Earth System Science Ph.D.

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Minimum Requirements for Earth System Science Ph.D.: 26 credits

Concentrations:  SustainabilityEcosystemsHydrologyAtmospheric and Climate SciencesCryosphereSolid Earth GeophysicsGeoscienceGeospatial Science

General University Requirements
Complete the graduate general university requirements.
Ph.D. Degree Requirements
Complete the Ph.D. degree requirements. 118
Earth System Science Program Requirements
Complete the following:
ESS F601Introduction to Earth System Science3
ESS F602Best Practices for Research in Alaska1
ESS F692PSeminar1
Complete one of the following:3-18
Atmospheric and Climate Sciences
Solid Earth Geophysics
Geospatial Science
13 credits of approved electives 2
Total Credits26-41

Requires 18 thesis credits.


Recommended courses from any of the concentrations or the methods and cross-cutting list.

Methods and Cross-cutting Course List

Methods and Cross-cutting Courses:
ACNS F629Geography of the Arctic and Circumpolar North3
ATM F601Introduction to Atmospheric Sciences3
ATM F610Analysis Methods in Meteorology and Climate3
ATM F625Physical Hydrometeorology3
ATM F680Climate Change Processes: Past, Present, Future4
BIOL F602Research Design3
BIOL F604Scientific Writing, Editing and Revising in the Biological Sciences3
BIOL F680Data Analysis in Biology3
CCS F612Traditional Ecological Knowledge3
CE F665Watershed Hydrology3
FISH F646Freshwater Habitat Dynamics3
GEOS F422Geoscience Applications of Remote Sensing3
GEOS F605Geochronology3
GEOS F606Volcanology3
GEOS F618Introduction to Geochemistry3
GEOS F622Digital Image Processing in the Geosciences3
GEOS F627Inverse Problems and Parameter Estimation3
GEOS F631Foundations of Geophysics4
GEOS F633Aqueous and Environmental Geochemistry3
GEOS F636Programming and Automation for Geoscientists2
GEOS F639Geodetic Imaging3
GEOS F653Palynology and Paleopalynology4
GEOS F657Microwave Remote Sensing3
GEOS F658Big Geospatial Data3
GEOS F659Visible and Infrared Remote Sensing3
GEOS F660The Dynamic Alaska Coastline3
GEOS F670Selected Topics in Volcanology2
GEOS F681Snow in the Environment3
NRM F435GIS Analysis4
NRM F647Sustainability in the Changing North3
NRM F613Resilience Internship2
NRM F638GIS Programming3
NRM F641Natural Resource Applications of Remote Sensing3
PHYS F628Digital Time Series Analysis3
PHYS F647Fundamentals of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics3
STAT F401Regression and Analysis of Variance4
STO F666Scientific Teaching2



This concentration encompasses scholarly and practical aspects of sustainability and society in Earth System Science with a specific emphasis on Alaska and the Arctic. The vision is to provide graduate training in interdisciplinary research to solve real-world problems, especially in building mutually respectful research partnerships with groups, organizations and communities outside the University.

Sustainability Concentration Requirements
Complete the following:
CCS F612Traditional Ecological Knowledge3
NRM F613Resilience Internship2
NRM F647Sustainability in the Changing North3
Complete one of the following:3
Perspectives on the North
Research Methods and Sources in the North
Northern Indigenous Peoples and Contemporary Issues
Geography of the Arctic and Circumpolar North
International Relations of the North
Comparative Indigenous Rights and Policies
Alaska Government and Politics
Arctic Politics and Governance
20th-century Circumpolar History
Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Sustainable Livelihoods and Community Well-being
Human Dimensions of Environmental Systems
Human-environment Research Methods
Political Ecology
Resource Management Planning
Graduate Seminar
Communicating Science
Total Credits11


The Ecosystems concentration in Earth System Science addresses the interactions of organisms with the transformation and flux of energy and matter. Inherently, ecosystem science is interdisciplinary, including ecology, natural history, statistics, chemistry, geology, geography, and hydrology. Students will therefore benefit from shared courses and seminars with other concentrations. Students enrolling in the Ecosystems concentration will pursue research and training in observing, modeling, and predicting processes including fluxes of water, energy, carbon, and nutrients, and many will focus on high-latitude ecosystems.

Ecosystems Concentration Requirements
Complete one of the following:3
Freshwater Habitat Dynamics
Landscape Ecology and Wildlife Habitat
Ecosystem Ecology
Vertebrate Paleontology
Arctic Vegetation Ecology: Geobotany
Vegetation Description and Analysis
Total Credits3


Understanding how water cycles through the Earth’s many systems fundamentally link hydrology to a broad range of scientific disciplines and societal needs. Focusing on water movement and storage in the Arctic brings particular intrigue and challenge regarding interactions with frozen ground, glacier runoff, freeze-thaw cycles, snowmelt, and river and lake ice dynamics.  Career opportunities for graduates of the Hydrology Concentration in Earth System Science include river flood forecasting, field and remote sensing hydrologist, water quality specialist, water resources management and policy, water supply treatment and distribution, stream and fish habitat restoration, and the opportunity to work as a cold-regions hydrologist with interdisciplinary science and resource management teams in Alaska and other northern regions. Graduates are prepared to hold positions in government, industry, consulting or academia.

Hydrology Concentration Requirements
Complete the following:
CE F665Watershed Hydrology3
Complete 10 credits from the following:10
Open Channel and River Engineering
Groundwater Hydrology
Methods and Cross-cutting course list
One graduate-level course approved by the student’s advisory committee
Total Credits13

Atmospheric and Climate Sciences

The field of atmospheric and climate science covers a wide variety of disciplines involving the physical and chemical properties and processes of the atmosphere. Current research in atmospheric sciences focuses on atmospheric dynamics, chemistry and biogeochemistry, air-sea-ice interactions, climate modeling, cloud and aerosol physics, radiative processes, mesoscale modeling, numerical weather prediction, aviation weather, and the upper atmosphere (stratosphere and mesosphere). The faculty are well-positioned to be a vibrant part of methods and cross-cutting education and research in the Earth System Science Program. 

Graduate students are an essential component of a research university and an integral component of the research activities across the campus at UAF, both in the experiments in the laboratory and the field as well as in data sciences, which includes modeling and analysis or weather and climate data. Research institutes and the CNSM provide excellent environments for research in atmospheric and climate sciences as well as multidisciplinary research with researchers spanning diverse expertise.

Atmospheric and Climate Sciences Concentration Requirements
Complete the following:
ATM F613Atmospheric Radiation3
ATM F615Cloud Physics3
ATM F645Atmospheric Dynamics3
ATM F646Atmospheric Dynamics II: Climate Dynamics3
Complete two of the following:6
Weather Analysis and Forecasting
Air-sea Interactions
Micrometeorology with Focus on Subarctic and Arctic Ecosystems
One graduate-level course (maximum 3 credits) approved by the student’s advisory committee
Total Credits18


The Cryopshereic Concentration is located within the geosphere cohort of ESS tracks. This concentration focuses on snow, sea ice, glaciers, and permafrost. Research within the Cryosphere Concentration is grounded in physics, mathematics, numerical modeling and data science. Methods and applications in Cryosphere seek to understand earth surface processes at high latitudes and how they are responding to ongoing climate change as well as associated impacts on both the built and natural environment. The courses and research associated with snow, sea ice, glaciers, and permafrost connect with the full spectrum of topics in the Earth System Science curriculum, including geospatial sciences, geosciences, climate science, hydrology, ecology, and sustainability.  The Cryosphere Concentration at UAF is strengthened by the expansive natural laboratory and faculty expertise. Ph.D. and MS coursework and graduate research will be conducted closely with the Geophysical Institute.

Cryosphere Concentration Requirements
Complete the following:
GEOS F631Foundations of Geophysics4
One course from the methods and cross-cutting list3
Complete two of the following:6
Sea Ice
Snow in the Environment
Ice Physics
One graduate-level course (maximum 4 credits) approved by the student’s advisory committee
Total Credits13

Solid Earth Geophysics

The Solid Earth Geophysics concentration of Earth System Science includes the disciplines of seismology, geodesy, volcanology, and infrasound, and it is grounded in physics, mathematics, computing, and data science. Methods and applications in Solid Earth Geophysics seek to characterize dynamic Earth processes and associated natural hazards relevant to Alaska and surrounding regions, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and landslides. Continuously recording instruments used in Solid Earth Geophysics, such as seismometers and GPS, capture a wide range of environmental activities and phenomena relevant to Earth System Science, in addition to human-caused events such as nuclear explosions.

Solid Earth Geophysics Concentration Requirements
Complete the following:
GEOS F631Foundations of Geophysics4
Complete 9 credits from the following:9
Applied Seismology
Geodetic Methods and Modeling
Selected Topics in Volcanology
Topics in Geophysics
Methods and Cross-cutting course list
One graduate-level course approved by the student’s advisory committee
Total Credits13


The Geoscience concentration falls within the geosphere cohort of ESS tracks with a focus on tectonics, paleontology, and petrology of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks. Methods and applications include reconstruction of past climates, ecosystems, and plate configurations, dating of geologic specimens, and locating economically valuable mineral deposits.

Geoscience Concentration Requirements
Complete 5 credits from the following:5
Advanced Petrology
Advanced Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
Methods and Cross-cutting course list
One graduate-level course approved by the student’s advisory committee
Total Credits5

Geospatial Science

The Geospatial Science concentration of Earth System Science includes the disciplines of visible to infrared and microwave (SAR and InSAR) remote sensing, Geographic Information Systems, and their applications in the area of geosciences, natural resource management, and environmental monitoring. It is grounded in geographic science, mathematics, computer science, and data science. Methods and applications in the Geospatial Science concentration seek to characterize our changing environment, inventory and management of natural resources, and mitigate risks from geo-hazards relevant to Alaska and surrounding regions. Continuous geospatial observations of our ever-changing environment and geo-hazards from space and air are essential components of Earth System Science, as they allow for detailed studies of processes and events across scales relevant to the associated disciplines.

Geospatial Science Concentration Requirements
Complete three of the following:9
Digital Image Processing in the Geosciences
Geologic Hazards and Natural Disasters
Geodetic Imaging
Microwave Remote Sensing
Big Geospatial Data
Visible and Infrared Remote Sensing
GIS Analysis
GIS Programming
Natural Resource Applications of Remote Sensing
Total Credits9

Catalog Department Overview ►

Admission Requirements

Complete the following admission requirements:

University Admission criteria apply to Earth System Science, notably, that incoming students must have an undergraduate degree in a suitable field of study. Admission to Earth System Science (without concentration) is determined by an admissions committee. Admission to Earth System Science with concentration is determined by an admissions committee established within each concentration. Furthermore, the following concentrations have specific admission requirements:

  • Hydrology: 1 year calculus, 1 year physics, and 1 year of either geology, chemistry, biology, or engineering

  • Atmospheric and Climate Sciences: 1 year calculus, differential equations, chemistry

  • Cryosphere and Solid Earth Geophysics: 1 year calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra (recommended: partial differential equations, computational physics)

Catalog Department Overview ►

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes are measurable statements that describe knowledge or skills achieved by students upon completion of the program.

Students graduating from this program will be able to:

  • Compose clear text consisting of cogent arguments aimed at multiple audiences: peer-reviewed publications, research reports, stakeholder communications and public audiences
  • Deliver a clear professional presentation for varied audiences (scientific, stakeholder and public) and field questions related to the presentation with confidence and poise
  • Analyze a research problem, identify the critical aspects, and devise appropriate methods to answer the questions and address problems that arise
  • Apply appropriate technical methods to their research problem, demonstrate critical thinking and defend their work
  • Follow ethical guidelines for all data collected and produced and for intellectual property
  • Identify an ethical dilemma and distinguish between ethical and unethical behavior
  • Demonstrate a depth of knowledge in their concentration
  • Demonstrate an acceptable level of understanding in critical subject matters
  • Demonstrate an acceptable level of understanding beyond their concentration
  • Demonstrate an acceptable level of awareness and respect for Indigenous knowledge