Department of Earth & Climate Sciences

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Masters of Science in Geosciences

Graduate Coordinator -- Prof. Karen Grove

Graduate Geology Content Inquiries: Prof. Karen Grove
Graduate Meteorology Content Inquiries: Prof. Dave Dempsey

Graduate Oceanography Content Inquiries: Prof. Petra Dekens

Program Scope

The Master of Science in Geosciences is an advanced, postgraduate degree that prepares students for careers in private industry, government, teaching in community colleges, or for continuing postgraduate studies leading to a doctoral degree at another university. Although there are no formal concentrations within the program, students choose an area of research from within the fields of the geologic, atmospheric, or oceanographic sciences and select a prospective advisor and course of study.

The Earth & Climate Sciences Department includes faculty with expertise in geology, meteorology, and oceanography—fields that are critical to understanding fundamental earth processes and many environmental problems, such as air and water contamination, coastal erosion, and climate change. Courses are offered in sedimentology and stratigraphy, petrology, geochemistry, landscape evolution, active tectonics, Quaternary geology, hydrogeology, groundwater contamination, engineering geology, physical oceanography, paleoceanography, climate change, and severe storms analysis and prediction and a number of areas in theoretical and applied meteorology.

Recent graduate research projects have focused on: Active Tectonics, Hydrogeology, Geomorphology, Engineering Geology, Sedimentology, Petrology and Geochemistry, Paleontology, Physical Oceanography, Meteorology, and Paleoceanography. We encourage students to work on interdisciplinary projects and develop interactions and collaborations with other departments in the university, other institutions and agencies, and private industry.

All students take courses in their respective areas of emphasis plus a common core of three courses: GEOL/METR/OCN 700, a multidisciplinary seminar that exposes students to current geoscientific research and literature, and GEOL/METR/OCN 701 and 702, that prepare students for thesis research, quantitative analyses and scientific writing. M.S. thesis projects are expected to have a rigorous base in a discipline in the geosciences; depending on the particular field and focus of study, these projects can involve laboratory research, field work, theory development, and/or numerical simulations or model development.

We strongly recommend that students plan a course of study before beginning the M.S. program, in consultation with a faculty advisor and the graduate coordinator.

Career Outlook

Geoscientific investigations provide the key to finding new sources of useful earth materials and to understanding fundamental earth processes. Geoscientists operate on the forefront of new developments and ideas in these fields and through dissemination of their work contribute to better solutions to geoscientific issues relevant to society, and the development of policy for resource management, environmental protection, and hazard assessment. Dwindling energy, mineral, and water resources, and increasing environmental concern about global issues such as climate variability and change, present challenges that will continue to create a demand for geoscientific expertise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects faster than average job growth in the geosciences, and the median annual salary for workers in this field for 2010 was $93,380.

In addition to preparing students for advanced work as professional geologists, meteorologists, and oceanographers, the M.S. in Geosciences is an excellent preparation for a community college or high school teaching career, or for entry into a doctoral program leading to a career in university teaching and/or research. The increased emphasis on science in high schools and the new California mandate for earth science education in the elementary science curriculum provide many opportunities for teachers trained in the geosciences. Students interested in an Earth and Planetary Science credential should contact the Credential Advisor in the Geosciences Department. Graduate students have opportunities to gain teaching skills through employment as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) or through involvement with programs on campus such as SF-ROCKS (high school outreach program in the Earth & Climate Sciences Department) and the GK-12 program (partners graduate students in the College of Science and Engineering with in-service teachers in San Francisco). Some students gain additional experience by lecturing in the department after they graduate. 

Graduates in Geology or Meteorology are currently working in a wide range of fields in the earth sciences. For the next decade, geologists will find the greatest opportunities in the broad areas of environmental and engineering geology; for example, surface and groundwater hydrology studies aimed at characterizing water resources and remediating toxic sites, assessing earthquake and landslide hazards, developing restoration plans for river and coastal environments, and evaluating sites for urban planning or construction. There are also many positions available in the petroleum and mineral exploration industries. Meteorologists will find opportunities in short and long-range weather forecasting, air pollution assessment, and global climate change research. Oceanographers move on to PhD programs, are employed by government agencies that work on climate change and coastal management, or consulting firms specializing for instance in coastal dynamics, ocean observations, and/or alternative energy. Recent job trends suggest that the strongest candidates, regardless of the area of specialization, will have a master’s degree, several years of experience, and an interdisciplinary background with strong chemistry, physics, mathematics, and computer skills. Geologists, meteorologists, and oceanographers in the San Francisco Bay Area are employed by a very large number of government agencies, academic institutions and private firms.

Admission to the Program

To be considered for admission to the master's program as a classified graduate student, applicants must:

  • Satisfy the university admission requirements.
  • Have a bachelor's degree in one of the geosciences (geology, meteorology, or oceanography).
  • Have a 3.0 GPA in their earned undergraduate degree or last 60 semester (90 quarter) units completed
  • Satisfactorily complete the Graduate Record Examination general test.
  • Provide letters of recommendation from at least two people familiar with the applicant's previous academic work and/or professional accomplishments.
  • Submit a statement of purpose.

Letters of recommendation and statement of purpose should be submitted directly to the appropriate graduate coordinator in the Department of Earth & Climate Sciences. Other materials should be submitted to the Graduate Studies Division of the university. Materials should be submitted by March 1 for admission the following fall semester and by November 1 for the following spring semester.

Applicants lacking the appropriate background (i.e., a degree in one of the geosciences) may be admitted as conditionally classified graduate students. These students must complete additional course work that will not be counted toward the graduate requirements. Conditionally admitted students may take courses but cannot file a Advancement to Candidacy (ATC) form until all deficiencies have been satisfied.

Written English Proficiency Requirement

Each graduate student is required to demonstrate an acceptable level of written English proficiency on two levels:

Level One: satisfied by obtaining a score better than 3.5 on the analytical writing component of the GRE, If the score is 3.5 or less, students will be required to take SCI 614 (Graduate Writing Skills) during their first semester of graduate studies. Level Two: satisfied by completion of a written thesis (GEOL or METR 898).

Advancement to Candidacy or Graduate Approved Program

To be advanced to candidacy, each student must:

  • Satisfy level one of the written English proficiency requirement.
  • Satisfy all course deficiencies stipulated upon entrance into the master's program.
  • Choose a faculty adviser and complete a research proposal that has been approved by the student's thesis committee.
  • File an Advancement to Candidacy (ATC) form.



Courses are 3 units unless otherwise indicated. On-line course descriptions are available.

Courses Units
GEOL/METR/OCN 700 Seminar in Geosciences (1)  
GEOL/METR/OCN  701 Research Methods in Geosciences
GEOL/METR/OCN  702 Quantitative Methods in Geosciences
GEOL/METR/OCN  897 Research Project (6)
GEOL/METR/OCN  898 Master's Thesis
Upper division or graduate elective courses on advisement 13
Minimum total 30

All students must present an oral thesis defense to Department of Earth & Climate Sciences faculty and students.

Elective units are chosen from courses offered by the Department of Earth & Climate Sciencess or other university departments, and must be selected by students in consultation with their faculty advisers. At least six of these units must be courses numbered 700 or higher, and at least six must be courses offered in the Earth & Climate SciencesDepartment.

Students can receive their graduate degree when they complete all course requirements and the thesis committee approves the written thesis and oral thesis defense.

Course Descriptions


Course ID Title  
GEOL 700 Graduate Seminar in Geosciences (2)  
GEOL 701 Research Methods in Geosciences (3)  
GEOL 702 Quantitative Methods in Geosciences (3)  
GEOL 726 Mineralogy & Petrology II (4)  
GEOL 741 Electron Microscopy (4)  
GEOL 750 Geomorphology (4)  
OCN 710 Coastal Processes (3)  
GEOL 754 Quaternary Climate and Soils (3)  
GEOL 756 Science of Anthropogenic Climate Change (4)  
GEOL 770 Neotectonics (3)  
GEOL 775 Hydrogeology (4)  
GEOL 776 Groundwater Contamination (3)  
GEOL 780 Geochemistry (4)  
GEOL 785 Ore Deposits (4)  
GEOL 792 Our Dynamic Classroom (1)  
GEOL 795 Selected Topics in the Geosciences (1-3)  
GEOL 795 Variable topics:
  GEOL 795 Paleoceanography (1)  
  GEOL 795 Rock Mechanics in Geomorphology (2)  
  GEOL 795 Tectonic Geomorphology (3)  
  GEOL 795 Vadose Zone Hydrology (3)  
GEOL 896 Directed Reading in the Geosciences (3)  
GEOL 897 Research Project (1-3)  
GEOL 897 Variable topics:
  GEOL 897 Research Project (1)  
  GEOL 897 Research Project (2)  
  GEOL 897 Research Project (3)  
GEOL 898 Master's Thesis (3)  
GEOL 899 Special Study (1-3)  
GEOL 899 Variable topics:
  GEOL 899 Special Study (1)  
  GEOL 899 Special Study (2)  
  GEOL 899 Special Study (3)  


Course ID Title  
METR 700 Graduate Seminar in Geosciences (2)  
METR 701 Research Methods in Geosciences (3)  
METR 702 Quantitative Methods in Geosciences (3)  
METR 715 Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere and Ocean (3)  
METR 756 Science of Anthropogenic Climate Change (4)  
METR 790 Consulting Meteorology and Oceanography (2)  
METR 792

Our Dynamic Classroom (1)

METR 798 Advanced Public Weather Forecasting (1-3)  
METR 798 Variable topics:
  METR 798 Advanced Public Weather Forecasting (1)  
  METR 798 Advanced Public Weather Forecasting (2)  
  METR 798 Advanced Public Weather Forecasting (3)  
METR 801 Weather Chart Analysis and Discussion (1)  
METR 810 Atmospheric and Oceanic Dynamics of Coastal Zones (3)  
METR 825 Synoptic Meteorology of Mid-Latitude Oceans (3)  
METR 835 Analysis and Prediction of Severe Storms (3)  
METR 850 Physics of the Atmosphere-Ocean Interface (3)  
METR 896 Directed Reading in the Geosciences (3)  
METR 897 Research Project (1-3)  
METR 897 Variable topics:
  METR 897 Research Project (1)  
  METR 897 Research Project (2)  
  METR 897 Research Project (3)  
METR 898 Master's Thesis (3)  
METR 899 Special Study (1-3)  
METR 899 Variable topics:
  METR 899 Special Study (1)  
  METR 899 Special Study (2)  
  METR 899 Special Study (3)  


Course ID Title  
OCN 700 Graduate Seminar in Geosciences (2)  
OCN 701 Research Methods in Geosciences (3)  
OCN 702 Quantitative Methods in Geosciences (3)  
OCN 710 Coastal Processes (3)  
OCN 720 Physical Oceanography (3)  
OCN 756 Science of Anthropogenic Climate Change (4)  
OCN 795 Paleoceanography (1)  
OCN 810 Atmospheric and Oceanic Dynamics of Coastal Zones (3)  
OCN 896 Directed Reading in the Geosciences (3)  
OCN 897 Research Project (1-3)  
OCN 897 Variable topics:
  OCN 897 Research Project (1)  
  OCN 897 Research Project (2)  
  OCN 897 Research Project (3)  
OCN 898 Master's Thesis (3)  
OCN 899 Special Study (1-3)  
OCN 899 Variable topics:
  OCN 899 Special Study (1)  
  OCN 899 Special Study (2)  
  OCN 899 Special Study (3)  

Space and facilities

The department has teaching and research laboratories and other facilities, including:

  1. Zeiss Ultra 55 Field emission scanning electron microscope with BSE and STEM detectors, Oxford INCA EDS and EBSD (using Channel 5 software), and Gatan MiniCL, and sputter and carbon coaters.
  2. Sedimentology laboratory with equipment for analyzing sediments and sedimentary rocks (e.g., equipment for grain-size analysis, microscopes, coring and bottom sampling equipment, water-sampling equipment).
  3. Transmitted and reflected light microscopes with 12 megapixel CCD camera for photomicrographs.
  4. Earthquake laboratory with surveying equipment for measuring active fault displacements.
  5. Weather graphics acquisition laboratory with computerized interactive workstations, real time data and facsimile map access, a satellite image acquisition system and a networked SUN Micro Lab networked to receive WXP, state-of-the-art weather graphics acquisition display and print programs made available to universities who commit faculty and infrastructure resources to the development of their atmospheric science programs.
  6. Micropaleontology laboratory with equipment for microfossil preparation and analysis.
  7. Water quality and soil-water physics laboratory, including an Ion Chromatograph, WP4 dewpoint potentiometer for developing soil moisture release curves, computer modeling suite (MODFLOW/SEAWAT, Hydrus 2D/3D, Matlab, and ArcGIS), soil/vadose zone sampling and monitoring equipment, submersible groundwater pump, and multiparameter water-quality meters.
  8. Clean space laboratory for preparing samples in minor element clean conditions.
  9. An Agilent 7890 Gas Chromatographer equipped with an FID, and autosampler, and both split/splitless and cool on-column injectors.
  10. A microbalance for weighing samples with a 1µg accuracy.
  11. Earth Systems Laboratory equipped with 13 Mac computers, scanners, laser printers.
  12. Meteorological library and student study rooms for geology and meteorology.
  13. Geologic sample preparation room equipped with thin section machines, rock saws, crushing and grinding equipment, shatterbox, ovens, mechanical and vibratory polishers, and related equipment.
  14. Bruker D8 ADVANCE powder x-ray diffractometer lab (shared with Chemistry Department).
  15. Weather station.

The department has access to several off-campus research and teaching facilities, including:

  1. Sierra Nevada Field Campus - classrooms, laboratory, and lodging facilities for course and research use.
  2. Romberg Tiburon Center (part of SFSU located about 30 miles from campus) -equipment for biological and physical oceanography; research vessel for estuarine studies.
  3. Richmond Field Station (part of UC Berkeley, located in the East Bay city of Richmond): numerous models to do physical experiments of real-world processes (e.g., flumes to simulate river processes) and pressure-test devices. 
  4. Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (part of a CSU consortium with SFSU, located about 90 miles from campus) - equipment for many aspects of oceanographic study and research, including research vessels for open-ocean and coastal waters studies; ten member faculty with expertise in biological, physical, chemical, and geological oceanography.

Library Resources

The library at SFSU has a collection of books and journals in the fields of geology, meteorology and oceanography. The Department of Earth & Climate Sciences' Fosberg-Quinn Library of Atmospheric and Earth Sciences contains additional textbooks and journals, including an historical collection of Monthly Weather Review and the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society back to the beginning of this century, manuscript weather maps, historical synoptic charts, Climatological Data, data archive for the Campus Weather Station, USGS topographic and geologic quadrangles for all 50 states, seismograph records for the campus seismograph station and many other holdings. Other, more complete geoscientific collections, are available nearby at the earth science libraries of UC Berkeley and Stanford University. The U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, and the California Academy of Science and California Geological Survey in San Francisco also have accessible library facilities.

Additional Available Equipment

Faculty and students frequently gain access to analytical facilities at other Bay Area geological institutions, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, Stanford University, and state and local government offices.  Many students take advantage of paying internship opportunities at these institutions.




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