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College of Letters & Science


Requirements for the Major in Geology and Geophysics
Honors in the Major

236 Weeks Hall, 1215 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53706; 608-262-8960; geoscience.wisc.edu/geoscience/

Professors Bahr, Brown, Carroll, DeMets, Feigl, Geary, Goodwin, Johnson, Kelly, Roden, Singer, Thurber, Tikoff, Tobin, Valley, Wang; Associate Professors Meyers, Peters, Xu; Assistant Professors Cardiff, Marcott, Zoet

Undergraduate advisors in the major: Philip Brown (economic geology, mineralogy, geochemistry), 365 Weeks Hall, 608-262-5954; Alan Carroll (sedimentary basis analysis), 483 Weeks Hall, 608-345-0667; Dana Geary (paleontology), 315 Weeks Hall, 608-263-7754; Clay Kelly (micropaleontology and paleoceanography), 463 Weeks Hall, 608-262-1698; Shanan Peters (sedimentary geology, paleobiology), 495 Weeks Hall, 608-262-5987; Herb Wang (rock physics and geodynamics), A254 Weeks Hall, 608-262-5932; Huifang Xu (mineral science, nanogeoscience, and electron microscopy), A352 Weeks Hall, 608-265-5887; Nicole Wiessinger, (Physical Sciences Undergraduate Advisor), 220 Weeks Hall, wiessinger@wisc.edu

Honors advisor: Dana Geary, dana@geology.wisc.edu

Faculty diversity liaison: Jean M. Bahr, jmbahr@geology.wisc.edu

The complementary fields of geology and geophysics are combined in one interdisciplinary department, with graduate degrees offered in both disciplines. The undergraduate degree is in geology and geophysics.

Geology offers unusual opportunities to interweave knowledge from many disciplines in the study of natural Earth phenomena. Those who enjoy the challenge of integrating different kinds of information into a unified interpretation will find geology particularly satisfying. Most geology students enjoy travel and have a strong interest in the natural environment as it is today and as it has developed through the past 4.5 billion years. A natural capacity for historical and sequential thought, inductive reasoning, and three-dimensional perception is helpful, and these skills will be developed. Geological investigations are becoming increasingly quantitative and experimental, and thus require some computer experience and a strong foundation in chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

The student of geophysics is interested in developing a quantitative understanding of the structure and dynamics of the Earth's interior from the shallow crust to deep core. Courses in geophysics apply basic physical laws and processes, such as those governing gravity, magnetism, heat flow, and seismic wave propagation, to the study of the Earth. An undergraduate may choose to concentrate in geophysics, but professional employment in the field often requires an advanced degree. Most students who pursue advanced study and careers in geophysics major in geology, physics, mathematics, or engineering as undergraduates.

Careers. More than half of all professional geologists and geophysicists work in hydrogeology or the petroleum and mining industries. Such jobs involve an unusual breadth of training and personal adaptability, and the M.S. degree is generally required. About one fifth of all geoscientists work in state and federal geological surveys, and in government research activities such as oceanographic programs. These positions largely involve problems in geologic mapping, mineral resources, groundwater, and engineering. Geophysics offers opportunities in earthquake studies, seismic verification of nuclear test bans, and crustal rock characterization techniques for waste disposal and groundwater modeling. Many geology students continue on to obtain a Ph.D. degree and become faculty members at a college or university. A geology and geophysics major is also appropriate for those interested in careers in elementary or secondary education, environmental policy, or environmental law. Faculty advisors can provide additional information on career opportunities.

Preparation for graduate study.  An advanced degree is normally required for professional activity in geological and geophysical sciences; the student who contemplates such a degree should satisfy both department and graduate school requirements for admission to graduate study.

Minimum requirements for admission to graduate work in geology or geophysics at most universities in the United States, including the University of Wisconsin–Madison, are:

(a) A bachelor's degree in geology/geophysics or a related science

(b) One year of college chemistry (one year high school plus Chemistry 109 recommended)

(c) One year of college physics (Physics 207–208 recommended)

(d) One year of calculus (Mathematics 221–222 recommended)

(e) A summer field-mapping course equivalent to Geology 459 (Park City, Utah)

Requirements for the Major in Geology and Geophysics


(Exceptions for Geophysics and Engineering Geology Track noted below)

(a) A one-year course sequence in calculus: Math 221–222 recommended; Math 211–213, or any combination of calculus courses, including transfer credits, that totals at least 8 credits at the intermediate level, is acceptable.

(b) The equivalent of a one-year course sequence in general chemistry: Chem 109 recommended; Chem 103–104, or any combination of general chemistry courses, including transfer credits, that totals at least 8 credits, is acceptable.

(c) An equivalent of a one-year course sequence in general physics that totals at least 8 credits: Physics 207–208 recommended; Physics 103–104, Physics 201–202, Physics 247–248, or any combination of general physics courses, including transfer credits, that totals at least 8 credits, is acceptable. Students preparing to specialize in paleontology may, with approval of the Undergraduate Studies Committee, substitute Zoology 151–152 or other appropriate courses in biological sciences for the physics requirement.


Prospective majors are strongly encouraged to seek assistance from a faculty adviser in order to choose courses appropriate to their interests and career plans. Advisors can also assist students in choosing a track that is appropriate for their interests and career goals.

CORE COURSES, Required for All Tracks Below

Geosci 100, 106, or 109, an introduction to geoscience
Geosci 202 Introduction to Geologic Structures
Geosci 204 Geologic Evolution of the Earth
Geosci 360 Principles of Mineralogy
Geosci 370 Elementary Petrology


Geosci 350 Introduction to Geophysics:  The Dynamic Earth
Geosci 375 Principles of Geochemistry
Geosci 430 Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
Geosci 455 Structural Geology
In addition to the above, 4 credits of geoscience electives numbered 300 and above (except Geosci 331)


Geosci 431 Sedimentology and Stratigraphy Lab
Geosci 455 Structural Geology
Geosci/GLE 474 Rock Mechanics
Geosci/GLE 594 Introduction to Applied Geophysics
Geosci/GLE 595 Field Methods in Applied and Engineering Geophysics
Geosci/GLE 627 Hydrogeology

Students choosing this emphasis may not take Physics 103 & 104. A student may substitute EMA 201 & 202 for Physics 201, 207 or 247, and complete the major Physics requirement with Physics 202, 208 or 248. They must also take two additional semesters of physics and math:

(a) EMA 303 or Physics 311 or Physics 322
(b) Math 234 or Math 320 or Math 340

Students who are not Geological Engineering (GLE) majors may substitute Geosci 350 for either Geosci 474 or Geosci 627


Directed Electives—take one from each of the following four categories:

1. Surface Environments
Geosci 420 Glacial and Pleistocene Geology
Geosci 430 Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
Geosci/GLE 627 Hydrogeology
Geosci/Geog 320 Geomorphology

2. Geochemistry
Geosci 375 Principles of Geochemistry
Geosci 610 Geochronology, Timescales, and Rates of Geologic Processes
Geosci 629 Contaminant Hydrogeology

3. Geobiology
Geosci 304 Geobiology
Geosci 540 Invertebrate Paleontology
Geosci 541 Paleobiology

4. Earth Resources
Geosci 410 Minerals as a Public Problem
Geosci 411 Energy Resources
Geosci 455 Structural Geology
Geosci 515 Principles of Economic Geology
Geosci/GLE 594 Introduction to Applied Geophysics

In addition to the above, 3 to 5 credits of geoscience electives numbered 300 and above (except Geosci 331)


Choose 17 credit hours of geoscience electives numbered 300 and above (excluding Geosci 331)


To declare a major in geology or geophysics, students must have taken one of the following geoscience courses:  202, 204, or 360.  Students must meet with an undergraduate advisor and complete a Major Declaration Form.

Honors in the Major

Students interested in earning Honors in the Major should consult with the department honors advisor about requirements. Students should declare to the department their intention to graduate with Honors in the Major at the end of the sophomore year or the start of the junior year and must receive permission from the department honors advisor before being admitted to the honors track.

Honors students are expected to complete a Senior Honors Thesis. Appropriate background courses for the thesis should be chosen in consultation with the student's thesis advisor. To graduate with Honors in the Major, a student must maintain a GPA of 3.4 in all geoscience courses and a 3.3 overall cumulative GPA in all courses taken at UW–Madison at the time of graduation.

Note: It is possible and common to write a senior thesis without being in the honors program. Interested students should discuss this with a faculty member. Involvement with research projects significantly improves applications for graduate study.