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Earth Systems Science Major

About the Major

The Earth Systems Science major prepares students to understand and solve critical challenges facing our environment including:

  • Climate change
  • Water and soil pollution
  • Conservation of biological diversity
  • Management of natural resources.

The major is highly interdisciplinary, integrating the study of fundamental physical, chemical, and biological processes that shape our environment with practical applications to real-world problems. Core courses within the major provide students with a firm foundation in the fundamentals of chemistry, biology, hydrology, ecology and Earth sciences, while upper division elective courses allow students the flexibility to pursue a variety of topics related to Earth and environmental systems.

This major emphasizes an integrated approach to Earth Systems Science, incorporating field studies, laboratory experiments and computations. Coursework in the social sciences exposes students to the political, economic and societal implications of human interactions with the environment and to the challenges of environmental sustainability.

There has never been a better time to study Earth Systems Science. In addition to interdisciplinary and flexible coursework, students have opportunities for internships, summer jobs, and research experiences through the UC Merced Sierra Nevada Research Institute and partnerships with Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, the U.S. Forest Service, and other agencies. The location of UC Merced in the San Joaquin Valley near the Sierra Nevada offers a diverse real-world laboratory for studying the natural environment and how it is affected by human activity. From local opportunities in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and San Joaquin Valley to protect endangered species and sustainably manage soil, water, and ecological resources, to state and national opportunities to shape informed policies for preventing and adapting to climate change, environmental professionals with science backgrounds are increasingly in demand.

The Program

Unique aspects of the Earth Systems Science major are its breadth and flexibility, and coursework that emphasizes the application of fundamental science concepts to current environmental challenges. Lower division coursework emphasizes foundation courses in physical, chemical and biological sciences, and mathematics, with a choice of a lower division elective science course. Upper division requirements consist of five core courses that provide students with a balance of key concepts in Earth Systems Science, and exposure to environmental science and policy. In the upper division, students choose three elective courses to tailor their program to their individual interests.

Many courses in the program contain laboratory, field, or computer-based components. An upper division seminar highlights the latest research in interdisciplinary Earth Systems Science. General education coursework in communications and economics prepares majors to apply their quantitative science skills in the job market or in further studies at the graduate level. Students participate in research, internship, or service learning activities with faculty as part of their undergraduate studies.


Graduates of this major will have a strong background in the theory and application of Earth Systems Science, and the ability to apply their knowledge to diverse subjects. They will be well prepared for either graduate studies or jobs in the areas of environmental conservation, ecosystem and natural resource management and science, and aspects of agricultural sciences. Additionally, Earth Systems Science is an excellent foundation for professional careers in law, policy and administration that involve the environmental sciences.

This major responds to the need to prepare a future workforce with both foundational science training and practical ability to solve and manage complex environmental problems and sustainable resources in an increasingly interdisciplinary and interconnected world.


Requirements, Courses, & Learning Outcomes

Current information regarding the requirements and program learning outcomes for the Earth Systems Science major can be found at the Office of the Registrar Catalog website.

Earth Systems Science courses can be found at the Office of the Registrar Catalog Course website


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