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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, and atmospheric sciences. These courses introduce students to earth processes and their environmental implications. Students who take EES courses understand and appreciate how the earth works and are poised to continue learning about earth issues as informed citizens and consumers, and possibly future scientists.

Major Programs

The EES major provides a structured yet flexible path for students to engage deeply and broadly with earth and environmental sciences. Students take a core set of lab science courses with field components, then propose an individualized course plan that creates an area of concentration in solid earth, earth surface, or environmental science while maintaining breadth across the discipline.   The core classes build a shared foundation in understanding earth processes and materials and building skills necessary for scientific inquiry. The upper level concentration and elective courses allow students to explore their areas of interest and build the skills that will lead to the careers of their choice.  The required courses for the EES major are:

One Introductory course and lab, chosen from the following:
EES 1510 & 1510L: Dynamic Earth and lab
EES 1030 & 1030L: Oceanography and lab
EES 1080 & 1080L: Earth & the Atmosphere and lab

Three core courses with labs:
EES 2510: Earth systems through time
EES 2250: Earth materials
EES 2580: Earth System Dynamics

Three Concentration Courses with labs, chosen from the following:
EES 3320: Life through time
EES 3260: Petrology
EES 3280: Environmental geochemistry
EES 3310: Global climate change
EES 3330: Sedimentology
EES 3340: Structural geology and rock mechanics

Three elective EES courses, with at least two above the 3000 level
EES 4961: Senior seminar

In addition to these required classes, students must take a calculus course, and are encouraged to take additional supporting sciences such as chemistry, physics, math, biology, and/or computer science to lay a foundation for the interdisciplinary nature of the earth and environmental sciences and to prepare for future endeavors.

Departmental Honors:
Students who qualify may complete a research experience with associated coursework in their senior year, culminating in a written thesis and oral presentation, to be considered for Honors.


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 an essential aspect 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
  • Structural Geology and Tectonics
  • Sedimentary Processes and Environments
  • Transport Phenomena and Coupled Physical-Biological Processes
  • Ecology, Paleobiology, Paleoclimatology
  • Atmospheric and Climate Sciences
  • Coupled Human-Environmental Systems

A sample of projects supported by the Vaughan Undergraduate Assistantships, National Science Foundation grants to faculty members or the Vanderbilt University Summer Research Program is listed below [Student graduation year shown in parentheses].

Austin Channell (2017): Greenhouse gas reductions through individual and household behavioral change.

Brenna Garmon (2017): Characterizing Electrical Resistivity-Hydraulic Conductivity Relationships in the Mississippi River Alluvial Aquifer of Eastern Arkansas.

Anica Sunshine (2017): Impact of Sterling Ranch Housing Development on Water Quality in Plum Creek and the South Platte River, Douglas County, CO.

Sydney Allen (2018): Vertical Positioning of Magma in the Ohakuri Eruption, Taupo Volcanic Zone.

Ali Cribb (2018): Terminal Neoproterozoic Bioturbation and Implications for the Extinction of the Ediacara Biota.

Bryce Koester (2018): Applications of Archaias angulatus as an Intermediary Proxy between Heavy Metals and Foraminifera Community Impact.

Miguel Moravec (2018): Gentrification in Nashville: A Statistical Analysis.

Eli Schwat (2018): Hillslope Hydrology and Geomorphology: Chemical Erosion and Implications for Hillslope Evolution.

Emily Sharp (2018): Geologic Mapping of Foreland-Dipping Duplex Structures in the Southwestern Mountain City Window, Tennessee Appalachians.

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

Earth and Environmental Sciences Website