Chair’s Message

Welcome to the UK Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences!

Professor Dave Moecher, Chair

Our Department name has evolved over the past century (“Geology” to “Geological Sciences” to “Earth and Environmental Science”) in order to convey to the public and prospective students the continually expanding range of science carried out by geoscientists.  Many of us refer to ourselves simply as a “geologist”. But Professors Ed Woolery and Tiku Ravat in our department are best described as “geophysicists”. They record the passage of sound waves through rocks, or the magnetic and gravitational fields produced by rocks, then interpret those signals in terms of a logical subsurface model of the Earth. Professor Kevin Yeager is a sedimentary “geochemist”. Kevin measures the isotopic fingerprints preserved in sediments when they are deposited on the seafloor. Professors Alan Fryar and Audrey Sawer are “hydrogeologists”. Alan measures the concentration of microbial contaminants in groundwater to predict the source and ultimate fate of those contaminants. Audrey performs field studies that help us understand the relation of groundwater to surfacewater. Professor Frank Ettensohn is, among other things, a “paleoecologist”, using modern patterns of organismal behavior in relation to their environment to interpret the fossil record. So you get the idea: match any basic science with the earth and you will find geoscientists doing research in that interdisciplinary field.

What these specialities all have in common is that the Earth and its environments are the natural laboratory in which these studies are performed.  We don’t all work with rocks per se, but the lithosphere, which includes rocks, soils, water and the organisms growing within it, is such a complex interwoven system that we need to have a very broad spatial and temporal perspective for addressing earth and environmental processes.  It’s this perspective that makes geoscientists unique among the scientific disciplines.  

Our department mission is to provide a modern geoscience education to undergraduate students that positions them for a career or advanced study, and to train graduate students to be objective, independent scientists. We need to provide students with the basic knowledge to explore and develop the resources needed for a modern society and yet do that in an environmentally sustainable manner.  So it’s not a question of which is more important, the Earth OR the environment: it’s the Earth AND the environment that are important. In our role as geoscientists (whichever type we are individually) SOMEONE has to make the basic measurements, collect the data, and make scientifically defendable predictions, which hopefully contribute to more informed citizens.

If you are a high school student with a broad interest in the natural sciences, who enjoys working outdoors OR in a lab, and is considering a college major or career, please explore our web links that describe our program and educational opportunities. Even if you have a more narrow range of interest, for example you KNOW you want to study physics or chemistry, then an undergraduate degree in Geology is a great springboard to a career as a geophysicist or geochemist.  If you are a prospective graduate student, please see the descriptions of the research programs of our various faculty members.  Don’t hesitate to contact any of our faculty directly if you need further information about their research programs.                                                  

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