction to the methods used to investigate earth processes, including their capabilities and limitations. Concentrators often join social professions (business, law, medicine, etc.) and take with them a strong scientific background. They take the same introductory courses as the majors, but fewer basic science and upper-level courses are required.

In addition to the environmental science and earth science concentrations, the department sponsors a special concentration which must be done in conjunction with the environmental biology major. Students should be aware that they must complete the environmental biology major in order to receive credit for the special concentration. There is also a special concentration in environmental biology for environmental science majors sponsored by the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology.