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Program Title
Earth Systems (BS)
Degree Type
BS - Bachelor of Science
Earth Systems
Program Overview

The Earth Systems Program is an interdisciplinary environmental science major. Students learn about and independently investigate complex environmental problems caused by human activities in conjunction with natural changes in the Earth system. Earth Systems majors become skilled in those areas of science, economics, and policy needed to tackle the world's most pressing social-environmental problems, becoming part of a generation of scientists, professionals, and citizens who approach and solve problems in a systematic, interdisciplinary way.

For students to be effective contributors to solutions for such problems, their training and understanding must be both broad and deep. To this end, Earth Systems students take fundamental courses in ecology, calculus, chemistry, geology, and physics, as well as economics, policy, and statistics. After completing breadth training, they concentrate on advanced work in one of six focus areas: biology, energy, environmental economics and policy, land systems, sustainable food and agriculture, or oceanography and climate. Tracks are designed to support focus and rigor but include flexibility for specialization. Examples of specialized foci have included but are not limited to environment and human health, sustainable agriculture, energy economics, sustainable development, business and the environment, and marine policy. Along with formal course requirements, Earth Systems students complete a 1-unit (270-hour) internship. The internship provides a hands-on academic experience working on a supervised field, laboratory, government, or private sector project.

Beginning 2021-2022
1. New requirement in Environmental Justice, Ethics, and Human Rights

Creating effective solutions to socio-environmental challenges requires competency with interrogating problems and their potential solutions in light of ethical, justice, and human rights considerations. To support development of this competency, students are required to take a minimum of one course that provides an opportunity to do at least one of the following:

  • Apply a holistic understanding of frameworks, histories, and theories from environmental justice, environmental human rights, or environmental ethics to the problematization of socio-environmental challenges across multiple disciplines. 

  • Develop the capacity to support and integrate frameworks from environmental justice, environmental human rights, or environmental ethics within institutions, organizations, and places of employment as part of one’s career.

  • Translate and communicate environmental justice or environmental human rights knowledge from communities, stakeholders, academia, and others to diverse audiences including decision makers. 
    Creating effective solutions to socio-environmental challenges requires competency with interrogating problems and their potential solutions in light of ethical, justice, and human rights considerations.

  1. Electives will no longer be a requirement for students who declare AY Autumn 2021- Summer 2022.

Program Learning Outcomes

The program expects majors to be able to demonstrate the following learning outcomes. These learning outcomes serve as benchmarks for evaluating students and the program's undergraduate degree. Students are expected to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of foundational skills and concepts in order to advance the interdisciplinary study of the environment.

  2. Demonstrate the ability to analyze, integrate and apply relevant science and policy perspectives to social-environmental problems. 

  3. Demonstrate the ability to communicate complex concepts and data relevant to social-environmental problems and questions to expert and non-expert audiences.

Biosphere Pathway Learning Objectives:

  1. Articulate the interplay of ecology, evolution, and biogeochemistry and understand their connections to the functioning of ecosystems on multiple spatial and temporal scales.

  2. Recognize how human activity alters ecological processes, and how ecological changes can interact with human societies at multiple scales.

  3. Apply knowledge of natural sciences and human-mediated environmental change to conservation challenges, while considering implications for environmental justice.

    Energy, Science, and Technology Learning Pathway Objectives:

Energy, Science, and Technology Learning Pathway Objectives:

  1. Apply fundamental engineering principles to assess how transformation of systems of energy production, distribution, and consumption can contribute to achieving greater energy sustainability.

  2. Use fundamental engineering principles—together with knowledge of economics, human behavior, energy infrastructure, and earth systems science—to assess and critique policy- and market-based solutions proposed to achieve greater energy sustainability.

  3. Apply written, visual, and oral presentation skills to communicate scientific, technological, and policy knowledge to expert and non-expert audiences.

Environmental Geoscience Pathway Objectives:

  1. Understand and articulate the ways in which Earth’s interior and surface operate, and how these systems are connected to one another and inextricably bound to the evolution of life and current human activities.

  2. Understand and view the current state of, and expected changes within, the earth system in the context of past changes experienced by our planet.

  3. Apply understanding of earth and human systems to develop workable, scientifically based, human-centered solutions to building resilience to natural hazards, and our planet’s most pressing environmental challenges.

Human Environmental Systems Pathway Objectives:

  1. Apply knowledge of fundamental physical and biological Earth system processes to analyze how human decisions shape environmental outcomes.

  2. Apply fundamental principles and frameworks from the social sciences to analyze and understand (a) how humans make environmentally relevant decisions, and (b) how environmental changes shape human outcomes.

Land Systems Pathway Objectives:

  1. Design strategies for using multi-source and multi-scale observations of land surface processes that integrate field, geospatial, and human survey data to describe biophysical and socio-economic impacts of land systems changes.

  2. Integrate biophysical and socioeconomic data related to land use and land cover change using geospatial tools to analyze and model complex, multi-scalar human-environmental interactions that determine land use dynamics.

  3. Determine remedies to address negative impacts of land changes on human-environmental systems using land-use management tools and interventions.

Oceans, Atmosphere, and Climate Pathway Objectives:

Apply fundamental physical, chemical, and biological principles toward understanding the behavior of the oceans, atmosphere, and climate and the interrelationships of these systems with human society.

  1. Apply fundamental principles of ocean, atmospheric, and climate science through field, laboratory, and computer-based research experiences.

Sustainable Food and Agriculture Pathway Objectives:

  1. Describe the main biophysical and socioeconomic constraints in food systems at global and local scales.

  2. Apply knowledge of agricultural soils and plant growth to solve problems related to crop production, soil conservation, and natural resource management.

  3. Identify the links between food systems and other aspects of the Earth system, including water, energy, and climate systems.

  4. Assess and critique proposed policy or technological solutions that claim to make food systems more sustainable.

External Credit Policies

Degree Requirements