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Science of Earth Systems

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Undergrad Degree: BS

During the past several decades, under the increasing pressure of public concerns about air and water pollution, nuclear waste disposal, the ozone hole, and global warming, the scientific community has realized how inter-related are the components that were once viewed as separate parts of the Earth system. While the critical parts—processes in the biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere—are studied in detail within the boundaries of traditional disciplines, how the parts combine and interact is the key to understanding how our home planet works, its past history, and its likely future. The idea of "Earth System Science" has emerged, not as a loosely anchored interdisciplinary subject, but as the seed of a new and revolutionary unification of the science of our planet.

In response to this developing interdisciplinary approach to understanding and managing the earth, the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences administers the Science of Earth Systems (SES) major. The SES major emphasizes the basic science of the earth system. It provides undergraduate students with strong interests in science with the tools to engage in what will be the primary challenge of the 21st century, namely, managing a sustainable existence on our planet.

Students who graduate with a degree in SES will be well qualified for graduate work in any of the earth science sub-disciplines (for example, geology, atmospheric science, hydrology, biogeochemistry, oceanography, and geophysics), in addition to being prepared for graduate work in one of the numerous earth system science graduate programs that are emerging at many universities.

The SES major is also excellent preparation for an advanced degree in environmental law or policy, since these fields value students with the ability to understand the science behind legal and policy decisions. The major also works very well for students who are interested in earning a teaching degree to teach earth science at the middle or high school level. Finally, the interdisciplinary nature of the major makes it excellent preparation for employment in one of many environmentally-oriented careers in both the private and public sector.