UC Santa Cruz offers new major in environmental sciences

UC Santa Cruz has approved a new major in environmental sciences leading to a B.S. degree. An interdepartmental program with an emphasis on the physical sciences, the new major will teach students how to apply fundamental concepts of chemistry, physics, and mathematics to environmental problems in areas such as climate, pollution, and water resources.

Jointly run by the Departments of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Ocean Sciences, the environmental sciences major will begin enrolling students in fall 2018. Patrick Chuang, professor of earth and planetary sciences, and Raphael Kudela, professor of ocean sciences, led the development of the new program.

"The quantitative approach and focus on physical sciences distinguish this major from related programs," Chuang said. "I've seen many students struggling to find the right major for them, and I saw the need for a program rooted in the physical sciences that applies those tools to environmental issues."

The primary areas of study within the new environmental sciences major include climate and climate change; global cycles of water, carbon, mercury, and other elements ("biogeochemical cycles"); water resources and water quality; oceans (physical, chemical, and biological oceanography); and atmospheric science (meteorology, air quality, and atmospheric chemistry).

The new program is complementary to the environmental studies major, based in the Social Sciences Division, which emphasizes social, political, and economic aspects of environmental issues, as well as ecology, conservation biology, and sustainability.

The core faculty of the environmental sciences major are primarily from the Departments of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Ocean Sciences. Faculty from other departments, such as Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology, may also be involved. In addition to new courses created for the environmental sciences curriculum, the Ocean Sciences Department, which has not previously offered an undergraduate degree, is revamping several courses to support the new major.

"We're very excited to see this new degree move forward," Kudela said. "We expect the program to evolve and to be shaped by the students and their interests."

Graduates of the program will be prepared for a variety of careers in areas such as environmental consulting, industry compliance, and government agencies, as well as for graduate or professional school in a wide range of fields.

"Our survey of potential employers indicated a real need for people with a solid grounding in the quantitative sciences that they can bring to bear on environmental issues," Chuang said.