The Department of Geosciences, together with its affiliated interdepartmental programs and institutes, serves 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 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, with students typically pursuing 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, as well as with 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 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 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. Included in the facility are 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.
Course work requirements are flexible and depend on the track chosen under advisement from a student’s advisory committee. Students are expected to have completed 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, chosen with approval of the advisory committee. Students must also take GEO/AOS 503 – Responsible Conduct of Research in Geosciences, which does not count towards the eight courses.
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.
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.
A high-quality research paper summarizing the first two years of research is required at least a week prior to taking the general exam. 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 excellent critical thinking.
In addition to the research paper, a short thesis proposal is required that should clearly express 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).
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 methods of research, 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 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 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.
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 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 prior to the general exam that they do 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.
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.
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 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.
- Bess Ward
- Frederik J. Simons
Director of Graduate Studies
- Blair Schoene
Director of Undergraduate Studies
- Adam C. Maloof
- Thomas S. Duffy
- Gerta Keller
- Adam C. Maloof
- Satish C. Myneni
- Tullis C. Onstott
- Michael Oppenheimer
- Allan M. Rubin
- Daniel M. Sigman
- Frederik J. Simons
- Jeroen Tromp
- Gabriel A. Vecchi
- Bess Ward
- Stephan A. Fueglistaler
- John A. Higgins
- Blair Schoene
- Laure Resplandy
- Xinning Zhang
Lecturer with Rank of Professor
- Venkatachalam Ramaswamy
- Thomas L. Delworth
- Leo Donner
- Stephen T. Garner
- Stephen M. Griffies
- Robert W. Hallberg
- Larry W. Horowitz
- Sonya A. Legg
- Yi Ming
- Rong Zhang
Visiting Associate Professor
- Ilya V. Buynevich
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.