Our faculty members are frequently recognized with awards and honors. We’ve had various faculty members deliver a keynote address at a science forum at the White House; help author the report to the President on climate change, awarded Distinguished Research Lecturer, receive a gold medal research award from the Russian Geographical Society and we have a former Chief Scientist of NASA. We are often quoted in major magazines and have published numerous papers involving groundbreaking research.
We’re experts at bridging the physical and human sciences
We bring a holistic perspective to the physical and human processes that shape the world around us, and we strive to understand how people interact with, are shaped by, and in turn help shape, our world. Our teaching and research span an exceptional array of disciplines and we excel at providing field-oriented, hands-on experience. We train our students – in a friendly, well-supported environment – to be top scientists as well as citizens of the broader world to which we’re all connected. Need a quick overview? See our One-slide Presentation >>
- Undergraduate and Graduate Programs
- Our Partners
- Diverse Education: Physical, human, environment-society, and GIScience
- Hands-On Experience: Learn by doing, not just studying.
- Solid Foundation: Strong student support and advising; great job placements.
- Engaging Research: White lab coat probably not required.
- Strong Field Focus: Opportunities abound for field trips and field research.
- Deep GIScience: Research the theory of GIS & remote sensing, not just learn methods.
- Friendly Atmosphere: We have active student communities.
The Department of Geography in Boulder attracts some 3,500 undergraduates to its courses every year, and has approximately 190 undergraduate majors in Geography. Undergraduates receive a broad, liberal education that integrates the study of human activity and the natural environment, with possible concentrations in physical geography, human geography, environment-society relations, or geographic information science. The graduate program of the Department of Geography offers both MA and PhD degrees. There are currently about 90 graduate students enrolled in the program, with a slight majority of these in the PhD program. The MA program was founded in 1930, and the PhD program began in 1965; the first PhD was awarded in 1968. The Department is ranked as one of the top programs among the nation’s doctoral-granting departments of geography. CU Geography has one of the nation's highest rates of PhD placement in academic geography programs as well as one of the highest rates of external funding for graduate student research.
Many of our faculty and students conduct interdisciplinary research and are affiliated with other units on the CU Boulder Campus as well as nearby Federal labs.
We look at how best to apply our research to serve society's needs. CIRES researchers explore all aspects of the earth system and search for ways to better understand how natural and human-made disturbances impact our dynamic planet. Our focus on innovation and collaboration has made us a world leader in interdisciplinary research and teaching. We're committed to communicating our research in ways that help inform decision-makers and the public about how we can best ensure a sustainable future environment
- The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
- A joint institute of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado at Boulder
- Engaged in earth system research that spans six major divisions
- Home to five research centers on the CU-Boulder campus
- Inspired and directed by a diverse Council of Fellows
- Committed to education and outreach at all levels
- Host to more than 220 visiting research scientists since 1967
- A research and learning environment like no other
Our researchers uncover and communicate processes concerning earth and environmental systems - matters that are becoming ever more urgent as changes in climate and land use are felt worldwide.
As the University of Colorado’s oldest institute, INSTAAR has a long history of responding to pressing environmental issues. Our traditional focus has been on polar and alpine regions, where effects of global change are especially pronounced. In recent decades, our research has broadened to include environmental challenges that span local, regional, and global scales. INSTAAR research topics range widely and include Quaternary and modern environments, human and ecosystem ecology, biogeochemistry, landscape evolution, hydrology, oceanography, and climate. Our field sites are located across all seven continents and the world’s oceans.
Our expertise across disciplines helps us generate influential science that can inform policy decisions and improve society’s awareness and understanding of natural and anthropogenic global change.
The Institute of Behavioral Science (IBS) is a research institute within the Graduate School of the University of Colorado, Boulder. Since its establishment in 1957, it has provided a setting for interdisciplinary, collaborative research on problems of societal concern. By engaging faculty from all the social and behavioral sciences at the University, IBS encourages work that transcends disciplinary boundaries, that illuminates the complexity of social behavior and social life, and that has important implications for social policy.
IBS is organized into five research programs, each defined by an interdisciplinary area of research and directed by a senior research scientist. Three programs have centers which specialize in research topics consistent with the broader goals of the Program. Computing and Research Services provides computing and information technology services for IBS research activities.
We offer a broad, but rigorous, interdisciplinary education. Both the undergraduate and graduate degrees draw on courses and expertise from more than thirty participating departments, centers, and other units on campus, emphasizing the earth and natural sciences as well as the social sciences and humanities. Students can also take advantage of many opportunities for less-formal "real-world" learning, including internships for class credit.
Our academic program focuses on quantitative studies of water in the environment including its role in geologic and biogeochemical processes, ecosystem functions, and global elemental cycling.
- Interdisciplinary & interdepartmental (CEAE, EBIO, ENVS, GEOG, & GEOL).
- For science & engineering graduate students.
- Intensive in math & physics, including fluid dynamics.
- PhD Degree and Graduate Certificate offered.
- Research Partners: CADSWES, INSTAAR, & other research units of CU-Boulder; USGS & NOAA.
The Institute of Behavioral Science includes a vibrant community of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who are training in interdisciplinary research. They do this as a complement to their training in their home discipline. Many students and postdocs are housed in the Institute building and work closely with their mentors on a daily basis.
Graduate students and postdocs who affiliate with the Institute of Behavioral Science are not admitted through the institute, but are admitted through various social science-related departments and programs. For admissions materials, see the Departments of Anthropology, Economics, Geography, History, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology, and the Environmental Studies Program.
Earth Lab was launched by CU Boulder’s Grand Challenge in September of 2015 and adopted by the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in July 2017. Earth Lab is an Earth systems synthesis center aimed at addressing emerging needs and opportunities associated with the deluge of Earth systems data and the growth of analytical power that, combined, can generate new insights. The diversity of available data about our Earth provides opportunities to ask questions at temporal and spatial scales not previously possible. This precipitates a need to evaluate how we conduct science, how we build collaborations, and how we teach the next generation. Earth Lab’s mission is to harness the data revolution through research, analytics, and education to accelerate understanding of global environmental change to help society better manage and adapt.
Earth Lab's research agenda includes many aspects of global environmental change and includes science projects that focus on fire, forests, permafrost, erosion, risk and decision making, data harmonization, extreme events, human health and environmental change, and human settlements.
Earth Lab's Analytics Hub brings together computer scientists, statisticians, earth scientists, and aerospace engineers, the group provides tools, training, and support for data processing, analysis, and visualization to the Earth Lab team and the broader scientific community.
Earth Lab's Education Initiative currently offers 3 courses in earth data analytics. All materials are online. Additionally, the Earth Data Analytics - Foundations professional graduate certificate will be offered through the University of Colorado Boulder Earth Lab beginning in August 2018.
Earth Lab consists of full time staff, postdocs, GRAs, undergraduate interns, and faculty affiliates. Earth Lab also partners with government agencies and industry partners. Earth Lab facilities include office space in SEEC S348 and a newly renovated visualization studio and decision theater in SEEC S372.
The Center for Asian Studies (CAS) is an interdisciplinary organization located on the Boulder campus of the University of Colorado that brings together faculty, students, and community members to encourage and support Asian scholarship across disciplinary and college boundaries. CAS has recently been designated by the U.S. Department of Education as one of only three National Resource Centers for Asian Studies nationwide, a credit to the strength of CU's Asian language and area studies programs. CAS organizes events, supports research and teaching, and acts as a key resource for students and scholars with an interest in Asian Studies. The Center's area of focus encompasses all of Asia, from China and Japan to the countries of the Middle East.
The Center for Science and Technology Policy Research was initiated within the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado-Boulder in the summer of 2001 as a contribution both to the CIRES goal of "promoting science in service to society" and to the University's vision of establishing research and outreach across traditional academic boundaries.
The Center for Water, Earth Science and Technology (CWEST) is a scientific and educational partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) with the center being a part of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR).
CWEST builds upon the many successful and on-going collaborations that have been taking place between INSTAAR researchers and others at CU with scientists at the USGS, including those working with the USGS’s National Research Program and its Earth Surface Dynamics Program.
We advance scientific and societal understanding of the Earth System based on innovative remote sensing research. Through our research, we provide fundamental insights into how the Earth system functions, how it is changing, and what those changes mean for life on Earth, for the benefit of human kind.
We support research into our world's frozen realms: the snow, ice, glacier, frozen ground, and climate interactions that make up Earth's cryosphere. Scientific data, whether taken in the field or relayed from satellites orbiting Earth, form the foundation for the scientific research that informs the world about our planet and our climate systems.
We've been integrating the study of human activity and the natural environment since 1937, when Harold Hoffmeister was appointed CU's first Assistant Professor of Geography. Geography was jointly-housed within the Department of Geography and Geology until 1957 when it was granted autonomous status, with Albert Smith as its first Chair, serving from 1957 to 1960 and beginning a tradition of rotating chairmanship in the department, which continues to this day. In 1959, Geography moved into the Guggenheim Building, where the Law School was formerly housed. Our PhD program was initiated in 1962, with the first PhD awarded in 1968 to Ian Campbell. In 1972, Gilbert White and Ken Erickson initiated an interdisciplinary major in Environmental Conservation, which in 1993 became the separate program in Environmental Studies. For more history, see our Faculty Timeline and Department Milestones.
We maintain expertise in the four core themes of Geography, and these are interwoven throughout both our teaching and research. More than most Geography programs in the US, we offer a comprehensive and balanced approach to the discipline. This allows our students to combine fields of inquiry – from indigenous mapping and fire ecology to GIS and social landscapes of war and recovery – in ways that only a comprehensive Geography degree can. Our students are not only exposed to a broad array of geographical training, they also have opportunities to learn from and take part in cutting-edge research in their specialized fields of interest. Our faculty are among the world's top scientists in their research fields, with extensive international collaborative connections and affiliations with the interdisciplinary research institutes for which CU and the city of Boulder are famous. No other Geography department in the country receives as much external research funding as CU Boulder. More than a third of our faculty have joint appointments or affiliations in research units such as the Institute of Behavioral Science (IBS), the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Studies (CIRES) and the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR).
With an active faculty doing cutting-edge research in all corners of the discipline and the world, CU Geography takes students far beyond the classroom. Students and faculty work side-by-side on research projects, and many of our classes teach practical field skills, such as doing an actual ethnography study, surveying in Denver for an urban geography class, measuring water flow of Boulder Creek, or learning to use high resolution GPS to map the campus. While many of our graduate students work with faculty advisors on collaborative research, many also develop their own independent research projects, developing academic expertise and broader recognition as they earn their degree.
We train our students for a dynamic job market and support them as they transition from student to professional. Our graduate program is consistently ranked among the top two or three US departments in placement of PhD's in academic careers. We are able to fund a higher percentage of our graduate students than most other Arts & Sciences departments, and we have both the highest completion rate and the shortest average time-to-degree of any other Arts & Sciences department at CU Boulder. Our graduate students are also successful in winning external funding for their research and in publishing their research while completing their degrees. Our undergraduate program includes honors and internship components. We are able to support our undergrads with a number of need and merit based scholarships.
With over one-third of our faculty appointed to campus research institutes, there are many opportunities for students to participate in cutting-edge research. Many of our graduate students publish as lead or co-authors with their faculty advisors. CU Geography ranks 2nd in the nation among geography programs in National Science Foundation doctoral dissertation research funding. Many of our undergraduates work with faculty field projects in biogeography, snow hydrology, fluvial geomorphology, glaciology, and ethnography.
With a history of field-oriented research, CU Geography specializes in learning outside of the classroom. Faculty fieldwork sites range from the Greenland icecap and the temperate forests of Patagonia to the savannas of East Africa and the plateau of Tibet. Our faculty work in rural as well as urban areas, arctic and mountain regions as well as tropical areas. Many of our classes are also field-focused with cultural geography students exploring the hidden landscapes of the Front Range, hydrology students conducting spring snow surveys at 12,000 feet on Niwot Ridge, and remote sensing students ground checking RS data for their class research projects.
Geographers have an ongoing concern with the acquisition, manipulation, and representation of spatial data. The widespread adoption of digital technology coupled with management of very large spatial data sets has led to the development of Geographic Information Science. Particularly with respect to digital information, the nature of geographical data that vary with scale, time, and spectral characteristics presents unique problems for geographers and environmental scientists. In our world of massive amounts of information, geographers use remote sensing methods for collecting and integrating geographical data. They utilize cartography and geographic information systems to uncover spatial patterns and trends, to reconstruct past environmental conditions and to predict future scenarios. The use of such methods requires expertise not covered in human and physical geography concentrations. Conceptually, the societal, political and ethical implications of geographic information in policy and decision-making are only beginning to be understood, and this forms an important component of study in geographic information science. The dissemination of geographic knowledge at all levels of education forms another important component of this concentration. Our program not only provides training in GIS and computer mapping, but is a national leader is Geographic Information Science research and theory. The professional geographer specializing in human or physical geography must realize that spatial data is increasingly collected and archived in digital form. Professional training in geography places increasing emphasis on the understanding of statistical and computing tools for data processing, analysis, and display. Our program has been one of the first to recognize this trend, and to develop the special faculty talents and modern laboratories essential to accommodate this type of training. We train students for a variety of positions in academic, government and private industry careers requiring technical skills in spatial data handling. We also provide opportunities to link GIS training with Geographic Education Our students can learn methods of computer and computer-assisted map production, preparing them for careers in mapping agencies and private mapping firms and publishing houses.
We strive to create a warm and friendly environment by providing opportunities for students in the geography department to get acquainted outside the classroom. The weekly coffee/bagel break, in our casual Guggenheim 101 lounge, is a great way for students to meet their fellow majors, Geography grad students and faculty as well. We host a number of annual informative events for undergrads such as the Grad School and Career Night symposiums. CU Boulder's Geography department also hosts a local chapter of Gamma Theta Upsilon (GTU). The chapter fosters social and professional ties across the field of Geography in our department and throughout the local academic community. GTU hosts events each semester and works with the department's graduate representatives to plan the fall and spring picnics. GTU also facilitates the mentor program for new graduate students. All geography graduate students are eligible to join. If you have questions, please contact our graduate student reps on our People page. For more information on the national GTU, visit the GTU website.
We also recommend joining the Geography Club. The CU-Boulder Geography Club provides a place for undergraduate and graduate students to connect by fostering interest, discussion, and increased knowledge about the world around them. We stay connected through social events such as movie and game nights, orienteering, hiking, career events, and volunteering. Students can work to promote geography and geographical thinking on campus and in the community through events such as Geography Awareness Week, GIS Day, and the Campus Sustainability Summit.
Why CU Boulder?
A Degree in Geography
With its opportunities for hands-on learning, as well as its interdisciplinary and holistic approach that spans the natural and social sciences, a degree in Geography will prepare you for many types of careers in private industry, government, non-profits, research, and higher education. For example, a geography degree will prepare you to become an environmental consultant, work in industry, join or start a non-profit, start a career in international development, or put your education to work in the US Geological Survey or US Forest Service, among many others. Because few geography jobs have the job title “geographer”, these resources describe some of the job titles and career paths for geographers.
This is not your junior-high Geography
"Encompassing South American wildfires, Arctic sea-ice retreat, post-Soviet politics, climate change in Tibet and GIS, CU Boulder Geography keeps its fingers on the pulse of a changing world". See article in Colorado A&S Magazine
Turning a love for the outdoors into PhD science. See what exciting outdoor lives Geography alums can have: Alice Hill's article.
"What is Geography For?" commencement music and lyrics by Prof Mark Serreze
The seas are getting fouled and there’s ozone in the air
Something in the atmosphere is messing up my hair
The thought of global warming puts a frown on my face
I’ve kinda’ given up on the entire human race
It seems as though the Middle East is constantly at war
Squabbles over borders and religion at the fore
There’s famine in Somalia while others are obese
The world is still a searchin’ for that everlasting peace
It’s partly demographics, and its part hydrology
But all of it includes that thing we call humanity
And now you’ve got your shingle and you’re headed out the door
Cleaning up this mess is what Geography is for
We’ve got a brand new president that Twitters all the day
We’re struggling with human rights and equal gender pay
The president of Russia is increasingly a pain
And the guy from North Korea is entirely insane
Hope to keep on runnin’ for another hundred years
Even though we’re runnin’ low on oil
Save me some space, but don’t forget the place
Have a little pity on our souls
The oceans are a rising and the ice is getting thin
But here in Colorado marijuana’s not a sin
There’s trouble in the atmosphere and rubbish in the sea
And all of it is part of what we call Geography
It’s partly demographics, and its part hydrology
But all of it includes that thing we call humanity
And now you’ve got your shingle and you’re headed out the door
Cleaning up this mess is what Geography is for