Feb 27, 2024  
Graduate Catalog | 2017-2018 
Graduate Catalog | 2017-2018 Previous Edition

Earth Sciences, M.S.

The Department of Geography and Earth Sciences offers a Master of Science in Earth Sciences degree with opportunities for study and research in the areas of geology, hydrology,  atmospheric science, environmental science, remote sensing, and geospatial analysis. We also offer, in conjunction with the College of Engineering, a Ph.D. in Infrastructure and Environmental Systems (INES) .

The Department of Geography and Earth Sciences offers Earth Sciences graduate students the opportunity to pursue both applied and academic research through access to extensive field, laboratory, and computing facilities.

The Earth Sciences faculty offer courses and are active in research areas that include surface and groundwater hydrology, vadose zone processes, geochemistry, marine geology and volcanology, biogeochemistry, mineralogy, structural geology, applied geophysics, remote sensing, soil science, Quaternary geology, surficial processes, fluvial processes, depositional environments, biodiversity, landscape ecology, urban ecology, sustainability, forestry, clastic and carbonate sedimentology, basin analysis, stratigraphy, coastal geology, paleoecology, macro- and micropaleontology, environmental geology, applied climatology, global fire modeling, biogeophysical modeling, climate model evaluation, terrestrial carbon cycle, aerosol physics and chemistry, air quality, renewable energies, numerical weather prediction, severe weather, tropical meteorology, and environmental epidemiology.

The program is designed to address a range of student needs and to be completed in two years of full-time study. Graduates of the program will employ their expertise in a wide variety of activities and will be prepared for careers such as environmental consultants, geologists in the energy and mining industries, regulators and applied practitioners in governmental agencies, and earth science teachers in secondary schools. The M.S. in Earth Sciences also prepares students for admission to traditional Geology, Atmospheric, Earth, and Environmental Sciences Ph.D. programs, as well as interdisciplinary Ph.D. programs such as Infrastructure and Environmental Systems.

Additional Admission Requirements

(Requirements in addition to Graduate School admission requirements)

It is the policy of the Department to provide equal opportunities to all students regardless of race, creed, color, sex, or national origin. The Department requires applicants to demonstrate evidence of suitability for the program.

All applications for admission are reviewed by the Earth Sciences Graduate Committee. The Department admits applicants on a competitive basis as space in the program allows.

  • Grade Point Average (GPA): The Department expects an overall GPA of at least 3.0. However, exceptions may be made if the other elements of the application are strong.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Three letters of reference are required. Letters from college or university teachers who have worked with and/or taught applicants are preferred. These letters are evaluated on the basis of how well the applicant is suited in terms of intellect, preparation, maturity, and motivation to perform graduate work.
  • Personal Essays: Applicants must write a personal essay which directly addresses reasons for the desire to conduct graduate work in Earth Sciences as well as the desire to participate in the M.S. program at UNC Charlotte. Applicants should comment on their expectations regarding the benefits of an M.S. in Earth Sciences and how the program at UNC Charlotte fits their career and/or professional goals and how they would benefit from and contribute to the M.S. in Earth Sciences at UNC Charlotte. Lastly, applicants should identify at least three (3) potential advisors with whom they would like to work, and why those advisors would be ideal. Applicants are encouraged to contact potential advisors prior to submitting their application. The essay is very important in determining the applicant’s commitment to graduate education and to a professional career in earth sciences or a related field. Careful preparation of the essay is time well spent.
  • Scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE): In general the Department expects applicants to score above the 50th percentile on each exam section with minimum scores of 300 on the combined verbal and quantitative portions (equivalent to a minimum combined score of 1000 if taken before 2011). Lower scores will not automatically exclude applicants if the remainder of the applicant’s file is strong.
  • Transcripts of College Coursework: The transcripts are evaluated on the basis of performance across a range of earth and environmental sciences, physical sciences, and mathematics courses in order to determine the applicant’s preparation for graduate level coursework.
  • Additional Requirements for International Applicants: Scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) Exam: International applicants whose native language is not English must earn a total score of at least 83 (Internet-based) or 557 (paper-based) on the Test of English as a Foreign Language Exam.  This requirement does not apply to U.S. citizens or native English speakers.

Additional Prerequisite Requirements

(Minimum requirements in addition to those enforced by the Graduate School)

All prospective graduate students must demonstrate competence in undergraduate subject matter in their area of study. While the department does not require that applicants have a degree in Earth Sciences, prospective graduate students should provide evidence that they are prepared to immediately take full advantage of graduate level coursework in geology, hydrology, atmospheric science, environmental science, remote sensing, or geospatial analysis.

Students applying to the program should, at a minimum, be familiar with the concepts and materials offered in courses such as: Introductory Physical Geography or Physical Geology, Introductory Chemistry, Introductory Physics, and calculus-based Mathematics. These courses or their equivalents are required for admission to the UNC Charlotte M.S. in Earth Sciences program.

All decisions concerning the equivalency of courses in an applicant’s transcript to those listed as minimum requirements for entry in the M.S. in Earth Sciences are the responsibility of the Graduate Committee and the Department Chair.

Early Entry Program

Exceptional undergraduate students at UNC Charlotte may apply for the Early Entry Program and begin work toward the graduate degree before completion of the baccalaureate degree.  See the Undergraduate Catalog for details and requirements.  Also see the Degree Requirements and Academic Policies  section of the Graduate Catalog for more information about Early Entry Programs.

Degree Requirements

The program requires a minimum of 36 hours of graduate credit.  Students must complete at least 18 of the 36 credit hours in courses at the 6000-level or above.  Of these, at least two credit hours will consist of ESCI 6600  and at least 9 credit hours will consist of ESCI 6900 .  

Up to 6 graduate credit hours may be accepted as transfer credit.  Only courses with grades of A or B earned at an accredited university are eligible.  Transfer credits are not automatic and require the approval of the Graduate Program Director and the Graduate School.  The amount of transfer credit may not exceed the limit set by the Graduate School (6 credit hours).

It is anticipated that students primarily select courses from the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences but may also choose coursework from biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and physics in support of particular emphases within the program.  For example, certain geo-technology or environmental engineering courses in Civil and Environmental Engineering may be appropriate for the student pursuing problems in environmental earth sciences.  Students examining the interaction of geology and the biosphere may include ecology or botany courses in the Department of Biological Sciences or organic chemistry courses in the Department of Chemistry in their program of study.  Students must meet other departments’ course prerequisite requirements or receive permission from the instructor before registering for out-of-department coursework.

Students are expected to achieve grades of A or B in all coursework taken for graduate credit and must have at least an average of B (3.0) in order to graduate.  An accumulation of more than two grades of C results in suspension of the student’s enrollment in the graduate program.  A grade of U results in the immediate suspension of the student’s enrollment in the graduate program.  Readmission to the program requires approval of the Graduate Program Director, Department Chair, and Dean of the Graduate School.


A student’s advisor guides the student through the design and implementation of a program of study and research tailored to the student’s specific needs and career goals. The advisor generally is available to the student for advice on academic and other problems. An advisor is assigned by the Graduate Program Director to each student at the time of their admission into the program. Every effort is made to match students with advisors who have similar research interests. Students may change advisors by obtaining advanced permission from the faculty member (i.e., the new advisor) with whom they wish to work. No student will be allowed to register for courses without permission of his/her advisor.

Plan of Study

All students are required to formulate a complete plan for their M.S. before completion of the 2nd semester for full-time students, or before the completion of 18 credit hours for part-time students. This plan includes at a minimum the names of the student’s research committee members, a plan of study for all coursework that will be completed during the degree, and at least one proposal presentation for ESCI 6900 . The plan of study must be approved by all committee members as well as the Earth Sciences Graduate Program Director, and serves as a guide to coursework and research while at UNC Charlotte.


All final research projects are evaluated by a faculty committee known as the research committee. Research committees must have a minimum of three members composed of the graduate faculty of the department or associated departments. Additional members are acceptable and in many cases outside members, other departments, or internship coordinators from off-campus agencies are advisable.

Earth Sciences Research

All M.S. in Earth Sciences students must complete 9 credit hours of ESCI 6900 - Earth Sciences Research . Students can pursue research experiences that are appropriate to individual student’s interests and experience, departmental faculty resources and the availability of opportunities that exist to work with allied agencies or clients on or off campus. While it is possible to carry out more than one project to satisfy the 9 credit requirement, one of the research projects must constitute at least 6 credit hours.

For research projects of 6 or more credit hours, students must prepare and orally present a written research proposal that clearly outlines the purpose and scope of their research.  In consultation with the student’s advisor, this document may be prepared as a formal thesis.  At the presentation, students should be prepared to respond to questions from their research committee, including questions on general topics addressed in their prior coursework.  The proposal presentation must be completed before the beginning of the 3rd semester for full-time students.  The final results of all research projects must be presented in a written research document (or thesis) in a format agreed upon by the student’s committee.  That document must be formally approved by the student’s research committee.  Research projects that constitute 6 or more credit hours must also be orally defended (see below).

Admission to Candidacy

An application for admission to candidacy should be filed upon: (1) successful completion of at least 18 credit hours of graduate work, (2) successful presentation of the research proposal, and (3) no later than four weeks prior to the beginning of the semester in which the students expects to complete all requirements for the degree, including the oral project defense. Completed forms should be forwarded to the Graduate School.

Defense of the Research Project

When the advisor is satisfied that the student’s research and writing has progressed sufficiently the research document is provided to the other members of the research committee. If they agree that the document is ready for a defense, an oral exam is scheduled. The advisor must then formally notify every member of the Department’s graduate faculty of the date, time, place and the topic (title with abstract) of the defense. A copy of the document to be defended will be placed in the Geography and Earth Sciences office one week before the defense for review by all interested faculty.

Graduate Coursework

The M.S. in Earth Sciences graduate program generally follows a traditional numbering scheme with 5000 and 6000 level courses. The 5000-level numbers identify courses that cover accepted bodies of knowledge within the earth sciences with the emphasis placed on mastery and critical assessment of the theoretical and empirical foundations within the discipline. The 6000-level courses are divisible into three categories. (1) The first category is the Earth Systems topic courses, wherein graduate students review and analyze the dominant current working hypotheses that drive contemporary research within conceptual areas such as geodynamics, global biogeochemical cycles, climate change, severe weather dynamics, or urban ecology. (2) The second 6000-level category is the common core seminar course, wherein graduate students discuss holistic themes and discipline-specific issues in the Earth Sciences over the course of two separate Fall semesters. (3) The third 6000-level category is the directed research courses which provide the framework for graduate students to complete the research requirements within the program and also identifies the area of concentration of the directed research.


Assistantships are much like a part-time job for the student. As we try to find work settings that fit the student’s academic interest, these assistantships can also offer valuable training opportunities and work experience.  The nature of a research assistantship depends entirely on the needs of the department or supervising faculty member.  Teaching assistantships are assigned on the basis of the student’s academic background.

Graduate assistantships are arranged for either one entire semester or for an entire academic year (2 semesters or 9 months). They are normally scheduled for 16 weeks per semester and the student is expected to work 20 hours per week.  The department makes every effort to provide funding to every full-time student in the program.