Twin Cities campus
Twin Cities Campus

Earth Sciences Ph.D.

Department of Earth Sciences
College of Science and Engineering
Link to a list of faculty for this program.
Contact Information
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota, John T. Tate Hall-Suite 150, 116 Church St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455 (612-624-1333; fax: 612-625-3819)
  • Program Type: Doctorate
  • Requirements for this program are current for Fall 2019
  • Length of program in credits: 48
  • This program does not require summer semesters for timely completion.
  • Degree: Doctor of Philosophy
Along with the program-specific requirements listed below, please read the General Information section of this website for requirements that apply to all major fields.
The modern earth sciences are a remarkable synthesis of the physical and biological sciences. They are at the forefront of inquiry into and solutions of most of the major issues involving the global environment: climate, oceans, freshwater in all its forms, natural resources, and natural disasters. Like no other field, they integrate all the systems, from surface to great depth, from physics to chemistry to biology, and over all of geologic time and all geographic scales. The program includes the fields of structural geology, tectonics, petrology, hydrogeology, geomorphology, sedimentology, surface processes, geochemistry, biogeochemistry, biogeology, chemical oceanography, mineralogy, mineral and rock magnetism, rock and mineral physics, geodynamics, seismology, geostatistics, planetary geology, and geophysics and applied geophysics. Students may accommodate other areas of interest such as engineering geology, environmental geology, materials science, soil science, and paleoecology by choosing a minor or supporting field from outside the program.
Program Delivery
  • via classroom (the majority of instruction is face-to-face)
Prerequisites for Admission
The preferred undergraduate GPA for admittance to the program is 3.00.
Bachelor's degree in geology, geophysics, earth and material sciences, chemistry, physics, biology, or environmental science.
Other requirements to be completed before admission:
At least one year of study each in calculus, chemistry, and physics is required. In general, an outstanding academic record is expected.
Special Application Requirements:
Materials required for a complete application file include the student's statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, transcripts, official GRE scores, and the Application for Admission. Applications are considered at any time; however, to be considered for financial aid, all materials must be submitted by December 15. Studies may begin in any semester or summer session, although fall semester is preferable. IMPORTANT: Refer to the Graduate Programs section of the department website ( for a listing of all required application materials and preferred method of submission.
Applicants must submit their test score(s) from the following:
  • GRE
International applicants must submit score(s) from one of the following tests:
    • Internet Based - Total Score: 79
    • Internet Based - Writing Score: 21
    • Internet Based - Reading Score: 19
    • Paper Based - Total Score: 550
    • Total Score: 6.5
    • Final score: 80
Key to test abbreviations (GRE, TOEFL, IELTS, MELAB).
For an online application or for more information about graduate education admissions, see the General Information section of this website.
Program Requirements
12 credits are required in the major.
12 credits are required outside the major.
24 thesis credits are required.
This program may be completed with a minor.
Use of 4xxx courses toward program requirements is permitted under certain conditions with adviser approval.
A minimum GPA of 3.00 is required for students to remain in good standing.
At the onset of studies, a coursework "compact" will be developed with the student, his/her advisor, and the graduate studies committee. The compact will be reviewed annually to assure timely progress and revise as needed. Students must choose one of five tracks in the earth sciences program: geology, geophysics, biogeology, hydrogeology, or earth sciences. Tracks carry coursework requirements that are part of the student's course compact. The PhD requires a minimum 12 credits of coursework in earth sciences, including the track requirements, a minimum of 12 credits in a minor or supporting field, plus 24 thesis credits. A maximum of 9 credits of 4xxx-level coursework may be used towards programs requirements. Coursework taken A/F must be completed with an average grade of B or better.
Required Courses
All students must complete ESCI 8001, preferably in the first year.
ESCI 8001 - Introductory Graduate Seminar (2.0 cr)
Minor or Supporting Program Coursework
Take 12 credits in a minor or in supporting fields outside ESCI.
Thesis Credits
Take 24 credits after passing preliminary oral exam
ESCI 8888 - Thesis Credit: Doctoral (1.0-24.0 cr)
Program Sub-plans
Students are required to complete one of the following sub-plans.
Students may not complete the program with more than one sub-plan.
Biogeology represents a rapidly growing area at the intersection between Earth and the life sciences. It includes research in microbial evolution and biochemistry, microbe/mineral chemical interactions, the role of organisms in basic geological processes, the principles through which organisms or organic compounds can be used to reconstruct surface conditions, biogeochemical cycling, pollution control and remediation, the origin of life on Earth, and astrobiology. This is a broad field that is moving in new and exciting directions, and witnessing explosive growth in understanding the variety of ways biology mediates geology and vice versa. Many of the most basic earth surface processes are now seen as intimately biological with rates and pathways dictated by organic processes. Understanding the importance of these processes, quantifying them through time and place, and learning to utilize and/or control them will be major components of earth sciences research in the 21st century.
Required Courses
Take 6 or more credit(s) from the following:
· ESCI 8402 - Biogeochemical Cycles in the Ocean (3.0 cr)
· ESCI 8801 - Geomicrobiology (3.0 cr)
Earth Sciences
This generalist track exists for students whose curriculum and/or thesis (paper or project for MS Plan B) do not fit any of the other four tracks. Because it is not specific to a discipline, there are no mandatory courses in the major apart from the introductory graduate seminar, a minimum of 6 additional graduate-level credits in the major program, 12 supporting program credits or completion of all requirements for a minor, and thesis credits. A curriculum specific to the student will be set through the compact process.
6-credit minimum; courses determined on an individual basis.
Geology uses field observation, laboratory work, analog and computer modeling, chemical and biological probes and assays to understand Earth's coupled rock, water and biological systems, the underlying processes, and their history of interaction as evidenced in the rock record.
Required Courses
Take 6 or more credit(s) from the following:
· ESCI 5302 - Isotope Geology (3.0 cr)
· ESCI 5351 - Geochemical Modeling of Aqueous Systems (3.0 cr)
· ESCI 5353 - Electron Microprobe Theory and Practice (3.0 cr)
· ESCI 5502 {Inactive} (3.0 cr)
· ESCI 5503 - Advanced Petrology (3.0 cr)
· ESCI 5601W {Inactive} [WI] (4.0 cr)
· ESCI 5705 - Limnogeology and Paleoenvironment (3.0 cr)
Geophysics uses remote sensing probes (seismic waves, potential fields, etc.), laboratory simulation of deep Earth conditions and computer modeling of fluid and continuum mechanical dynamics to investigate the structure, composition, history and dynamics of solid Earth and other planets.
Required Courses
ESCI 4211 - Solid Earth Geophysics I (3.0 cr)
Take 1 or more course(s) totaling 3 or more credit(s) from the following:
· ESCI 4212 - Solid Earth Geophysics II (3.0 cr)
· ESCI 5201 - Time-Series Analysis of Geological Phenomena (3.0 cr)
· ESCI 5203 - Mineral and Rock Physics (3.0 cr)
· ESCI 5204 - Geostatistics and Inverse Theory (3.0 cr)
· ESCI 8203 - Environmental Geophysics (3.0 cr)
· ESCI 8204 - Geomagnetism and Paleomagnetism (3.0 cr)
Hydrogeology uses direct observation and remote sensing, computer modeling and laboratory simulation to constrain the interaction of water and rock in Earth's shallow subsurface. Freshwater is Earth's most precious and increasingly overexploited resource. Hydrogeology is a key discipline in the effective shepherding of this important reserve. This track establishes a baseline curriculum for hydrogeology at the graduate level. The compact process will identify additional coursework appropriate to the student's prior training and research directions.
Required Courses
ESCI 4702 - General Hydrogeology (4.0 cr)
Take 1 or more course(s) totaling 3 or more credit(s) from the following:
· ESCI 5205 {Inactive} (3.0 cr)
· ESCI 5971 - Field Hydrogeology (2.0 cr)
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ESCI 8001 - Introductory Graduate Seminar
Credits: 2.0 [max 2.0]
Grading Basis: S-N or Aud
Typically offered: Every Fall
Graduate level survey of important research, concepts, and methods in the earth sciences; familiarization with program faculty/facilities and basics of science writing and proposal craft. prereq: Grad student status in earth sci
ESCI 8888 - Thesis Credit: Doctoral
Credits: 1.0 -24.0 [max 100.0]
Grading Basis: No Grade
Typically offered: Every Fall, Spring & Summer
(no description) prereq: Max 18 cr per semester or summer; 24 cr required
ESCI 8402 - Biogeochemical Cycles in the Ocean
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Course Equivalencies: 02130
Typically offered: Fall Even Year
Marine biogeochemistry/chemical oceanography. Processes controlling chemical composition of oceans past/present. Cycles of major/minor constituents, including carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, silicon, oxygen/their isotopes. Role of cycles in climate system. prereq: [Chem 1021, Chem 1022] or instr consent
ESCI 8801 - Geomicrobiology
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Course Equivalencies: 02201
Prerequisites: One semester college level biology
Typically offered: Every Spring
Geosphere/biosphere interactions over temporal/spatial scales. Global biogeochemical cycling, microbe-metal interactions, microbial paleobiology, environmental geomicrobiology, life detection, habitability of planets. prereq: One semester college level biology
ESCI 5302 - Isotope Geology
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Grading Basis: A-F or Aud
Typically offered: Every Fall
Theory and uses of radioactive, radiogenic, and stable isotopes in geology. Radioactive dating, geothermometry, and tracer techniques in geologic processes. prereq: 3303W or instr consent
ESCI 5351 - Geochemical Modeling of Aqueous Systems
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Typically offered: Spring Odd Year
Using mass transfer reaction path models to assess chemical evolution of natural fluids, hydrothermal alteration processes, and formation of hydrothermal ore deposits. prereq: 4401
ESCI 5353 - Electron Microprobe Theory and Practice
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Course Equivalencies: 01780 - Geo 5353/MatS 5353
Typically offered: Periodic Fall
Characterizing solid materials with electron beam instrumentation, including reduction of X-ray data to chemical compositions. prereq: [One yr chem, one yr physics] or instr consent
ESCI 5503 - Advanced Petrology
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Typically offered: Fall Odd Year
Quantitative approach to modern igneous/metamorphic petrology. Emphasizes thermodynamics of minerals/melts and with applications to phase diagrams, thermobarometry, melting relationships, and energetics of petrologic mass transfer. prereq: 2302, CHEM 1061, CHEM 1065, [MATH 1372 or MATH 1272 or MATH 1572]
ESCI 5705 - Limnogeology and Paleoenvironment
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Typically offered: Periodic Fall
Within-lake, hydrogeologic, and landscape (geological/biological) processes that lead to formation of various proxy records of paleoenvironment. Systems approach to physical, geochemical, biogeochemical, and biotic proxies. Basic principles, case studies. Emphasizes how proxy records relate to paleoclimate. prereq: instr consent
ESCI 4211 - Solid Earth Geophysics I
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Grading Basis: A-F or Aud
Typically offered: Every Fall
Basic elasticity, basic seismology, and physical structure of the Earth's crust and deep interior. prereq: 2201, Phys 1302
ESCI 4212 - Solid Earth Geophysics II
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Grading Basis: A-F or Aud
Typically offered: Every Spring
Dynamics of the solid Earth, mostly mantle and core; seismic tomography, geothermal measurements, gravity, time-dependent deformation of the Earth, computer modeling. prereq: 2201, Phys 1302
ESCI 5201 - Time-Series Analysis of Geological Phenomena
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Grading Basis: A-F or Aud
Typically offered: Periodic Fall
Time-series analysis of linear and nonlinear geological and geophysical phenomena. Examples drawn from ice age cycles, earthquakes, climatic fluctuations, volcanic eruptions, atmospheric phenomena, thermal convection and other time-dependent natural phenomena. Modern concepts of nonlinear dynamics and complexity theory applied to geological phenomena. prereq: Math 2263 or instr consent
ESCI 5203 - Mineral and Rock Physics
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Typically offered: Periodic Spring
Physical properties of minerals and rocks as related to the composition and dynamics of the Earth's crust, mantle, and core. prereq: 2201, Phys 1302
ESCI 5204 - Geostatistics and Inverse Theory
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Typically offered: Fall Odd Year
Statistical treatment of geological and geophysical data. Statistical estimation. Stochastic processes/fields. Non-linear/non-assumptive error analysis. Cluster analysis. Eigenvalue-eigenvector methods. Regional variables. Correlograms and kriging. Theoretical framework of linear geostatistics and geophysical inverse theory. prereq: Stat 3011 or instr consent
ESCI 8203 - Environmental Geophysics
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Course Equivalencies: 02196 - ESci 4203/ESci 8203
Typically offered: Every Fall
Seismic exploration (reflection/refraction). Potential techniques (gravity/magnetics), electrical techniques of geophysical exploration. prereq: Phys 1301 or equivalent
ESCI 8204 - Geomagnetism and Paleomagnetism
Credits: 3.0 [max 3.0]
Course Equivalencies: 02197
Prerequisites: 2201, Phys 1302, [Math 1272 or #]
Typically offered: Spring Even Year
Present geomagnetic field at Earth's surface, secular variation, geomagnetic field reversals. Physical/chemical basis of paleomagnetism. Origin of natural remanent magnetization, mineralogy of magnetic minerals, magnetic polarity stratigraphy, apparent polar wander, environmental magnetism. prereq: 2201, Phys 1302, [Math 1272 or instr consent]
ESCI 4702 - General Hydrogeology
Credits: 4.0 [max 4.0]
Typically offered: Every Spring
Theory of groundwater geology, hydrologic cycle, watershed hydrology, Darcy's law, governing equations of groundwater motion, flow net analysis, analog models, groundwater resource evaluation/development. Applied analysis of steady and transient equations of groundwater motion and chemical transport. Chemistry of natural waters. prereq: [concurrent registration is required (or allowed) in CHEM 1062, concurrent registration is required (or allowed) in CHEM 1066, MATH 1271, PHYS 1201] or instr consent
ESCI 5971 - Field Hydrogeology
Credits: 2.0 [max 2.0]
Course Equivalencies: 01356
Typically offered: Every Summer
Aquifer, vadoze zone, and surface water hydrology field techniques. Shallow soil boring and sampling. Well installation. Single/multiple well aquifer testing. Ground water sampling for chemical analysis. Weather data collection, hydrogeologic mapping, water balance calculation. prereq: instr consent