Initial Publication Date: May 8, 2012

Undergraduate Major in Earth System Science at UC Davis

Information for this profile was provided by David Osleger, Geology, University of California, Davis. Students in this program are pursuing a bachelors degree.

Program Design & Assessment


The proposed major in Earth System Science at UC Davis would be jointly taught and administered by the departments of Land, Air & Water and Geology using established courses as well as pooled resources and expertise.


We realized a need for the student who didn't necessarily want to major in geology or hydrology or atmospheric sciences directly, but who has an interest in how all of these systems interact. We're just trying to fill a niche in the diversity of UCD's offerings in the sciences and perhaps pull more students into our classes.

Program Goals

The curriculum for the B.S. in Earth System Science is built upon a foundation of chemistry, physics, calculus, and biology. The Earth's 7 billion people are rapidly changing the surface composition and appearance of our planet, forcing a reevaluation of how we perceive it and how it works. The Earth System Science approach is a modern response to understanding such swiftly developing modifications as climate change, ecosystem stress and resource depletion. We would like to prepare our ESS students to take advantage of future careers and opportunities presented in a rapidly changing world.

Alumni Careers

Graduates with the ESS degree will be prepared to enter an array of scientific careers based in private industry, government, non-governmental agencies and environmental/geotechnical consulting. ESS graduates will be well positioned to enter secondary education in a diversity of scientific disciplines. Some graduates may use their science training as a starting point for a career in environmental law. ESS graduates will have the requisite quantitative and scientific foundation for graduate study and research in environmental science, geoscience, atmospheric and hydrologic science, as well as climate science. The special talents that will differentiate ESS graduates from other science majors are 1) their broad understanding of how natural systems interact, 2) an awareness for recognizing connections between apparently disparate disciplines, and 3) the influence of human activities on natural systems.

Program Assessment

We will need to establish a formal assessment program prior to getting the major approved by the necessary university committees.

Courses and Sequencing

Entry into the program

All of the following courses are already on the books at UCD as general education offerings:
  • Introduction to Earth System Science
  • Modern and Ancient Global Environmental Change
  • The Oceans
  • Astrobiology
  • Crisis in the Environment
  • Global Climate Change
  • Fundamentals of Atmospheric Pollution
  • Severe and Unusual Weather

Core courses

  • One year Biological Sciences
  • One year Chemistry
  • 2 quarters Calculus
  • 2 quarters Physics
  • Physical Geology
  • Atmospheric Sciences
  • Global Ecology
  • Climate Change
  • Principles of Hydrologic Science
  • Environmental Remote Sensing
  • Principles of Soil Science
  • Paleoclimatology
  • Oceanography


Students are required to take at least one class from each of the five emphases (minimum 15 credits) and an additional 12 credits from any of the emphases (at least 4 courses):

  • The Geosphere
  • The Hydrosphere
  • The Atmosphere
  • The Biosphere
  • Critical Thinking and Analysis

Each of these emphases is composed of 8-12 potential elective classes.


We plan to include a mandatory capstone course, but will need to co-develop it with input from both departments. We have yet to give it a name.

Other requirements or key features

We plan to establish a 3-credit seminar on Current Issues in Earth System Science that students can repeat for credit. Different faculty can offer it with different topics each quarter.