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Earth and Environmental Sciences

The Earth and Environmental Sciences are aimed at applying basic scientific principles in interpreting Earth’s dynamic history – how Earth “works” and records its origin and age in rocks and landscapes – and how Earth system processes affect modern environmental and ecological systems. Among the natural sciences, ours is the quintessential interdisciplinary science, providing a vital perspective on how Earth’s physical and geochemical templates simultaneously sustain and threaten life, and influences human interactions with Earth. The intellectual breadth of the Earth and environmental sciences covers the collective study of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, its ecology, and the solid Earth, with the growing recognition that humans are one of the most significant agents of change in these systems. Earth and environmental sciences are the cornerstones of sustainability science, which is becoming ever more critical for our global society.

The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) at Vanderbilt focuses on four research areas:

(i) Solid-Earth dynamics: transport, reaction and evolution of fluids and magmas in the crust;

(ii) Life processes: Earth’s record of life, ecology, and the adaptation to changing climate and environment;

(iii) Surface and atmosphere dynamics: processes governing Earth’s thin sphere of air, water, and sediment that sustains life;

(iv) Coupled human-environment interactions: pursuing the complex and dynamic intersection of Earth processes and human activity.

Ongoing research projects by EES faculty span the entire globe, with field areas in the southwestern United States and Pacific coast, the Appalachian Mountains, Bangladesh, Peru, Brazil, Namibia, New Zealand, Iceland, Australia, Sri Lanka and Antarctica. Undergraduate students are active participants and contributors to research projects, and this may involve field work, laboratory experiments, and computer modelling. By nature our discipline of study encompasses the planet –– over the last decade EES has conducted research and education activities on all seven continents. In an increasingly connected world, EES sees both obligation and opportunity to train our students for engaging on issues of international and global concern.

The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt offers an undergraduate major leading to the B.A. degree. Students majoring in EES participate in field and laboratory work. They use the major as preparation for graduate study, for careers in diverse environmental fields and resource exploration (e.g. petroleum, minerals), or for careers in related areas such as land use planning, teaching, law or engineering.

Unique Aspects of EES at Vanderbilt

  • Small classes in upper level courses.
  • Outside of class interactions with faculty and other students that creates a departmental community.
  • Field work opportunities, including field trips, research work, study abroad, and summer field courses.
  • Research opportunities: over half of EES majors do research with faculty.
  • Independent and directed study opportunities.
  • Opportunities to combine study abroad with field camp and research projects that can be continued with faculty at Vanderbilt.
  • Training in quantitative methods and advanced computing skills.

Introductory Courses

At the introductory level, the department offers courses in geology, oceanography, atmospheric sciences, and evolutionary ecology. These courses are intended to introduce students to earth processes and their environmental implications. We also recommend students take courses in supporting sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and computer science to lay a foundation for the interdisciplinary nature of earth and environmental sciences. Students who take EES courses understand and appreciate how the earth works and are poised to continue learning about earth issues as informed voters.

Major Programs

The EES department offers one major with three different options. The options vary in the supporting sciences and research requirements, but all three require the same EES classes. The required courses for the EES major are:

EES 1510 & 1510L: Dynamic Earth and lab
EES 2510: Earth systems through time
EES 3320: Life through time
EES 3250: Earth materials
EES 3260: Petrology
EES 3330: Sedimentology
EES 3340: Structural geology and rock mechanics
EES 4961: Senior seminar
One additional EES course, 2000-level or above

In addition to these required classes, students must take supporting science courses to fulfill one of the options below.

Option I. Provides students with a comprehensive background in geosciences, and prepares students well for law school and earth science-related fields. Students who intend to pursue graduate studies are urged to take additional courses in other natural sciences.

Option II. Provides students with most course work needed for a career or graduate studies in geoscience.

Option III. Honors. Provides research experience as well as coursework for a career or graduate study in earth or environmental sciences.


All undergraduate students are encouraged to undertake a research project as part of the Honors program or an independent or directed study course; a majority of students take advantage of this opportunity. Students work closely with faculty members and other students on research projects. This outside-the-classroom interaction is one of the important by-products of the program in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.  

Undergraduates collaborate with EES faculty in the following areas:

  • Geochemical Processes
  • Magmatic Processes and Crustal Evolution
  • Ecology, Paleobiology, Paleoclimatology
  • Sedimentary Processes and Environments
  • Transport Phenomena and Coupled Physical-Biological Processes
  • Atmospheric and Climate Sciences

A sample of projects that are (or were) supported by the Vaughan Undergraduate Assistantships, National Science Foundation grants to faculty members or the Vanderbilt University Summer Research Program is listed below. Those marked with an asterisk were presented at a technical session at a national or regional meeting of the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union, or the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Michael Diamond (2015): Observational constraints on water vapor: climate feedbacks in the tropics.

Katherine Edwards* (2015): Provenance of glacial tills in Ong Valley, Antarctica inferred from quartz cathodoluminescence imaging, zircon U-Pb dating, and trace element geochemistry.

Aaron Hurst* (2015): Dental microwear textures and dental macrowear reveal dietary differences in extant feliforms: Implications for interpreting diet in extinct taxa.

Paige Lambert* (2015): Magmatic conditions and processes recorded in the 1.4-1.5 Ga granite-rhyolite terrane, St. Francis Mountains, Mo.

Saba Asefa (2016): Contrasting petrology of silicic lava domes at Kroksfjordur and Arnes central volcanoes, Iceland.

Michelle Connor* (2016): Timescales and conditions of crystallization in the Pokai and Chimpanzee Ignimbrites, Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand.

Carson Hedberg* (2016): Investigations of cosmogenic Ne-21 exposure ages of glacial boulders constrained by local bedrock erosion rates in Ong Valley, Antarctica.

D. Brent Jones* (2016): Dietary ecology of herbivorous megafauna from the La Brea tar pits: evidence of changing dietary behavior coincident with climate change.

Julia Liu* (2016): Zircon Geochemistry of Granitic Rocks from Ong Valley and Moraine Canyon in the Central Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica.

Sarah Sams* (2016): Applications of Cosmogenic Ne-21 Dating to Glacial Moraines in Antarctica and California.

Jonathan Crites* (2017): Temporal variability in the dietary behavior of Canis dirus at the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits.

Brenna Garmon (2017): Determining Movement Mode for White-Lipped Peccaries

After Vanderbilt

Many graduates of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department go on to pursue an advanced degree in geoscience, environmental science, law or medicine. Others work in the oil industry, for environmental firms, or for governmental or non-governmental agencies dealing with conservation and environmental issues.

Employment opportunities in the Earth and environmental sciences are outstanding (predicted increase in employment double national average through 2016; starting salaries highest among the sciences). Career satisfaction for those employed in geoscience fields consistently ranks near the top in national surveys. Our students get great jobs as well as pursue advanced degrees at the very best schools in the World.


The Earth and Environmental Science Department is composed of 15 faculty members who are highly regarded in their respective fields, including many award winning researchers and educators. They are at the cutting edge of the important questions in the Earth and Environmental Sciences, and in developing the tools to answer those questions. The EES faculty collaborate internally across disciplines, but also collaborate with a multitude of researchers across the globe. The EES faculty all teach undergraduate courses and mentor undergraduate researchers. Faculty and students work closely, and faculty have an open-door policy, inviting undergraduates to stop by and interact around research, coursework, or general interests.


Lily Claiborne
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
5723 Stevenson Center
Phone: (615) 343-4515
Email: lily.claiborne@vanderbilt.edu

Earth and Environmental Sciences Website