Geology & Geophysics

Geology & Geophysics

About the major

Geology is the study of the internal structure, materials, chemical/physical processes, and physical/biological history of the earth. Students of geology encounter science in the broadest sense because geology involves the application of principles of physics, mathematics, biology, and chemistry as well as many aspects of engineering and environmental sciences.

Geology Specialties
Because the scope of geology is broad, specialized branches have evolved. For example, geomorphologists investigate the nature and origin of land forms by studying the causes and effects of dynamic earth processes; structural geologists are concerned with the deformation of rock masses in the earth's crust and the forces that have affected them; and stratigraphers investigate the thickness, geometry, and distribution of layered rocks to understand the chronology of geologic events.

Careers in Geology
Geologists also may specialize as economic geologists who explore the earth for various kinds of mineral deposits and supervise their development. Others may become ground-water geologists concerned with the distribution, movement, and chemical quality of our precious underground water supply. Many have become petroleum geologists who explore for and develop deposits of coal, oil, natural gas, and other earth resource materials. Another area that appeals to many geology majors is environmental geology, in which geological skills are required to help predict, avoid, or mitigate problems connected with pollution, urban development, and geologic hazards such as flooding and excessive erosion.

Prepared for Graduate School
Students completing the B.S. curriculum in Geology & Geophysics will be prepared to undertake graduate studies for advanced degrees or enter a variety of careers related to several specialty areas.

Geology & Geophysics Requirements

Because our science is diverse and interests of students widely varied, the Geology and Geophysics curriculum has relatively few specific requirements. With the help of an academic counselor and a faculty advisor you may choose an academic program that is broad, or focused in one or several specialties. Click below to see a sample four year curriculum plan than includes all requirements

Curriculum Plan (PDF) Fall 2013-
Curriculum Plan (PDF)2012 and Prior

Within the Geology and Geophysics major you have a large number of electives and we encourage you to choose courses that uniquely satisfy your interests and match your talents. Below are descriptions of just a few specialties within Geology and Geophysics, with ideas about course electives for some of the fields. The list is not exhaustive, but we hope our ideas will help to stimulate your own.

Requirements for Entry into the Upper Division in Earth & Atmospheric Sciences:

Entry into the upper division means registration for the semester which includes EAPS xx3xx courses. A student pursuing a major in Earth and Atmospheric Science must satisfy the following before being permitted to enter the upper division:

Completion of MA 16100, MA 16200, CHM 11500, CHM 11600 and the first course in the second lab sequence (example: PHYS 17200, 22000) or equivalent courses each with a grade of C- or better

Completion of required lower division courses in the student's major area each with a grade of C- or better.

Possibilities in Geology & Geophysics:

Paleontology and Paleoecology

Paleontology is the study of fossils, with the aim of discerning the nature, occurrence, and evolution of life throughout geologic time. Paleoecology deals with the relationship between fossil organisms and their inferred environments. Coursework in this area emphasizes methods by which data derived from fossils can be interpreted and applied to geologic and biologic problems.

Recommended Plan of Study

Geochemistry, Mineralogy, and Petrology

Mineralogy, petrology, and geochemistry use concepts from disciplines such as chemistry, physics, and mathematics to help clarify geological phenomena and problems. In general, the problems are directly related to the basic materials comprising the earth, namely, the origin and occurrence of minerals, rocks, and ore deposits.

Engineering Geology

Engineering geology involves the use of geological data, techniques, and principles to interpret the geologic factors affecting the planning, design, and safety of engineering projects. Engineering geology work includes studies related to site location and investigation; environmental assessment; design recommendations; construction, monitoring, and maintenance of engineering structures such as dams, tunnels, bridges, buildings, mines, cut slopes in rocks, quarries, etc.; and analysis of the geology of urban areas. Students interested in engineering geology should also consider the Environmental Geosciences curriculum.

Recommended Plan of Study  


Using a background in geology as their foundation, students can use an interdisciplinary approach to study ground-water contamination, landfill management, landslide risk, urban planning, and many other contemporary environmental issues. Environmental scientists must develop quantitative problem-solving skills acquired in an educational framework that couples their geological background with basic principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and engineering to meet the challenges facing the environment. Environmental employment areas include science, engineering, and consulting, particularly on decisions regarding environmental public policy. There are also many opportunities for graduate education in these areas.


The hydrogeologist is called on to assess an area for groundwater development potential for domestic, industrial, or agricultural supply. His or her skills may be required to determine the origin and fate of naturally-occurring or man-made chemicals in ground water. Hydrogeology is intimately related also to knowledge of earth surface processes (geomorphology), environmental studies, engineering geology, and exploration geophysics. A background in these related specialties is desirable.

Structural Geology

Structural Geology is the study of how Earth deforms. To understand rock deformation, we might examine rocks at any scale from microscopic to continental. We study the forces that cause folds, faults and even whole mountain ranges. We investigate rocks that have flowed quietly for millions of years, and others that have ruptured catastrophically in earthquakes. These types of processes are responsible for much of the large-scale configuration of the Earth's surface. Structural Geology is one of the keys to understanding the geologic history of the Earth and hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and landslides. It is also an essential tool in the search for petroleum and mineral resources.

Recommended Plan of Study


Geophysics applies principles of physics to the study of the earth. Studies of natural gravity, magnetic and electrical fields, seismic wave propagation, and heat flow are used to deduce the nature of the earth's interior - the structure, composition, physical properties, and dynamic processes that cause earthquakes and move continents. Similar studies are used to explore for petroleum and mineral deposits and to investigate the shallow portions of the earth's crust to determine conditions that influence the location of engineering structures.

Geophysics includes theoretical and laboratory studies as well as field investigations that may be located in interesting and remote areas of the world. Often geophysicists use sophisticated instrumentation, computer processing of data, and interpretation and integration of information from several related disciplines.

Recommended Plan of Study   

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Many Geology and Geophysics students choose to engage in scientific research during their undergraduate career. Research projects are often field oriented, and they may be nearby or far away, but they may also be laboratory, computational, or a combination of field, lab and computational. Faculty are happy to suggest projects or help students with independent investigations of their own design. Other students participate in the research projects of faculty and graduate students. The principal reward is the fun and satisfaction of original scientific enquiry, but some professors may also have funding to compensate you for your time.

More information on Undergraduate Research