Geosciences

Academic Year 2022 – 2023

General Information

Address
Guyot Hall
Phone

Program Offerings:

  • Ph.D.

Director of Graduate Studies:

Graduate Program Administrator:

Overview

The Department of Geosciences and its affiliated interdepartmental programs and institutes serve as Princeton’s central focus for the Earth, atmospheric, oceanographic, and environmental sciences. As such, the department encompasses a rich diversity of scientific expertise and initiatives that strive to understand Earth’s deep structure, climate, biosphere, atmosphere and oceans, landscapes, and how these systems interact and evolve over all timescales.

Academics and Research

The Department of Geosciences covers a wide range of fields and actively promotes interdisciplinary study and research. Students with an interest in tectonics and geophysics, seismology, Earth history, geochemistry, geochronology, petrology, mineral physics, biological oceanography, environmental microbiology, biogeochemistry, paleontology, paleoceanography and paleoclimate and environmental geology will find most of their research and educational needs accommodated within the laboratories of Guyot Hall.

Atmospheric and oceanic sciences are an integral part of the department. Students typically pursue a degree through the AOS program (a joint program with the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, GFDL). In addition, Geosciences and AOS have close ties with the programs in water resources in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI), and the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM). We also provide computational geosciences as an interdisciplinary graduate training program.

Graduate education within the department, in general, is strongly focused on research, as well as on developing a keen sense for the interdisciplinary nature of geosciences. Consequently, Princeton has been extraordinarily successful in mentoring students to move on to tenure-track positions in academia and leading research positions in industry or government laboratories. The department offers only a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program, for which students with and without master's degrees may apply. The target time to graduation is five years.

Equipment and Facilities

Modern Earth science has a continuum of approaches, ranging from field studies to laboratory and theoretical work using sophisticated instrumentation and large computers. In addition to petrographic, mineralogic, sedimentologic, and paleontologic facilities for routine geoscientific inquiry, the department has specialized equipment for laboratory and field studies rooted in a wide array of disciplines.

Field Study: To assist field mapping campaigns, the department has a fleet of Fixed-wing and quadcopter UAVs, differential and standard GPS, laser total stations, field-iPads, deployable water depth, and chemistry probes, weather stations, structure-from-motion setups, underwater cameras, backpack drills, paleomagnetic drills, sediment coring devices, and tree coring devices.

Geochemistry: Specific instruments include three inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometers for high-precision trace element (Thermo Element 2 ICPMS and Thermo iCap) and isotope ratio (Thermo Neptune MC ICPMS) analyses; microwave for rapid silicate dissolution; modern micro-XRF setup; gas chromatographs, HPLC, and ion analyzers; infrared, ultraviolet and fluorescent spectrometers; gamma and scintillation counters; ultracentrifuges; dissolved- and solid-carbon analyzers; and modern wet-chemical laboratory facilities. There is also a hydrothermal laboratory, including large-capacity rocking autoclaves, kinetic flow systems, optical high-pressure and high-temperature cells, and an internally heated high-pressure system.

Geochronology and Petrology: In addition to modern mineral separation and characterization facilities, Guyot hosts new clean lab facilities suitable for ultra-low blank trace metal geochemistry used for ion chromatography for Ca, Mg, Sr, U, Pb, Sm, and Nd elemental separation. The lab also has two IsotopX PhoeniX62 Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometers used for high-precision U-Pb geochronology and Sr, Cr, Ca, and Nd isotope measurements. Mineral and rock geochemistry that accompanies geochronology is carried out in other facilities on and off-campus and within Guyot, such as in the ICPMS facilities.

The Ocean Tracer Laboratory: Includes alpha detectors and scintillation detectors for measuring low levels of radon and radium radioisotopes and a high-resolution intrinsic germanium well detector for gamma ray measurement.

The Stable Isotope Laboratory: Contains a new V. G. Optima gas source mass spectrometer, with peripheral devices for automated analysis of carbonate minerals and for automated loading and cleaning of CO2, H2O, and N2 gas mixtures. Off-line preparation facilities are available for water samples, organic materials, and minerals. A Thermo Scientific gas chromatograph connected to a Delta V isotope ratio mass spectrometer to make automated stable isotope analysis of small volatile carbon compounds.

Biological Oceanography and biogeochemistry Research: Focuses on carbon and nitrogen cycle processes and trace metals in the oceans and on land. Instruments include controlled temperature rooms for phytoplankton and bacterial culture, epifluorescence microscopes, centrifuges, scintillation counter, autoclave, atomic absorption spectrometer, laminar flow hoods, trace metal clean room, Europa 20/20 mass spectrometer, gas chromatographs with a variety of detectors including flame ionization, thermal conductivity, reducing compound photometer, and mass spectrometer, two Picarro cavity ring-down systems, Agilent liquid chromatograph mass spectrometer, Unisense microprobe, solvent evaporation systems, gel documentation system, and fully equipped molecular biological laboratories for protein and nucleic acid research.

Geophysics: The High-Pressure Mineral Physics Laboratory contains diamond anvil cells for high-pressure/temperature studies. The facility includes stereomicroscopes, microdrill, gas loading system, photoluminescence, and Raman and Brillouin spectroscopy. Access is also available to a wide range of national user facilities for conducting experiments, including synchrotrons, free-electron lasers, and high-powered laser facilities. Mineral characterization is supported by shared facilities on campus featuring multiple scanning electron microscopes equipped with elemental analysis capabilities in addition to backscattered-electron and cathodoluminescence imaging, TEM, and FIB (see the imaging and analysis center on Princeton’s website). 

Physical material study of virtually any rock volume can be accomplished in 3D with the serial grinding and imaging system (GIRI).

The Department operates two portable Nanometrics broadband seismometers (6 velocity and 3 acceleration components), currently installed in Guyot Hall's basement, and a fixed PolaRx5 Septentrio GNSS system with an integrated Vaisala WXT530 weather station, installed on the roof of Guyot Hall. It owns a GSSI 400 MHz ground-penetrating radar unit, a Geometrics G-859 Cesium magnetometer, a LR G-133 relative gravimeter, and various other smaller pieces of portable equipment (e.g., Raspberry Pi, Arable Mark, Garmin GPS) used mostly for teaching purposes.

We own sixteen Mobile Earthquake Recording in Marine Areas by Independent Divers (MERMAID) hydroacoustic instruments manufactured by OSEAN SAS, currently deployed in the Pacific. We also own proprietary seafloor-geodetic equipment manufactured by DBV Technology, currently at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. 

For numerical simulations of seismic wave propagation, tomographic imaging, and inversion, we routinely utilize massive computer clusters hosted and operated by the Princeton Institute for Computational Sciences and Engineering (PICSciE), and we gain access to even more powerful systems through the national supercomputing centers.

Apply

Application deadline
January 3, 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (This deadline is for applications for enrollment beginning in fall 2023)
Program length
Five years
Fee
$75
GRE
General Test not accepted

Program Offerings

Courses

Course work requirements are flexible, and courses are selected under the advisement of the graduate student’s advisory committee based on the area of concentration. Students are expected to complete eight courses by the end of the semester in which they take the general exam. The eight courses must include GEO 505 and 506 – Fundamentals of the Geosciences, and at least two graduate-level or appropriate-level undergraduate courses outside their field of expertise. 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.

Students must also take GEO/AOS 503 – Responsible Conduct of Research in Geosciences, which does not count towards the eight courses.

Additional pre-generals requirements

Research paper and thesis proposal
There are several benchmark research requirements in the first two years of the Ph.D. program. These include a research proposal in the fall of the first year, a progress report in the spring of the first year, and a public presentation in the fall of the second year.

Students must submit a high-quality research paper summarizing the first two years of research to the general examination committee at least one week before the general examination.  While the research paper does not need to be ready for publication, the paper should be of a sufficient scholarly level to warrant submission 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 excellent critical thinking.

A short thesis proposal clearly expressing the justification for and direction of the future thesis work (which may or may not be the same as the research conducted before the general exam) is required. 

General exam

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, advancement in scholarly research methods, and the ability to organize and present research material. The examination is based in part on the written report described above and also contains an oral component to be carried out in front of a committee of 3-5 faculty members.

During the general examination, a student is expected to demonstrate competence and professional expertise in the geosciences, and related fields as relevant to the student's research interests and courses are taken. 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 two topics of expertise selected by the student. The exam does not normally last longer than 3 hours. The first half of the exam covers the research paper and the thesis proposal, beginning with a student presentation of 20 minutes in length. Each committee member will question the student on the student's research area. Then, after a short break, the second part of the exam covers the two topics selected by the student. 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.

During the general examination, a student is expected to demonstrate competence and professional expertise in the geosciences, and related fields as relevant to the student's research interests and courses are taken. 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 two topics of expertise selected by the student.   The exam does not normally last longer than 3 hours.  The first half of the exam covers the research paper and the thesis proposal, beginning with a student presentation of 20 minutes in length.  Each committee member will question the student on the student's research area. Then, after a short break, the second part of the exam covers the two topics selected by the student. 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.

Qualifying for the M.A.

The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy. It is earned after a student successfully completes a minimum of seven courses and passes the general examination. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, with approval from their advisory committee, provided these requirements have been met.

Under some circumstances, students may decide before the general exam that they do not wish to continue in the Ph.D. program but 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 the defense of a research plan. 

Teaching

All graduate students are 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 their education.

Dissertation and FPO

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, consisting 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 includes a 45-minute presentation by the candidate that summarizes the dissertation. Candidates are then expected to respond to questions relating to their research and to wide-ranging questions about related subjects.

The Ph.D. will be awarded once the dissertation has been approved and the final public oral has been completed. 

Faculty

  • Chair

    • Thomas S. Duffy
  • Associate Chair

    • Frederik J. Simons
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • John A. Higgins
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Adam C. Maloof
  • Professor

    • Curtis A. Deutsch
    • Thomas S. Duffy
    • Stephan A. Fueglistaler
    • Adam C. Maloof
    • Satish C. Myneni
    • Michael Oppenheimer
    • Allan M. Rubin
    • Blair Schoene
    • Daniel M. Sigman
    • Frederik J. Simons
    • Jeroen Tromp
    • Gabriel A. Vecchi
    • Bess Ward
  • Associate Professor

    • John A. Higgins
  • Assistant Professor

    • Jie Deng
    • Ching-Yao Lai
    • Elizabeth Niespolo
    • Laure Resplandy
    • Xinning Zhang
  • Lecturer with Rank of Professor

    • Venkatachalam Ramaswamy
  • Lecturer

    • Thomas L. Delworth
    • Leo Donner
    • Stephen T. Garner
    • Stephen M. Griffies
    • Robert W. Hallberg
    • Larry W. Horowitz
    • Yi Ming
    • Raj Moulik
    • Rong Zhang

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.

Permanent Courses

Courses listed below are graduate-level courses that have been approved by the program’s faculty as well as the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School as permanent course offerings. Permanent courses may be offered by the department or program on an ongoing basis, depending on curricular needs, scheduling requirements, and student interest. Not listed below are undergraduate courses and one-time-only graduate courses, which may be found for a specific term through the Registrar’s website. Also not listed are graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students.

AOS 527 - Atmospheric Radiative Transfer (also GEO 527)

The structure and composition of terrestrial atmospheres. The fundamental aspects of electromagnetic radiation, absorption and emission by atmospheric gases, optical extinction by particles, the roles of atmospheric species in the Earth's radiative energy balance, the perturbation of climate due to natural and anthropogenic causes, and satellite observations of climate systems are also studied.

AOS 537 - Atmospheric Chemistry (also GEO 537)

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.

AOS 578 - Chemical Oceanography (also GEO 578)

The chemical composition of the oceans and the nature of the physical and chemical processes governing this composition in the past and the present. The cycles of major and minor oceanic constituents, including interactions with the biosphere, and at the ocean-atmosphere and ocean-sediment interfaces.

CEE 573 - Environmental Issues Seminar (also GEO 525)

Current problems in environmental sciences. Element cycles; geochemistry-biotic interactions, human impacts on the environment. A new topic is chosen every semester. Recent topics have included: the global carbon cycle, alternative energies, biodiversity, and genetically modified organisms.

GEO 501 - Physics and Chemistry of Minerals (also MSE 541)

Concepts of solid-state physics and inorganic chemistry relevant to the study of minerals and materials. The emphasis is on applications to the study of planetary interiors. Topics include crystal chemistry; crystal structure and phase transitions; equations of state, dynamic, and static compression; elasticity; transport properties; lattice dynamics; lattice defects; and solid-state diffusion and creep.

GEO 503 - Responsible Conduct of Research in Geosciences (Half-Term) (also AOS 503)

Course educates Geosciences and AOS students in the responsible conduct of research using case studies appropriate to these disciplines. This discussion-based course focuses on issues related to the use of scientific data, publication practices and responsible authorship, peer review, research misconduct, conflicts of interest, the role of mentors & mentees, issues encountered in collaborative research and the role of scientists in society. Successful completion is based on attendance, reading, and active participation in class discussions. Course satisfies University requirement for RCR training.

GEO 505 - Fundamentals of the Geosciences

A survey of fundamental papers in the Geosciences. Topics include the origin and interior of the earth, plate tectonics, geodynamics, the history of life on earth, the composition of the earth, its oceans and atmosphere, past climate. The first of two core graduate courses.

GEO 506 - Fundamentals of the Geosciences II

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 second of two core graduate courses.

GEO 507 - Topics in Mineralogy and Mineral Physics (also MSE 547)

Selected topics related to structure, properties, and stability of minerals and melts. Topics include mantle mineralogy, applications of synchrotron radiation to the study of earth materials, physics and chemistry of minerals at high pressure and temperature, and advanced concepts in mineral physics.

GEO 520 - Stable Isotope Geochemistry With An Environmental Focus

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.

GEO 523 - Geomicrobiology (also CEE 572)

Relationships between low temperature geochemistry and microbiology. Applications of newly developed molecular biological techniques and isotope geochemical methods and how these approaches can be used to determine the physiological state of microorganisms. Each student is expected to make a research presentation to the seminar. Visiting scholars and faculty members from other departments may occasionally contribute guest lectures to the seminar.

GEO 524 - Geobiology Seminar

This seminar provides an overview of the rapidly developing field of geobiology, which aims at investigating how life influences and is influenced by Earth processes. Students are expected to present and lead article discussions, construct, peer and panel review NSF-style graduate student fellowship research proposals in the second half of the course. Prerequisites: General chemistry, General Biology, Environmental Microbiology or by instructor permission.

GEO 526 - Chemistry of Natural Interfaces

This course covers the chemistry of interfacial reactions at the solid-water, air-water, liquid-water, and organism-water that are pertinent to the nature. The molecular structure and properties of the natural interfaces, water chemistry at the interfaces, and applications of thermodynamics, and recently developed in situ spectroscopic and microscopic methods to study these systems is discussed. Special emphasis is on the applications of interfacial chemistry in environmental chemistry.

GEO 534 - Geological Constraints on the Global Carbon Cycle

Earth system and climate sensitivity relate changes in greenhouse gas concentrations and other radiative forcers to changes in temperature, both in Earth's past and in the future. The Cenozoic record provided by paleo-temperature and paleo-CO2 proxies can constrain these parameters and thus also the projected response of the planet to human-induced changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. This course will explore the concepts of climate and Earth system sensitivity, the methods and records of paleo-temperature and paleo-carbon dioxide proxies in the Cenozoic, and the statistical challenges of inferring sensitivities from these proxies.

GEO 538 - Paleoclimatology

This course will provide a graduate level introduction to Earth's climate history. Topics include controls on Earth's climate, a survey of sedimentary properties used in climate reconstructions, and a discussion of the major changes in climate reconstructions, and a discussion of the major changes in climate from the Precambian to the present. Intended for students in Geosciences and the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences program interested in Earth's present environment and its changes through time.

GEO 539 - Topics in Paleoecology, Paleoclimatology, and Paleoceanography

Application of the fossil record to specific geological problems in depositional environments and paleoclimatic and paleoceanographic history of the oceans are studied.

GEO 543 - Rock Fracture

Application of fracture mechanics to a wide range of geologic processes, including jointing, dike propagation, fault growth, and earthquake rupture are studied. Topics include the role of fractures in crustal deformation, solutions for cracks in elastic media, engineering fracture mechanics, numerical methods, and application to field and geodetic studies of natural examples.

GEO 552 - Global Seismology

The use of seismic data to determine large-scale, three-dimensional earth structure and earthquake source parameters. Moment-tensor representation of sources, free oscillations, surface-wave dispersion, and seismic tomography.

GEO 556 - Geodynamics Seminar

Special topics of current research interest in geodynamics and related disciplines

GEO 557 - Theoretical Geophysics

Geophysical applications of the principles of continuum mechanics; conservation laws and consti-tutive relations and tensor analysis; acoustic, elastic, and gravity wave propagation are studied.

GEO 559 - Topics In Earth History

Seminar examines the history of global change on Earth. Topics include the relationship between paleogeography, sea level and climate, the character and geometry of Earth's ancient magnetic field, the evolution of Earth's spin vector, the interpretation of global sea level variability, the deconvolution of periodic and stochastic forcing in sedimentary records, and the large-scale events and processes that affected global change and the evolution of life.

GEO 561 - Earth's Atmosphere (also ENV 561)

Earth's habitability depends on the continual recycling of various gases and even rocks, mainly between the atmosphere, oceans, "solid" earth and biosphere. The atmospheric and oceanic circulations that affect this recycling involve phenomena such as the weather, hurricanes, jet streams, tsunamis, the Gulf Stream, deserts, jungles, El Nino and La Nina. The class discusses how global warming will affect these phenomena.

GEO 570 - Sedimentology

Treatment of the physical and chemical processes that shape Earth's surface, such as solar radiation, deformation of the solid Earth, and the flow of water (vapor, liquid, and solid) under the influence of gravity. In particular, the generation, transport, and preservation of sediment in response to these processes are studied in order to better read stories of Earth history in the geologic record and to better understand processes involved in modern and ancient environmental change. Taught in parallel with GEO 370.

GEO 576 - The Physics of Glaciers (also AOS 579)

Glaciers and ice sheets are important elements of Earths global climate system. This course introduces graduate students to the history of ice on Earth, contemporary glaciology, and the interactions between climate, glaciers, landforms, and sea level. Drawing from basic physical concepts, lab experiments, numerical modeling, and geological observations, we tackle important physical processes in glaciology, and equip students with data analysis and modeling skills. Students gain an appreciation for the importance of ice sheets for the global climate system, and the large gaps that remain in our understanding.