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Geosciences | Courses | Faculty

233 Morrill

Distinguished Professors Bradley, Margulis; Professors Brigham-Grette, Brown, Burns, Gaubatz, Graham, Leckie, Rhodes, Williams, Yuretich; Associate Professors Condit, Cooke, DeConto, Jercinovic, McCoy, Petsch, Seaman, Stevens; Assistant Professors Boutt, Vogel, Woodruff, Yu; Adjunct Faculty Barten, Coombs, Dolan, Duncan, Francis, Goldstein, Goodwin, Groisman, Keimig, Mabee, Mann, McEnroe, Panish, Voss.

The Department of Geosciences has undergraduate programs leading to the B.A. and B.S. degrees in Geology and in Geography, and to the B.S. degree in Earth Systems.


Degrees: Bachelor of Science
Bachelor of Arts

Contact: Steven Petsch
Office: 265 Morrill IV South
Phone: (413) 545-4413

The Field

The primary objectives of geology are to understand the processes that constantly change the earth and other terrestrial planets, and to decipher the history of the earth and terrestrial planets from the time of origin of the solar system to the present day. Achieving those objectives involves diverse activities. Geologists study active natural features such as coastlines, glaciers, lakes and rivers, and volcanoes. Geologic mapping of rocks, sediments, and other features is done to learn of past events and conditions, and field/laboratory studies are conducted to determine fundamental chemical and physical properties of minerals, rocks, sediments, and surface and ground waters. Finding and developing deposits of industrial minerals and rocks, metallic ores, gas and oil, and groundwater aquifers, as well as managing geologic hazards and toxic waste all require insight into geological relationships and processes. One major focus of the geosciences and of the department is the study of climate history from the perspectives of both terrestrial and marine environments.

The Major

All students majoring in Geology are required to maintain a 2.000 average for all upper-division courses taken to fulfill degree requirements. The Junior Year Writing requirement is fulfilled by GEO-SCI 307 Geologic Writing.

The B.A. degree program is intended to provide a firm background in geology while allowing sufficient flexibility to pursue other areas as well. This degree is suitable for Pre-Law and Pre-Dental/Pre-Medical students or as a second major. Requirements include 15 credits of supporting science and mathematics, GEO-SCI 101 (or any other introductory geology course plus GEO-SCI 131) and GEO-SCI 201, and 21 credits of upper-division geology or physical geography courses (GEO-SCI 231 or courses numbered 300 and above) with a minimum of 15 credits in geology. Upper division courses should be selected in consultation with a geology adviser.

B.S. Programs
Two separate Bachelor of Science tracks are available. The Geology Track provides a strong background for students wishing professional careers in geology. Requirements include CHEM 111-112, MATH 127-128 or 131-132 or 135-136, and two semesters of Physics (131-134 or 151-154 or 171-174) or two semesters of Biology (100-101 or 102-103); most geology majors should elect MATH 131-132 or 135-136 and PHYSICS 151-154, but discussion with an adviser is strongly recommended. GEO-SCI 101 (or any other introductory geology course plus GEO-SCI 131), and GEO-SCI 201, 231, 311, 321, 331, 431, and 445 make up the core of this option. An additional 12 credits in upper division geology or physical geography courses numbered 300 or above, or in relevant supporting sciences or mathematics, are also required; the biology course used to satisfy university General Education requirements cannot be counted towards this requirement, and if courses from mathematics, physics, or chemistry are elected, they must be more advanced than the required courses listed above. All electives should be selected in consultation with a geology adviser. The department strongly recommends that candidates enhance their employability by acquiring practical field experience before they graduate. The department also strongly encourages some type of research experience such as independent study or a Senior Thesis.

For the B.S. Degree, Geology Track

Introductory Courses
101 The Earth (recommended; 103 or 105 or 109 accepted)
131 Experiencing Geology
201 History of the Earth
231 Introductory Field Geology

Core Courses
311 Mineralogy
321 Petrology
331 Advanced Field Geology
431 Structural Geology
445 Sedimentology

Commonly Selected Upper-Division Electives
415 Introduction to Geochemistry
483 Environmental Evolution
519 Aqueous and Environmental
531 Tectonics
539 Advanced Geologic Mapping
560 Geomorphology
563 Glacial Geology
571 Geophysics
587 Hydrogeology

For the B.S. Degree, Earth Science Track

The Earth Science Track is recommended to students interested in teaching at the secondary school level, or in pursuing graduate studies leading to the M.A.T. or M.Ed. degrees. The program requires completion of courses (some specified) comprising four blocks. The Basic Earth Science Block (13 cr) requires GEO-SCI 101 and 103 and ASTRON 100 and 105 (or GEO-SCI 354). The Supporting Sciences Block (23-24 cr) requires at least one course in biology (BIOLOGY 100, 102, or 103), at least one course in calculus (MATH 127, 131, or 135), two semesters of chemistry (CHEM 111-112, or equivalent), and two semesters of physics (PHYSICS 131-134 or 151-154 or 171-174). The required courses in the Geology Block (15 cr) are GEO-SCI 201 231, 311, and 321. An Electives Block (9 cr) consists of upper-division courses in Geology or Physical Geography (courses numbered 300 and above). Students are encouraged to take an environmental geology or related course as part of the Electives Block.

Teacher Certification: Undergraduate students must achieve a passing score on the Communication and Literacy Skills Test of the Massachusetts Educator Certification Tests (MECT) prior to admission into professional preparation programs for educators. In addition to meeting other preparation program requirements, each student in a program for which there is an MECT Subject Test must pass the appropriate Subject Test as a prerequisite for enrolling in his or her practicum.

For further information about the procedures leading to teacher certification in Massachusetts, students should follow the guidelines in the Secondary Teacher Education Program (STEP) available at the School of Education.

Career Opportunities

A wide variety of employment opportunities are open to geologists. Most are employed in private industry by firms involved in environmental and engineering geology and groundwater, and in exploration for oil and mineral resources. A growing number of geology graduates obtain employment with federal or state geological surveys, or with agencies involved with the environment or with energy. Although government agencies and industrial firms hire some geologists with B.S. or B.A. degrees, these employers generally prefer geologists who have obtained the M.S. degree. Currently a few colleges and secondary schools also hire geologists.

The Minor

The minor in geology is flexible, so that it can complement the student’s major in the best possible manner. A student desiring to minor in geology must complete the following requirements:

1. GEO-SCI 101 The Earth and GEO-SCI 201 History of the Earth

2. 12 credits in upper-division geology courses (GEO-SCI 231 and courses numbered 300 and above), no more than 3 credits of which may be in Seminars, Special Problems, or Independent Study. Courses must be approved by one of the regular geology advisers.

3. All prerequisites for courses selected for the minor, both in geology and in supporting science and mathematics.

Note: All students minoring in Geology are required to maintain a 2.000 average for all upper-division courses taken to fulfill degree requirements.


Degrees: Bachelor of ArtsBachelor of Science

Degrees: Bachelor of Arts
Bachelor of Science

Contact: William McCoy
Office: 236 Morrill
Phone: (413) 545-1535

The Field

In a world challenged by diminishing resources, a rapidly growing population, and increasing tensions over cultural values and economic development and environmental issues, it is imperative that students learn about the earth and their place on it. Geography offers students the opportunity to study the dynamics of global change and to place their local experience in a global perspective.

Geography is the study of the physical and social processes that shape the world we live in. It is an integrative discipline especially suited to examining complex and dynamic interactions between factors such as physical environmental processes, resource use, urbanization, economic development, conservation, population change and migration, geopolitics, cultural change, and a humanistic sense of place.

Geographic subfields and research topics cover an extraordinary range of pressing world issues: global climate change, environmental degradation, resource depletion, natural hazards, economic globalization, migration and urbanization, world hunger, human and indigenous rights, ethnic and religious conflict—virtually all of the problems facing countries and communities today are the focus of geographic research.

Geographers make use of multiple methods in their work, from interviews, observations, archival research, and mapping to new kinds of participatory and collaborative research and the use of satellite imagery and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Within the broad scope of the field of geography, geographers in the Department of Geosciences particularly focus on the past and present dynamics of environmental perception, environmental change, and conservation. Social actions and globalization now constitute an unprecedented force threatening the destruction of natural ecosystems, land cover and land-use change, extinction of species, and climate change. At the same time unprecedented efforts are being made by community, governmental, and Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) on behalf of environmental conservation, sustainable livelihoods and development, and social justice.

Campus geographers are engaged in research and activism addressing many of the great environmental, conservation, development, and social justice issues of our time, working at local, national, international, and global scales with expertise and projects in the Pioneer Valley, the U.S., the Arctic, China, Nepal, Japan, Europe, and Latin America. The department also houses a major center of climate change research.

The many different specializations within geography are often conceptualized as subfields of human geography or physical geography.

Human geography seeks to identify and explain patterns and variations of settlement, social organization, culture, economies, political systems, and environmental impacts. This involves human geographers in studying issues such as population change and migration, urbanization and urban change, land and water use, environmental change, conservation, sustainability, and development. The department offers courses in subfields of human geography, including conservation geography, political ecology, urban ecology, environmental history and issues, cultural geography, environmental perception and sense of place, humanistic geography, economic geography, urban geography, and remote sensing and GIS analysis and applications.

Physical geography involves studying the physical processes, both natural and anthropogenic, that affect the earth’s surface, atmosphere, and biosphere. The department has strengths in the study of climate, climate change, landforms and land surface processes, remote sensing of the environment, and GIS analysis and applications.

Careers in Geography. For some students, a major in geography serves as a flexible foundation on which to build a broad-based liberal education. It can serve as an appropriate preparation for graduate school studies in geography, other social and natural sciences, and for careers in government, NGOs, journalism, teaching, GIS, cartography, urban and regional planning, and conservation anddevelopment work.

Advising. Majors are strongly encouraged to have an individual adviser, selected with advice of the chief undergraduate adviser for Geography. Individual advisers assist in designing courses of study and can also advise on internships, graduate schools, and careers. The Geography program chief undergraduate adviser should be consulted on questions concerned with university, college, and major requirements.

Senior Thesis. Geography majors are encouraged to undertake a senior research project leading to a senior thesis. Students design and carry out their projects in consultation with their advisers. Independent study and thesis writing credits can be used.

Study Abroad. Many geography students find that a semester or year of study abroad is a highly valuable part of their education.

The Major

The major combines a solid grounding in required courses with the maximum opportunity to shape an individual program serving personal interests and career intentions. Students should consult with their faculty adviser to ensure that a sound individual program is developed.

A minimum of a 2.000 average in the courses applied to the Geography major is required for graduation. The Junior Year Writing requirement is fulfilled by enrolling in GEO-SCI 314.

Requirements for B.A. Degree:

Introductory Courses (6 cr)
100 Global Environmental Change
plus one of the following:
102 The Human Landscape
150 The Earth Transformed: World Environmental Issues

Skills and Techniques (9 cr)
314 Junior Year Writing (required)
340 Quantitative Methods (required)
plus one of the following:
352 Computer Cartography
392Q Qualitative Methods and Ethics in Geography
591Q Introduction to Remote Sensing
594A Introduction to GIS

Upper-Division Elective Courses (24 cr)
Students take 24 credits in Geography courses numbered 200 and above. These courses are chosen in consultation with the student’s individual adviser and the chief undergraduate adviser.

Areas of concentration for majors:

Geography majors are encouraged to choose an area of concentration such as Environmental Issues and Conservation; Urban and Economic Geography; Cultural and Humanistic Geography; Physical-Environmental Geography; and Maps, GIS and Visualization Geography.

Requirements for B.S. Degree in Physical Geography

In addition to the courses required for the B.A. degree (listed above):

Three advanced physical geography courses (9 credits), including:
354 Climatology
560 Geomorphology
and an advanced physical geography course, such as:
591C Introduction to Climate Modeling
595D Oceans and Climate
(These courses may count for three of the required upper-division courses in Geography.)

General Science Courses (18-24 credits)
Calculus (6-8 cr)
General college physics (6-8 cr)
General college chemistry (6-8 cr)

General Geoscience Courses (7 credits)
101 The Earth
CMPSCI 121 Introduction to Problem Solving with Computers

Career Opportunities

A wide range of careers demanding knowledge of geographic concepts and mastery of geographic techniques are open in business, government, teaching, and cartography. Many opportunities are becoming available in the field of environmental management and planning. The Federal government will need additional personnel to work in programs such as regional development, environmental quality, and intelligence. Employment of geographers in state and local government is expected to expand, particularly in areas such as conservation, environmental quality, highway planning, and city, community, and regional planning and development. Private industry also is expected to employ increasing numbers of geographers for market research and location analysis. Graduates who have only the Bachelor’s degree in geography may find positions connected with making, interpreting, or analyzing maps; or in research, either working for government or industry. Others may obtain employment as research or teaching assistants in educational institutions while studying for advanced degrees. Some Bachelor’s degree holders do teach at the high school level, although in some states, the Master’s degree is becoming essential for high school teaching positions. Others earn library science degrees and become map librarians.

Many geographers have job titles such as cartographer, map analyst or regional planner, that describe their specialization. Others have titles that relate to the subject matter of their study, such as photo-intelligence specialist or climatological analyst. Still others have titles such as community or environmental planner, or market or business analyst.

Further training to open career doors may be either in geography or in other fields where geography can be applied, such as planning or business, or it can be totally unrelated to geography specifically, such as law and public administration. The critical point is for the student, in consultation with a faculty adviser, to work out a solid program in geography and related fields which will sound out the various options.

The Minor

There are several options in the Geography minor. Each is consistent with the general structure of the discipline and its specific sub-fields and: a) provides students with exposure to fundamental concepts in the field; b) enables them to become familiar with the application of these concepts; and c) complements concepts and perspectives emphasized in the student’s declared major field of study. In practical terms the minor in geography enables students to acquire specific skills and competencies (e.g., cartography) which qualify them for employment with various federal, state, and local agencies. For those students interested in careers in teaching, the geography minor broadens their perspectives in the area of social studies education. In many cases the elected minor in a sub-field of geography complements perspectives provided by the student’s academic major, and in doing so potentially enhances the scope of employment prospects.

The department expects students majoring in the following disciplines to be most interested in a minor in geography: Anthropology, Earth Systems, Economics, Education, Environmental Design, General Business and Finance, Geology, History, and Sociology.

Students should select an academic adviser in the same way that Geography majors do. Potential minors first consult with the Chief Undergraduate Adviser in Geography to determine possible options and relevant faculty. The appropriate faculty member works with the student to design the minor program.


The minor requires 15 credit hours of courses in Geography. One of the courses should be at the 100 level and the other four courses should be at the 300 level or above.

Transfer credits. Maximum of 6 credits allowed. These must fit into the minor to be allowed.

No Pass/Fail courses are allowed in the minor. Independent Study/Practicum courses: maximum of 6 credits allowed. Relevant examples are listed in the above options. In general we expect students to take 3 credits of these at most.

Earth Systems

Degree: Bachelor of Science

Contact: Robert DeConto
Office: 234 Morrill
Phone: (413) 545-3426

The Field

Global environmental changes require a comprehensive understanding of the earth’s major systems, and of the important ways in which these systems are linked. The major systems are the geosphere—processes of the Earth’s surface and interior; biosphere—life on land and in the sea; atmosphere—weather and climate; hydrosphere—water in the oceans, air, and on the continents; and cryosphere—snow and ice-covered regions, as well as the impact of human activities on these systems. The goal of earth system science is to obtain a scientific understanding of the entire earth system on a global scale. Recent studies of the continents, oceans, atmosphere, biosphere, and ice cover have revealed a far more complex and dynamic world than hitherto imagined.

In the past, diverse studies of volcanic activity, ocean chemistry, global climate, and biological processes would have been treated in isolation; we now recognize there are important links between them which themselves define new fields of study. Furthermore, the human population is no longer a passive spectator to earth processes, but an active participant on a worldwide scale. Human activity has become an agent of global change, depleting energy, mineral and water resources, altering rivers, coastlines and sedimentation patterns, polluting groundwater resources, and even changing the composition of the entire atmosphere, leading to climate changes with unforeseen and perhaps irreversible consequences. Distinguishing between natural changes and the results of large-scale economic and technological activity is a major challenge in earth system research.

The Major

The purpose of the Earth Systems degree is to provide students with a holistic understanding of the Earth’s geosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and cryosphere, as well as the impact of human activities on these systems. The degree is suitable for students interested in the interface of earth science and related fields, and in issues related to the long-term management and sustainabilty of the planet.

Requirements for the B.S. Degree

A. Supporting Sciences (7 courses; 25-28 credits)

1. Two courses in Biology (at least one must be a laboratory course)
Select from: BIOLOGY 100-101, 102-103, 280, or PLNTSOIL 105.

2. Two semesters of Mathematics
MATH 127-128 or 131-132 or 135-136

3. Three courses in Physics and Chemistry (at least one from each discipline)
Select from: PHYSICS 131-133; 132-134; 151-153; 152-154 (or approved equivalent)
CHEM 111-112 (or approved equivalent)
Note: two semesters of both Physics and Chemistry are recommended.

B. Earth Systems Core Courses (27-28 credits)

1. One of the following four introductory Geoscience courses:
100 Global Environmental Change
101 The Earth
103 Introductory Oceanography
105 Dynamic Earth

2. 102 The Human Landscape

3. 131 Experiencing Geology or 231 Introduction to Field Geology

4. 201 History of the Earth

5. 354 Climatology or 391A Meteorology

6. 420 Political Ecology

7. One of the following:
415 Introduction to Geochemistry
491A Biogeochemistry
597A Isotope Geochemistry
517 Sedimentary Geochemistry
519 Aqueous and Environmental Geochemistry
597B Chemistry of Oceans

8. Select one of the following courses:
591C Climate Modeling
591R Remote Sensing
594A Introduction to GIS
595D Physical Oceanography
658 Paleoclimatology

9. 483 Environmental Evolution (seniors only)

C. Earth Systems Electives (12 credits)

Students should select at least 12 credits from a list of approved courses in Geosciences (including a second course from B-3, B-7, and B-8 above), Biology, Computer Science, Environmental Sciences, Forestry, Microbiology, Natural Resources Conservation, Physics, Plant and Soil Sciences, Political Science, Resource Economics, Resource Planning, Statistics, and Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation. The list is available from the department. Courses should broaden knowledge in one or more areas of Earth Systems and must be selected in consultation with an adviser.

Career Opportunities

Earth Systems majors will be well placed for careers in a wide range of environmental fields. Their rigorous science training, combined with a broad perspective on global environmental systems, will equip them for employment in government agencies and businesses concerned with environmental issues. Students will also be well positioned to continue their studies at the graduate level in specializations related to earth science, geography, and environmental management, thereby enhancing their career potential.

Geosciences | Courses | Faculty