Geological Sciences

The options available in the undergraduate program in geological sciences are geology and geophysics and lead to the BA degree. Both options provide a strong basis for understanding the functioning of the Earth system. Students who are uncertain as to which option best suits their needs should contact a departmental advisor or faculty member. In each option, the undergraduate program emphasizes course work in theoretical, laboratory, and field-oriented aspects of the geological sciences. The nearby Rocky Mountains provide a natural laboratory for many of these courses.   

Students interested in the geological sciences may also wish to consider the Baker Residential Academic Program. Students who do not wish to pursue a career in the geosciences, or who would like to combine a basic knowledge of geologic sciences with that of some other field, should consider using geological sciences as one subject in a distributed studies major or as a minor. Students who intend to pursue graduate study in the geological sciences are encouraged to consider developing an honors thesis as part of their undergraduate studies.  

The two options available in the undergraduate major offer different focus areas of instruction. Both options offer excellent preparation for students interested in pursuing professional careers, or graduate study, in the geological sciences.

Each option emphasizes knowledge in:

  • the ways in which Earth responds to internal and external forces; the physical, chemical, and biological evolution of Earth; and the nature of the materials of which the Earth is made
  • the role of physics, chemistry, mathematics, and biology in understanding geological processes
  • the history of discoveries and ideas that have contributed to our current knowledge of Earth and the planetary system

The geology option emphasizes processes that function both in the solid earth and at Earth's surface:

  • the mineralogy and petrology of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks
  • the processes of sedimentation and the applications of stratigraphy and paleobiology in the reconstruction of Earth history
  • the role of geophysics and geochemistry in understanding the nature of Earth and its history
  • the study of faults, folds, and other rock structures and the tectonic processes that create those structures
  • the methods used in the field to map and interpret the diverse variety of rock types and structures  
  • the function of the integrated Earth system including the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere
  • the fundamental controls on surface Earth processes including energy balance, hydrology, geomorphology, geochemistry, and biogeochemistry
  • the role of humans in the Earth system

The geophysics option emphasizes:

  • applications of fundamental mathematical formulations and physical principles to an understanding of the Earth
  • methods utilized to map and characterize those portions of the planet that lie below the surface, from just beneath our feet down to the core

Course code for this program is GEOL. 

Bachelor's Degree Program(s)

Bachelor’s Degree in Geology

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

  • CHEM 1113 and 1133 General Chemistry 1 and 2 and CHEM 1114 and 1134 Laboratory in General Chemistry 1 and 2—10
  • GEOL 1010 Introduction to Geology 1 or GEOL 2100 Environmental Geology—3
  • GEOL 1030 Introduction to Geology Lab—1
  • MATH 1300 and 2300 Analytical Geometry and Calculus 1 and 2 or APPM 1350 and 1360 Calculus for Engineers 1 and 2—8-10
  • PHYS 1110, 1120, and 1140 General Physics 1 and 2 and Experimental Physics 1—9 

Geology Option

Students electing the geology option are required to take the following additional courses:

  • GEOL 2001 Planet Earth—4
  • GEOL 2005 Earth Materials—4
  • GEOL 2700 Introduction to Field Geology 2—2 

One of the following solid earth courses:

  • GEOL 3010 Introduction to Mineralogy–3
  • GEOL 3020 Petrology–3
  • GEOL 3120 Structural Geology–4
  • GEOL 3320 Introduction to Geochemistry–3
  • GEOL 3430 Sedimentology and Stratigraphy–4
  • GEOL 4130 Principles of Geophysics–3 

One of the following surface processes courses:

  • GEOL 3030 Introduction to Hydrogeology—3
  • GEOL 3320 Introduction to Geochemistry—3
  • GEOL 3410 Introduction to Paleobiology—3
  • GEOL 3430 Sedimentology and Stratigraphy—4
  • GEOL 3820 Fluid Earth—3
  • GEOL 4060 Oceanography—3
  • GEOL 4160 Biogeochemistry—3
  • GEOL 4241 Geomorphology—3

One of the following quantitative geoscience courses:

  • GEOL 3010 Introduction to Mineralogy—3
  • GEOL 3030 Introduction to Hydrogeology—3
  • GEOL 3820 Fluid Earth—3
  • GEOL 4130 Principles of Geophysics—3
  • GEOL 4241 Geomorphology—3

Two of the following advanced-field modules:

  • GEOL 4711 Igneous and Metamorphic Field Geology—2
  • GEOL 4712 Structural Field Geology—2
  • GEOL 4714 Field Geophysics—2
  • GEOL 4715 Field Techniques in Hydrogeology—2
  • GEOL 4716 Environmental Field Geochemistry—2
  • GEOL 4717 Field Seminar in Geology and Tectonics—2
  • GEOL 4721 Field Methods in Active Tectonics—2
  • EBIO 4630 Field Techniques—3
  • EVEN 4100 Environmental Sampling and Analysis—3

Upper-division electives—Sufficient additional upper-division course work from following list to total 27 upper-division credits. (Of these, a minimum of 18 UD credits must be GEOL.)

Any  GEOL 3000- to 4000-level course except for:

  • GEOL 3040 Global Change—3
  • GEOL 3070 Introduction to Oceanography—3
  • GEOL 3500 Earth Resources and the Environment—3
  • GEOL 3520 Environmental Issues in Geosciences—3
  • GEOL 3720 Evolution of Life: The Geological Records—3
  • GEOL 3950 Natural Catastrophes and Geological Hazards—3
  • GEOL 4080 Societal Problems and Earth Sciences—3
  • GEOL 4500 Critical Thinking in Earth Sciences—3

Or approved non-GEOL courses from following list:

  • APPM 3050 Scientific Computing in Matlab—3
  • ASTR 3710 Formation and Dynamics of Planetary Systems—3
  • ASTR 3720 Planets and Their Atmospheres—3
  • ASTR 3750 Planets, Moons, and Rings—3
  • ASTR 4800 Space Science: Practice and Policy—3
  • ATOC 4720 Introduction to Atmospheric Physics and Dynamics—3
  • ATOC 4800 Policy Implications of Climate Controversies—3
  • CHEM 4511 Physical Chemistry 1—3
  • CVEN 4404 Water Chemistry—3
  • CVEN 4718 Mechanics and Dynamics of Glaciers—3
  • EBIO 3080 Evolutionary Biology—4
  • EBIO 3270 Ecosystem Ecology—3
  • EBIO 3770 Animal Diversity: Vertebrates—4
  • EBIO 3850 Animal Diversity: Invertebrates—4
  • EBIO 4030 Limnology—3
  • EBIO 4060 Landscape Ecology—3
  • EBIO 4410 Biometry—4
  • EBIO 4500 Plant Biodiversity and Evolution—4
  • EBIO 4570 Advanced Plant Physiology—3
  • EBIO 4630 Field Techniques in Environmental Science—2-6
  • ECON 3403 International Economics and Policy—3
  • ENVD 4023 Environmental Impact Assessment—3
  • ENVS 3434 Introduction to Applied Ecology—3
  • ENVS 4201 Biometeorology—3 (same as GEOG 4201)
  • EVEN 4100 Environmental Sampling and Analysis—3
  • GEOG 4201 Biometerology—3 (same as ENVS 4201)
  • GEOG 4251 Fluvial Geomorphology—4
  • GEOG 4261 Glaciers and Permafrost—3
  • GEOG 4321 Snow Hydrology—3-4
  • GEOG 4401 Soils Geography—3
  • MCDB 4350 Microbial Diversity and the Biosphere—3
  • MUSM 4914 Museum Practicum in Geology—3
  • PSCI 4183 International Law—3

Note: A maximum of 3 of these credits may consist of a policy course from the following list:

  • ASTR 4800 Space Science: Practice and Policy—3
  • ATOC 4800 Policy Implications of Climate Controversies—3
  • ECON 3403 International Economics and Policy—3
  • ENVD 4023 Environmental Impact Assessment—3
  • PSCI 4183 International Law—3

Geophysics Option

Students electing the geophysics option are required to take the following additional courses:

  • GEOL 2001 Planet Earth—4
  • GEOL 2005 Earth Materials—4
  • GEOL 2700 Introduction to Field Geology 2—2

Geophysics option students must also take the following solid earth, surface processes, and quantitative geoscience courses:

  • GEOL 3010 Introduction to Mineralogy–3
  • GEOL 3020 Petrology or GEOL 3320 Introduction to Geochemistry—3
  • GEOL 3120 Structural Geology–4
  • GEOL 4130 Principles of Geophysics—3
  • GEOL 4714 Field Geophysics—2

The following non-GEOL courses:

  • APPM 2350 Calculus 3 for Engineers or MATH 2400 Calculus 3–4
  • APPM 2360 Introduction to Differential Equations with Linear Algebra–4
  • PHYS 2130 General Physics 3–3
  • PHYS 2210 Classical Mechanics and Mathematical Models 1–3

Any two of the following non-GEOL courses:

  • APPM 4350 Fourier Series and Boundary Value Problems–3
  • MATH 4470 Partial Differential Equations 1–3
  • PHYS 3210 Classical Mechanics and Mathematical Methods 2–3
  • PHYS 3310 Principles of Electricity and Magnetism 1–3

Additional information on required courses and other departmental requirements may be obtained from the departmental office. Students should contact the department for a list of current major requirements.

Transfer students must satisfactorily complete a minimum of 12 credit hours of advanced work (3000-level or above) in the Department of Geological Sciences in Boulder if they wish to obtain a degree in geology from CU-Boulder. Before registering for the first time, or within the first week of the semester, such students must see a geological sciences department undergraduate advisor to have previous course work in geology, math, and allied sciences evaluated.

Graduating in Four Years

Consult the Four-Year Guarantee Requirements for information on eligibility. The concept of “adequate progress” as it is used here only refers to maintaining eligibility for the four-year guarantee; it is not a requirement for the major. To maintain adequate progress in geology, students should meet all college requirements plus specific departmental requirements. These departmental requirements vary slightly between the two major options. Detailed information is available from the department office, but in general these requirements include:

  • Declare a geology major and begin coursework in the major during the first semester freshman year.
  • Meet with a departmental advisor prior to the second and fifth semesters and during the seventh semester.
  • Complete at least 33 credit hours (geology option; 44 credit hours for geophysics option) required for the major by the end of the fourth semester.
  • Complete at least 47 credit hours (geology option; 63 credit hours for geophysics option) required for the major by the end of the sixth semester.
  • Complete the remaining requirements for the major by the end of the eighth semester.

Geology Honors Program

Opportunity is provided for qualified geology majors to participate in the geology honors program and graduate with honors (cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude) in geology. Students interested in the honors program should contact the departmental honors advisor during their junior year.

Minor Program

The minor program in geological sciences is meant for students who would like to acquire a basic knowledge of geology in addition to their major area of study. The arts and sciences requirements for a minor include a minimum of 18 credit hours in the minor area, including a minimum of 9 upper-division hours. The departmental requirements for the minor are listed below. The department strongly urges that students interested in pursuing a minor in geology consult a departmental advisor.

1. Any 1000-level introductory sequence:

  • 1010-3 Introduction to Geology 1 (physical geology) and 1020-3 Introduction to Geology 2 (earth history)
  • 1010-3 Introduction to Geology 1 and 1040-3 Geology of Colorado
  • 1010-3 Introduction to Geology 1 and 1060-3 Global Change: An Earth Science Perspective

    Plus an introductory laboratory course: 1030-1 Introduction to Geology Laboratory

2. At least one of the following laboratory or field-oriented courses:

  • GEOL 2001-4 Planet Earth
  • GEOL 2700-2 Introduction to Field Geology
  • GEOL 3010-3 Introduction to Mineralogy
  • GEOL 3023-3 Statistics for Earth Sciences
  • GEOL 3120-4 Structural Geology
  • GEOL 3410-3 Paleobiology
  • GEOL 3430-4 Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
  • GEOL 4060-4 Oceanography
  • GEOL 4093-4 Remote Sensing of the Environment
  • GEOL 4130-3 Principles of Geophysics
  • GEOL 4241-4 Principles of Geomorphology

3. Any additional courses at the 3000-level to bring the total hours in geology to 18.

Graduate Degree Program(s)

Graduate Study in Geology

Students interested in graduate work in the geological sciences should carefully read the detailed information regarding admission, registration, and degree requirements that is available from the department at

All students applying for admission must take the Graduate Record Examination. Results of this examination are used both for determining admittance and for initial academic counseling.

Entering students normally have completed at least 24 semester hours of basic courses in geological science and two semesters each of chemistry, physics, and calculus. In some cases, exceptional undergraduate preparation in other fields of science, mathematics, or engineering may substitute for part of the 24 hours in geological science.

Each student acquires a primary advisor and an advisory committee which provides guidance throughout the degree program.

Master’s Degree in Geological Sciences

Candidates for the master’s degree in geological sciences must complete at least 30 credit hours of graduate course work either with a thesis (Plan I) or without a thesis (Plan II). At least 24 credit hours must be completed at the 5000-level or above. For those students completing a Plan I degree, these 24 credit hours must include a minimum of 4, but no more than 6, master’s thesis credit hours. The Plan II option requires at least 3 hours of GEOL 6960 (Plan II Master’s Research) under the supervision of the advisory committee. A maximum of 6 credit hours may be completed at the 3000- or 4000-level at the discretion of the associate chair for graduate studies and the principle advisor. 

Doctoral Degree in Geological Sciences

Candidates for the doctoral degree must complete at least 30 credit hours in course work numbered 5000 or above, of which at least 20 must be taken at CU-Boulder. In addition to course work, candidates must take a total of at least 30 credit hours of GEOL 8990 Doctoral Dissertation, with not more than 10 of these taken in any one semester and not more than 10 dissertation credit hours taken before the semester during which the comprehensive examination is passed.

The Department of Geological Sciences participates in the interdepartmental PhD program in geophysics and hydrologic sciences.

Interdisciplinary Doctoral Degree in Geophysics

The interdisciplinary doctoral program in geophysics encourages students with a variety of undergraduate backgrounds to pursue graduate study in the physics of the Earth, with special emphasis on the interior of the planet. Students specialize in one of the subfields of geophysics while gaining a broad, general background in the discipline and in-depth education in the relevant aspects of the parent fields of geology, physics, and engineering.

Students enter the program by applying for admission to one of the following departments:

  • aerospace engineering sciences;
  • astrophysical and planetary sciences;
  • civil, environmental, and architectural engineering;
  • electrical and computer engineering;
  • geography; geological sciences;
  • mechanical engineering; or
  • physics

Upon satisfactory performance on the doctoral preliminary examination given by the home department, the student may formally apply for admission to the geophysics doctoral program.

The program is administered by the geophysics graduate program committee, which includes representatives from each of the participating departments. The comprehensive examination and the dissertation defense are directed by this committee, with a faculty member of the home department normally chairing these procedures.

For more information, please consult the Geophysics Studies Program website at

Hydrologic Sciences

The CU-Boulder Hydrologic Sciences Graduate Program focuses on quantitative studies of water in the environment including its role in geologic and biogeochemical processes, ecosystem functions, and global elemental cycling. The program is interdisciplinary and interdepartmental. It is intended for science and engineering graduate students, both currently enrolled and prospective. It allows students to obtain recognition for their accomplishments in hydrologic sciences and demonstrates the quantitative multidisciplinary education desired by many prospective employers.

Students can choose to enroll for a full Hydrologic Sciences PhD degree or obtain a hydrologic sciences graduate certificate while concurrently obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree in an associated academic department. Prerequisites and course requirements are identical for the PhD degree and graduate certificate. 

Students are members of the broader CU-Boulder Geophysical Sciences Program, which has two specialization options: solid-Earth geophysics and hydrologic sciences. All hydrologic sciences students are admitted through one of the participating departments: civil, environmental, and architectural engineering; ecology and evolutionary biology; environmental studies; geography; or geological sciences.

Students may apply for admission either concurrently with their application to one of the participating departments or after admission by a department. The program is designed to encourage students with a variety of undergraduate backgrounds to enter the field. Nevertheless, all students in the program must have a substantial background in math and physics, including fluid dynamics. At the time of acceptance, the student will be informed of any undergraduate deficiencies that they will need to address within the first year in the program. 

Most hydrologic sciences students conduct research with participating departments, research institutes, and centers (e.g., INSTAAR), or partner government agency labs in the Boulder area (e.g., USGS and NOAA). Primary supervision of the student’s research may be provided by any faculty member approved by the department.

Additional information is available at, or by contacting the Graduate Coordinator, Hydrologic Sciences Graduate Program, University of Colorado Boulder, 450 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309-0450,

Certificate Program

Graduate Certificate in Geophysics

The geophysics graduate certificate offers a coherent curriculum in geophysics that can complement and supplement a student's regular degree program and encourages multi-disciplinary education in the area of geophysics. The geophysics certificate program allows students to obtain recognition for their accomplishments in geophysics, without having to switch into the geophysics degree program. This program was approved by the CU-Boulder Graduate School, spring 2002.


All students must take at least three geophysics core courses, and the Geophysics Seminar course, listed below. At least one of the three geophysics core courses must be from the earth and planetary physics (EPP) series, and at least one of the remaining core classes taken must be from outside the student's home department. Most geophysics core courses are offered once every two years.

A Certificate in Geophysics will be awarded upon the student's completion of degree requirements in their home department. Upon request from a student, the program director and the student's advisor will determine whether a student has met the requirements for the certificate and will generate a letter to the appropriate department head and dean. The certificate is not intended as a substitute for a degree and will be awarded only upon completion of a graduate degree.

Core Courses

  • ASTR/GEOL/PHYS 6610 Earth and Planetary Physics 1 (Seismology)
  • ASTR/GEOL/PHYS 6620 Earth and Planetary Physics 2 (Geodesy)
  • ASTR/GEOL/PHYS 6630 Earth and Planetary Physics 3 (Geodynamics)
  • APPM 7300 Nonlinear Waves and Integrable Equations
  • ASEN 5060 Satellite Geodesy
  • ASEN 5090 Introduction to the Global Navigation Satellite Systems
  • ASTR/PHYS 5140 Astrophysical and Space Plasmas
  • ASTR/PHYS 5150 Plasma Physics
  • ASTR 5300 Magnetospheres
  • ASTR 5760 Astrophysical Instrumentation
  • ASTR/GEOL 5800 Planetary Surfaces and Interiors
  • ASTR/ATOC/GEOL 5820 Origin and Evolution of Planetary Systems
  • ASTR/GEOL/PHYS 6650 Geophysics Seminar
  • CVEN 5718 Mechanics and Dynamics of Glaciers
  • CVEN 5768 Introduction to Rock Mechanics
  • CVEN 6595 Earthquake Engineering
  • GEOG 5231 Physical Climatology: Field Methods
  • GEOL 5680 Global Tectonics
  • GEOL 5714 Field Geophysics
  • GEOL/PHYS 6670 Geophysical Inverse Theory
  • MCEN 7123 Dynamics of Continuous Media
  • MCEN 7143 Advanced Theory of Elasticity

Requirements for Certificate

  • Completion with a grade of B or better of a total of three geophysics core courses (at least one from the EPP sequence) and one semester credit for the Geophysics Seminar.
  • Completion of degree requirements for graduate degree within the student's home department, with a thesis on a topic that uses geophysics in some way, including the successful defense of this thesis before a committee that includes at least one of the geophysics certificate faculty members.

Admission Requirements

A student wishing to be considered for a Certificate in Geophysics must first be admitted as a graduate student into one of the participating graduate departments (ASEN, APS, CEAE, ECEN, GEOG, GEOL, MCEN, PHYS). Students from outside the participating departments can apply for entry to the geophysics certificate program by letter addressed to the Geophysics Graduate Program Committee. A student must have a course background that includes mathematics through three semesters of calculus and four undergraduate science or engineering courses.