Undergraduate Program

Earth and Environmental Science faculty and students study the many physical, chemical, and biological systems that compose the earth. Using modern observational, analytical, and computational methods, they examine how the planet’s interior, surface, hydrosphere, and atmosphere have evolved since the earth was born in the solar system 4.6 billion years ago. Topics commonly studied in the department include how plate movements cause earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountain building; global climate change and how climate change and catastrophic events cause changes in biodiversity; how and where economic resources are generated in the earth; and how these resources are located and used in modern society.

The Geoscience curriculum provides students with hands-on experience analyzing rocks, minerals, fossils, soils, and waters, generally in a small classroom setting. Much of this experience is obtained in laboratory and field courses. Field courses include travel to other states or countries to view earth materials and fossils in the context of their natural surroundings.

The master’s degree is regarded by most hiring agencies as the working degree. The doctoral degree is required for college and university teaching positions. However, an undergraduate degree is fully satisfactory in certain teaching, government, and industrial situations.

Many of The University of Iowa’s geoscience graduates find employment with resource companies, environmental corporations, and educational institutions. Others continue in graduate school or take jobs with government or conservation agencies. Some intend to enter law, business, or fields such as urban planning, environmental studies, engineering, archaeology, science education, or oceanography as advanced areas. Geoscience provides skills useful for all of these.

Each year more than 1,800 students enroll in EES:1030 Earth History and Resources, EES:1040 Evolution and the History of Life, EES:1050 Introduction to Geology, EES:1070 Age of Dinosaurs, EES:1080 Introduction to Environmental Science, EES:1115 Big Ideas: The History and Science of Oil, and EES:1400 Natural Disasters. All of these courses are approved by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for the natural sciences requirement of the General Education Program.

For nonmajors, the department offers a lecture sequence featuring a general survey of geoscience: EES:1040 Evolution and the History of Life and EES:1080 Introduction to Environmental Science. It also offers several intermediate courses with few prerequisites: EES:1115 Big Ideas: The History and Science of Oil, EES:3020 Earth Surface Processes, EES:3070 Marine Ecosystems and Conservation, EES:3080 Introduction to Oceanography, EES:3100 Introduction to Applied Remote Sensing, and EES:3210 Principles of Paleontology.

Many of the department’s faculty members are involved in the interdisciplinary Environmental Sciences Program (see Environmental Sciences in the Catalog).

Undergraduate Programs

The department offers a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Arts, and a minor in Geoscience. Students majoring in Geoscience take at least an academic year’s work in three allied scientific areas – Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics – and a semester of Biology in addition to a course in each major area of geology.

B.S. or B.A. with Double Major, Minor, or Certificate

Geoscience students may elect to pursue an additional major or a minor in a related discipline, usually Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Engineering, Environmental Sciences, or Anthropology. See Earning a Degree (Earning Two or More Majors, Earning Multiple Undergraduate Degrees, and Certificates and Minors) in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Academic Handbook.

Four-Year Graduation Plan

The following checkpoints list the minimum requirements students must complete by certain semesters in order to stay on the University’s Four-Year Graduation Plan. (Courses in the major are those required to complete the major; they may be offered by departments other than the major department.)

Note: These checkpoints show the range of required course work; the B.A. program requires 17-18 courses, and the B.S. requires 19.

The Geoscience major requires field trip experiences, many of which take place during vacation periods during or between semesters, or during the summer session. These checkpoints do not include the field trip requirements.

Before the third semester begins: competence in math through trigonometry, first required chemistry course, and at least one-quarter of the semester hours required for graduation.
Before the fifth semester begins: three to five courses in the major (including the remainder of the chemistry requirement and continuation of the mathematics requirement) and at least one-half of the semester hours required for graduation
Before the seventh semester begins: 7-11 courses in the major and at least three-quarters of the semester hours required for graduation
Before the eighth semester begins: 10-14 courses in the major
During the eighth semester: enrollment in all remaining course work in the major, all remaining General Education courses, and a sufficient number of semester hours to graduate


Qualified students may earn a degree with honors in Geoscience. Honors program students must complete a senior thesis (EES:4999 Honors Thesis in Geoscience) and maintain a cumulative University of Iowa GPA of at least 3.33 in order to graduate with honors (contact the University of Iowa Honors Program for more information). They also must obtain approval of their honors thesis contract from their advisor and the department’s undergraduate committee; have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.33 in geoscience courses; and earn a grade of B or higher in the Honors Thesis in Geoscience (EES:4999).

Joint Programs

The department does collaborative work with the Iowa Geological Survey Bureau and the Office of the State Archaeologist of Iowa. Geoscience students sometimes work on projects for the survey.

The Departments of Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Geography, and Geoscience share services, expertise, joint instruction, and equipment. The geoscience department is an important participant in the Iowa Quaternary Studies group, an interdisciplinary program that promotes projects combining work in anthropology, biology, geography, geology, and statistics. Course work, degree programs, and facilities are shared among departments. The geoscience department and its faculty also support and actively participate in the interdisciplinary Environmental Sciences Program, which offers a Bachelor of Science degree.

Independent Research for Geoscience Majors

A junior or senior who is ready to pursue independent research for credit in geoscience may assist a faculty member or graduate student with a current research project (EES:2190 Directed Study) or may initiate a small-scale project involving a combination of field, laboratory, and library investigation (EES:3190 Directed Study). Independent study is encouraged and may result in an honors thesis (EES:4999 Honors Thesis in Geoscience) or a senior thesis (EES:4990 Senior Thesis in Geoscience) that may be published subsequently.

Field Trips

Field trips are integral parts of several courses in geoscience, with frequent weekend general-interest events. The geology of the Iowa City region is characterized by Quaternary glacial sediments on a largely Paleozoic sedimentary section a few hundred meters thick, overlying a Precambrian crystalline basement. Marine and terrestrial fossil assemblages, extensive reefs, and unique geode sites are located within a few hours’ drive. Numerous Pleistocene glaciations are represented in Iowa, and field studies of landforms, exposures, and cores continue to yield information on sedimentology, stratigraphy, soil formation, paleopedology, and fossil biotas from both glacial and interglacial deposits. Spring break provides time for longer trips, which are open to all geoscience students. In recent years, students have traveled to the southern Appalachians, Arizona, Death Valley, the Florida Keys, Hawaii, New Mexico, the Ozarks, Puerto Rico, and Texas. Advanced classes have visited California, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada

Degrees Offered