Department Chair, Peter B. deMenocalWelcome to the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences!

Each person entering Schermerhorn Hall, the main campus home for the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, is invited to think more deeply about the Earth and its inner workings. “Speak to the Earth and it shall teach thee” reads the brief inscription above the main doorway. The full allegory from the Book of Job describes much of what we strive to do as Earth scientists: Use the physical, chemical, and biological clues of natural processes to infer how the Earth’s inner workings, work.

There has never been a more important or more rewarding time to understand the Earth as a system, a system upon which all of humanity depends. Our generation is the first to witness mankind’s wresting control of the climate system from nature: A human hand in global climate change is now documented beyond debate, and impacts on water availability, sea level, ocean life, crops, and other life-sustaining parts of the climate system are becoming increasingly evident. Earth hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes have been with humanity forever of course, but increasing populations mean that they are increasingly in the news. The next generation will likely see a shift away from petroleum to some other energy resource as analysts find we have passed or are closely approaching “peak oil” – the beginning of the end of this once cheap energy resource.

At Columbia, this is one of the most exciting times to be in the Earth Sciences. Our department was recently distinguished as having the best Earth Science Ph.D. program in the country, a ranking that reflects our exceptional people, resources, and affiliated programs. Our department of nearly 50 regular and adjunct faculty is integrated with the extraordinary research enterprise at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, NY just 45 minutes from main campus. Home to over 500 research professors, technical staff, and graduate students, Lamont, as it is affectionately known, is one of the largest and most distinguished Earth science research institutions in the world. Through this partnership we offer incredible breadth and seek to provide students at all levels with hands-on lab and field and sea-going experiences. Undergraduates should check out the summer intern program webpages or, if just beginning studies at Columbia, our Spring Break field courses: Geological Excursion to Death Valley, California and Geological Excursion to the Eastern Sierra, California.

Together, the department and Lamont represent the largest unit of the Earth Institute and linkages to other EI departments and programs present our students with unique opportunities to extend their studies into other fields such as economics, law, public health, policy, sustainable development, and engineering. A number of our students also do research at the American Museum of Natural History and at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, both affiliated programs in New York City.

Even though we're a larger department, students find us to be a warm and close-knit community where they are known by name, intellectual rigor and creativity are embraced, and coffee and conversation can be easily found. Lamont hosts a large Open House each fall on the first Saturday of October and this is a great way to see who we are and what we do.  Students who wish to visit before admission may contact any of the faculty or research scientists whose work is of interest to arrange a visit. The department staff can assist only with logistical aspects of these visits. Admitted students will be invited to visit in the spring.

Peter B. deMenocal