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Department of Geosciences, together with its affiliated interdepartmental programs and institutes, serves as the central focus for the earth, atmospheric, oceanographic and environmental sciences at Princeton. As such, the department encompasses a rich diversity of scientific expertise and initiatives that ranges, from the measurement and modeling of global climatic change to high-pressure mineral physics, and from seismic tomographic imaging of the mantle under the continents to analysis of the tectonics of Venus.
Atmospheric and ocean sciences are an integral part of the department, with most of the research taking place in the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL). In addition, there are close ties with the programs in water resources in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, as well as with the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) and the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM). We also provide the recently established computational geosciences as an interdisciplinary graduate training program in Computer and Application Sciences-PICASso.
Graduate education within the department in general is strongly focused on research, as well as on developing a strong sense for the interdisciplinary nature of the geosciences. As a consequence, Princeton has been extraordinarily successful in mentoring students to move on to tenure-track positions in academia as well as leading research positions in industry or government laboratories. The department offers only a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program, for which both beginning and advanced students may apply. The average time to graduation is five years.
The Department of Geosciences covers a wide range of fields, and actively promotes interdisciplinary study and research. Students with interest in structural geology, tectonics and geophysics, geochemistry, petrology, mineral physics, geochemistry, biological oceanography, paleontology, paleoceanography and paleoclimate and environmental geology will find most of their research and educational needs accommodated within the laboratories of Guyot Hall, where the Department is located.
In addition the Department has associated programs in water resources (shared with Civil Engineering), materials science (in collaboration with the Princeton Materials Institute) and environmental science (in collaboration with Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI)).
Course work requirements are flexible and depend on the track chosen. All incoming students are required to follow a one-year introductory course on the fundamental questions in the geosciences, covering both solid earth and environmental problems. An important part of graduate education arises from independent research, which begins in the first year. Course work in other departments that strengthens students’ background in biology, chemistry, engineering sciences, mathematics and physics is required.
Courses must be taken for a grade when the graded option is offered, and the average of the graded courses is expected to be B or higher.
Pre-generals students are normally expected to enroll in and complete two to four courses or seminars, either within or outside the department, per term. The actual load may vary depending on a student's background, interests, the availability of courses, the number and nature of other academic activities, etc. Students are expected to have completed eight courses, or the equivalent, by the end of the semester in which they take the General Exam. The eight courses must include GEO505/506, Fundamentals of the Geosciences, and at least two graduate-level or appropriate-level undergraduate courses outside the geosciences department, chosen with approval of the advisory committee.
The research paper does not need to be ready for publication, but the paper should have a scholarly level close to that of a paper submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. The research accomplishments should indicate a reasonable level of productivity, and the interpretation should indicate knowledge of the literature and good critical thinking. The thesis proposal should clearly express the justification and the research plans. In response to questions, students should show a broad knowledge of the relevant literature, an understanding of the underlying principles, and knowledge of analytical or modeling.
The general examination for advancement to Ph.D. candidacy is normally taken before the end of the second year of graduate work. The examination is designed to establish the student’s depth and breadth of knowledge in the chosen fields of specialization, acquaintance with scholarly methods of research, and the ability to organize and present research material. The examination is based in part on a written report submitted by the student describing the research activities undertaken during the first two years. A research progress report is also required near the end of the student’s first year.
During the general examination a student is expected to demonstrate competence and professional expertise in the geological sciences and related fields as relevant to the student's major interests. Accordingly, the examination is designed to explore: (1) the student's ability to organize and conduct an original research program and to present research results and material, (2) the student's depth of knowledge in the chosen fields of specialization, and (3) breadth in the geological and related sciences.
A typical examination consists of two parts: the research paper and thesis proposal, and the second two topics selected by the student. Including the break, the exam does not normally last longer than 2 hours and 30 minutes. The first hour of the exam covers the research paper and the thesis proposal. Students' presentations of their research should be no longer than 20 minutes with minimal interruptions. Each committee member will question the student on his or her research area. Then, after a short break, the second part of the exam covers the two topics selected by the student and lasts about an hour and a quarter. Each committee member will ask questions testing the student's general knowledge of the basic science underlying the areas of specialization and fundamental concepts in earth sciences and related disciplines.
The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy and is earned after a student successfully passes all course work, including GEO 505/506, and the satisfactory presentation of the first-year and second-year research reports. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that these requirements have been met.
Under some circumstances, a student may decide prior to the general exam that he or she does not wish to continue in the Ph.D. program but does wish to qualify for a master's degree (M.A.) from the department. In this case, the student should discuss this option with the adviser and advisory committee well in advance. The general exam for an M.A. degree is similar to that for Ph.D. candidacy but will not include defense of a research plan.
Every graduate student is required to participate in the instruction of undergraduates for at least one term (one term as a full assistant in instruction, or two terms as half time assistant in instruction) as a significant part of his or her education.
The dissertation shows that the candidate has technical mastery in the chosen field and is capable of independent research. It is expected to be a positive contribution to knowledge, which may consist of a new scientific generalization, a new body of integrated facts that carries scientific implications that extend beyond itself or a substantial improvement in technique or procedure.
The final public oral examination is a final examination in the field of study. In addition to defending the dissertation, candidates are expected to respond to questions relating to the specific principles involved in their research and to questions ranging widely over related subjects.
The Ph.D. will be awarded once the dissertation has been approved and the final public oral has been completed.
Bess B. Ward
Thomas S. Duffy
Adam C. Maloof
S. George H. Philander
Courses for Spring 2015
Courses listed below show only regular graduate-level courses for the term; undergraduate courses and graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students, are not listed.
This course cover fundamental papers on the Geosciences of Iceland. Topics include deep mantle plumes and spreading, basaltic volcanism, volcanic aerosols, seismicity, geothermal power, microbial ecology of hot springs, glacial geology, and the impact of global warming on Arctic permafrost stability and greenhouse gas release. Weekly meetings include presentations on these topics among others by students as preparation for a 10 day field trip to Iceland during the summer. Participation in the field trip includes student on site presentations.
A survey of fundamental papers in the Geosciences. Topics include present and future climate, biogeochemical processes in the ocean, geochemical cycles, orogenies, thermochronology, rock fracture and seismicity. This is the core geosciences graduate course.
This course will survey the structure and properties of the deep earth, including the lower mantle and core. Seismology, mineral physics and geodynamics will be used to explore different facets of the deep earth, and the interiors of other planets, with an emphasis on fundamental and cutting edge literature.
Examines the use of stable isotope measurements to investigate important biogeochemical, environmental, and geologic processes, today and over Earth history. Introduction to terminology, basic underlying principles, measurement techniques, commonly used analytical and computational approaches for analyzing data, followed by a review of typical applications of the isotope systems of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements. Lectures by the instructor, problem sets, numerical modeling assignments, student presentations and a final student paper based on readings from the scientific literature.
High throughput sequencing has transformed environmental microbiology, but dealing with the massive datasets is daunting. This course familiarizes students with the approaches used in assembly and annotation of metagenomes, single-cell genomes and metatranscriptomes, metaproteomes and how to utilize the processed data to address phylogenetic and functional diversity in the environment. The course uses a combination of lectures, readings drawn from the literature, and hands-on processing of genomic datasets using MG RAST, IMG, MetaVelvet, MetaIDBA, MOTHUR, MEGAN etc. among others
This course explores global geochemical cycles through the use of simple numerical models. Topics covered range from box models of the geologic carbon and oxygen cycles, planetary thermostats, and atmospheric oxygenation, to box models of Cenozoic seawater chemistry (Mg and Ca), to 1D diffusion-reaction modes of the dynamics of carbon and oxygen in sedimentary systems. Previous coursework in differential equations and MATLAB are highly desirable but not absolutely necessary.
This course investigates biological and environmental effects of Deccan volcanism 66 m.y. ago in India that led to the KT mass extinction and delayed biotic recovery. Investigations include climate and environmental changes, weathering, ocean acidification and its effects on calcareous marine microplankton and the observed high-stress marine assemblages. The timing of major volcanic eruptions and the time elapsed between individual lava flows will be investigated based on red bole layers.
Natural gas phase and heterogeneous chemistry in the troposphere and stratosphere, with a focus on elementary chemical kinetics; photolysis processes; oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen chemistry; transport of atmospheric trace species; tropospheric hydrocarbon chemistry and stratospheric halogen chemistry; stratospheric ozone destruction; local and regional air pollution, and chemistry-climate interactions are studied.