About the Department

Geological phenomena affect our daily lives as well as the future of our planet. Fundamental knowledge in the Earth and planetary sciences has direct bearing on matters of urgent interest to the public, to policy makers, and to other scientists. The threats of a major earthquake in California, a volcanic eruption in the northwestern U.S., or an asteroid impact are ever present. A naturally fluctuating climate is being modified by human activities in ways that we don’t understand with consequences that we cannot predict.

Research in Brown University’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences advances fundamental knowledge in the earth and planetary sciences and addresses these broad and general problems through our five major thematic areas:

  1. Geophysics
  2. Climate and environment
  3. The planetary perspective
  4. Properties and processes of geological materials
  5. Environmental sciences

Environmental science studies can also be completed through our joint Ph.D. program which unites Brown faculty with the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, MA.


The range of research addressed within the department is both fundamental and diverse.

One broad aspect of this research is the dynamics of the solid Earth and Planets. The Department participates in the acquisition and interpretation of spacecraft observations from the nearby Moon and Mars to the icy satellites of the outer Solar System, and studies the interior of the Earth beneath oceanic spreading centers where fundamental transfers of heat and mass from the mantle to the surface occur.

These large-scale processes are mediated by mineral-grain-scale physical and chemical mechanisms that are studied both conceptually and in the laboratory. The Earth system history researchers are leaders in developing techniques to measure climate change in marine and terrestrial sediments on time-scales ranging from ice ages to hurricanes.

Research on environmental issues ranges from the impacts of land use on water resources to the frequency of hurricane strikes to the effects of human activity on Narragansett Bay. This highly interdisciplinary research promotes strong collaborations between faculty members. It involves experimental, observational and theoretical studies that utilize state-of-the-art laboratory, analytical, and computational facilities.

Among the emerging new areas of exciting research and teaching being considered by the Department are environmental geochemistry, the nature of reactions at microscopic surfaces, active tectonic processes, physical volcanology, dynamics of climate change, and the biogeochemistry of primitive environments.

Consistent with the interdisciplinary nature of geological sciences, the Department has provided leadership in teaching and research in several interdepartmental and interdisciplinary programs. The Department works closely with the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society  and is currently working with IBES to expand environmental science research on campus.

The department is also a partner in the joint Brown-MBL (Marine Biological Laboratory) graduate program. In addition, there are numerous collaborations outside the University: there are strong ties with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) as well as the geology and geophysics faculty at the University of Rhode Island.

National Standing

Our Department is widely recognized for excellence in teaching and research. Peer units at other universities include Caltech, MIT, WHOI, Stanford, and Washington University. The success of the programs is indicated by the National Research Council (NRC, 1995) Report Research-Doctoral Programs in the United States: Continuity and Change, which compared the top 100 geological sciences departments in the US. The NRC report ranked the effectiveness of the graduate program as eighth (8.5) in the country and the perceived quality of the faculty as twelfth (12.0), with only one other department of comparable size in the top twelve. The per capita citation rate of the faculty was ranked sixth (6.0) in the nation.

Members of the faculty have been recognized for outstanding accomplishments by election to fellowship in major scientific societies, such as the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Geological Society of America, and the American Association for Advancement of Science. Faculty awards include RI Professor of the Year, Outstanding Educator by the Association of Women Geologists, Guggenheim and Sloan Fellows and the Bowen and Macelwane Awards from the AGU. The faculty also helps shape the future direction of the science through service as members and chairs of many national and international advisory committees and through leadership positions in scientific societies and scientific expeditions.