New Major Offered in Environmental Sciences

Issue Date: 
March 14, 2016

The University of Pittsburgh will introduce a new Bachelor of Science degree in environmental science this fall. The University’s Department of Geology and Planetary Science, reflecting its increased focus on environmental research, recently made two substantial changes: updating its name to Department of Geology and Environmental Science and developing the new degree option.

“Our faculty expertise has expanded into new research areas related to the environment and climate over the last several years. Developing an undergraduate program in environmental science and changing the name of the department were obvious steps forward for both the department and the University,” said Mark Abbott, chair and professor in the department, which is in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

In 2013, the department conducted an external review, and outside faculty evaluators assessed that the department was already significantly engaged in environmental science research—and had the potential to do more, said Associate Professor Emily Elliott.

From this initial idea, departmental faculty members created a strategic plan and began to redesign established classes and form new ones while determining the environmental science major’s focus. The new environmental science major joins existing majors in the department, which offers a geology (BS) degree as well as an environmental studies (BA) degree that is more interdisciplinary, incorporating areas such as environmental history and economics, along with a fundamental understanding of environmental issues.

Elliott says that the environmental science major will have four areas of focus: hydrology, geology, ecology, and climate dynamics. The major will include the impact of humans on these Earth systems. Students will be required to develop a fundamental knowledge of chemistry, physics, and biology and to apply that knowledge to environmental systems.

Ongoing fieldwork in the department takes place on six continents and covers a wide range of topics, including climate and environmental change, water sustainability and green infrastructure, energy geoscience, surface processes, tectonics, volcanic hazards, and environmental biogeochemistry, among others. The department comprises 11 tenure-stream faculty, three lecturers, about 40 graduate students, and 200 undergraduates.