Undergraduate Program in Geology

What is Geology?

Geology is the scientific discipline that studies the Earth. As geologists, we seek to better understand the processes that constantly change the Earth, the socio-economic challenges that these changes present to sustainability of life and human society, and the history of the Earth from the origin of the Solar System through geologic time to the present, and even into the future. Regardless of specialization and exact career path, geologists commonly learn:

  • to interpret Earth’s systems, their interrelationships, and effects on each other.
  • to comprehend the scale and magnitude of deep time, the impact of different time scales on geologic processes, and interpret time’s relationship to major geological and biological events in the geologic record.
  • to recognize key surface processes and their connection to geological features and possible natural and man-made hazards.
  • to analyze and interpret the chemical and mechanical processes that are involved within each stage of the Rock Cycle.
  • to analyze and interpret plate tectonic and deformation processes, the relationship to Earth’s structure, and the resultant geological structures and natural hazards.
  • to analyze and interpret the chemical and mechanical processes that are involved in the Water Cycle and important aspects related to water being a natural resource.
  • to relate the distribution of natural resources to geological processes, explain how natural resources are formed, used, and extracted, and understand their relative availability.
  • to analyze and explain the Earth’s changing climate over various time scales and analyze the environmental, social, and geological impacts of these changes.

The Geology Major

All BS-Geology majors take courses in the geosciences (GEOL, GEOG and GEOSCI) and supporting science and math courses; as a whole, these courses provide you with a solid foundation in the science of geology and its application to real-world problems.

Upon graduation with a BS-Geology from UMass you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a strong understanding of:
    • Earth's composition
    • Earth structure and internal dynamics
    • key events in physical, biological and environmental evolution over geologic time
    • geochemical processes in the geosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and atmosphere
    • geophysical processes in the geosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and atmosphere
    • surficial processes that transform landscapes, coastlines and natural water systems, and the climate system
  • Develop key geoscience skills including:
    • Creating and interpreting 3D and 4D representations of data
    • making and using field-based observations and data collection
    • connecting field observations with academic theory
    • making inferences from real-world and field data
    • interrogating the Earth using geoscience-related computational, programming and data analysis techniques, scientific instrumentation and laboratory techniques
    • developing hypotheses, designing experiments, and creating new data
  • Practice problem-solving skills such as:
    • applying indirect measurements
    • working with uncertainty, ambiguity and incomplete information
    • exploring cause and effect relationships and logical progressions
    • quantifying precision, accuracy and error estimation
    • integrating data and techniques across subdisciplines
  • Communicate geologic knowledge, its application and its role in society among diverse groups and in diverse forms:
    • critique and debate
    • working in teams
    • integrating diverse approaches, perspectives and expertise
    • scientific writing
    • scientific oral presentation
    • professional ethics
    • graphical representations of observations and data
  • Apply this knowledge and these skills to advanced systems-level thinking and problem solving of unresolved questions about the Earth and the geologic socio-economic challenges we face.

Required courses and recommended degree progression

Below are the courses required to complete the BS degree in Geology at UMass. Although some courses have prerequisites, there is no requirement that you complete a particular course in a particular semester. Nonetheless, you are advised to follow the recommended course sequence as best your circumstances allow. There is, of course, a great deal of flexibility offered for students who enter the major as sophomores or transfer students from other institutions. Contact the Geology Major Advisor if you have any questions.




Fall Semester Spring Semester
First Year

First-Year Seminar

(choose with your advisor)

GEOL 101 or

GEOL 131 plus

GEOL 103*, GEOL 105* or

GEOG 110*

one or two of:

CHEM 111

either CALC 127 or 131

either PHYSICS 131 or 151**

If not taken in Fall

GEOL 101 or

GEOL 131 plus

GEOL 103*, GEOL 105* or

GEOG 110*

one or two of:

CHEM 112

either CALC 128 or 132

either PHYSICS 132 or 152


remainder of:

CHEM 111

either MATH 127 or 131**

either PHYSICS 131 or 151**

GEOL 201

GEOL 231

remainder of:

CHEM 112

either CALC 128 or 132

either PHYSICS 132 or 152


GEOL 311

GEOL 331

GEOL 321

Elective towards major (3-4 cr)


GEOL 431

GEOL 445


Elective towards major (3-4 cr)

Elective towards major

(remaining credits)

*Note that students who take GEOL 103, GEOL 105 or GEOG 110 are required to also complete GEOL 131.

**Students should work with their advisor to choose which course of Calculus and Physics is right for them; the MATH 131/132 and Physics 151/152 sequences are recommended.



The Courses:

GEOL 101 - The Earth. (4 cr) Nature and origin of the earth; volcanism; minerals and rocks; earthquakes; plate tectonics; mountain belts; geologic time scales; wave, river, glacial, and wind action in modification of landscape and atmosphere; the asteroid impact hypothesis; genesis of non-renewable resources, geologic basis for environmental decision making. With lab & field excursions. (Gen.Ed. PS)

GEOL 103 - Oceanography (4 cr) The natural processes of the ocean, including earthquakes and volcanoes, the hydrologic cycle and weather, ocean circulation and the global energy balance, the carbon cycle and productivity, biodi-versity and marine food webs, coastal dynamics. Also, global warming, sea-level rise, environmental degradation and the ocean system response to human activity and global change. Interactive class sessions, with considerable participation by students in problem solving, discussions, and demonstrations. (Gen.Ed. PS)

GEOL 105 - Dynamic Earth (4 cr) The Earth is a dynamic planet, constantly creating oceans and mountain ranges, accompanied by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. This course explores the ideas that led to the scientific revolution of plate tectonics; how plate tectonics provides a comprehensive theory explaining how and why volcanoes and earthquakes occur; and the hazards that they produce and their impact on humans. Emphasis is placed on current earthquake and volcanic events, as well as on momentous events from the past, such as the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the 79 A.D. eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii, and the more recent eruptions of Mount St. Helens (Washington), Pinitubo (Philippines) and Kilauea (Hawaii). (Gen.Ed. PS)

GEOG 110 - Global Environmental Change (4 cr) The natural relationships between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere; human impact on the natural environment. Global environmental issues: global warming, sea-level rise, and ozone depletion in the stratosphere. Global changes of the past also studied to give perspective to forecasted changes. Includes writing exercises. (Gen.Ed. PS)

GEOL 131 - Experiencing Geology (1 cr) A practical approach to the Earth in the laboratory and field. Understanding rocks and minerals, reading topographic and geologic maps, investigating the geologic history of the Connecticut Valley, measuring stream flow and water quality.

GEOL 201 - History of the Earth (4 cr) Subjects covered include geologic time, principles of stratigraphy and correlation, evolution and the fossil record, a review of plate tectonics, eustasy and isotasy, and the geologic evolution of the Earth with emphasis on the geologic history of North America. With lab.

GEOL 231 - Methods in Geosciences (3 cr) Course includes outdoor lab activities. Understanding and interpreting map-based data including topography and geologic information; using the compass, GPS and other surveying equipment to make maps; quantitative analysis of geoscience datasets; applications to hydrogeologic/environmental problems; describing rock units; measuring and compiling geologic data to produce maps and cross-sections.

GEOL 285 - Environmental Geology (3 cr) Knowledge gained through study of the geosciences is essential for the future sustainability of life on our planet. This course explores the intersection of geoscience features and processes with several of humankind?s critical needs: the sustained supply of energy, water, soil and mineral resources; the reliance of land- and ocean-based ecosystem services on underlying geoscience systems; and risk mitigation and resilience building in response to natural and human-made hazards. We will examine the current state of the energy-water-climate-food nexus and predictions for its future to improve understanding of the complex linkages between the geosciences and society. We will also practice quantitative characterization of geoscience datasets such as statistical descriptions of data, model design and hypothesis testing, and the limits of predictions and inferences drawn from real-world data.

GEOL 311 - Mineralogy (4 cr) Systematics in mineralogy, includ-ing crystallography, the physics and chemistry of minerals, the genesis of minerals, and determinative methods in mineralogy. With lab. Prerequisite: CHEM 111 (or concurrent enrollment).

GEOL 321 - Petrology (4 cr) Genesis of igneous and metamorphic rocks in the earth's crust and upper mantle. Experiment and theory applied to the interpretation of natural rock textures and their origin. Introduction to thermometry and barometry of magmas and rocks. Recognition of rocks and crystallization histories using the polarizing microscope. With lab. Prerequisite: GEO-SCI 311.

GEOL 331 - Geologic Mapping (3 cr) With lab. Mapping and interpretation of geologic relationships in the field. Preparation of geologic maps and interpretive cross-sections. Four or five mapping projects conducted jointly by the faculty and students. Weekend field trips. Prerequisite: GEO-SCI 231.

GEOL 431 - Structural Geology (4 cr) With lab. Description and analysis of deformation and deformation processes at scales ranging from minerals to mountain belts. Topics include: faults, folds, construction of cross-sections, interpretation of structural fabrics, stress, strain, plate tectonics, New England geology, and the geologic history of North America. Emphasis on three-dimensional visualization of geologic features and practical solutions to structural problems relevant to industry and research. Several short field trips (during lab) and one weekend field trip. Prerequisites: GEO-SCI 201 and 311.

GEOL 445 - Sedimentology (4 cr) Basic principles governing the erosion, transport, and deposition of sediments, with applications for understanding both modern sedimentary environments and preserved sedimentary deposits. With lab. Prerequisite: one year of geology; introductory calculus course recommended.

GEOL 494LI - Living on Earth Integrative Experience (3 cr) Global climate change is a societal issue that affects natural and human systems right now and will continue dramatically impacting them in the future if the drivers remain unabated. The debate and political polarization surrounding climate change issues is all around us and the messages can be confusing and difficult to interpret. It is crucial that as a society we are equipped with the scientific knowledge and skills to interpret the collected information, make decisions about and prepare for and mitigate the impacts of a changing climate. In this course, students take advantage of the breadth of their shared experiences in the Department of Earth, Geographic, and Climate Sciences from human dimensions to physical sciences, drawing from geography, earth systems science and geology. The platform of the course examines the most pressing problem within Earth Sciences, anthropogenic climate change, incorporating the themes of Water, Air, Energy, and Sustainability.


Elective courses

Electives allow you to develop specialized knowledge and skills in the aspects of the Geosciences that most interest you and help you fulfill your future goals. Students in the BS-Geology major complete at least 12 credits of courses chosen from a wide array of undergraduate- and graduate-level elective courses. You should work with your advisor to select electives that best appeal to your interests and career plans. You are also encouraged to develop your own research-experience elective course as an Independent Studyor Senior Thesis Projectin coordination with a faculty advisor.

Some of the electives offered for the Geology Major include:

GEOG 352 - Computer Mapping

GEOG 354 - Climate Dynamics

GEOL 415 - Introduction to Geochemistry

GEOG 426 - Remote Sensing and Image Interpretation

GEOG 468 - GIS and Spatial Analysis

GEOSCI 510 - Natural Hazards

GEOSCI 519 - Aqueous and Environmental Geochemistry

GEOSCI 531 - Tectonics

GEOSCI 558 - Paleoclimatology

GEOSCI 560 - Geomorphology

GEOSCI 563 - Glacial Geology

GEOSCI 571 - General Geophysics

GEOSCI 573 - Environmental Geophysics

GEOSCI 587 - Hydrogeology

...and several others.

Note that most electives are offered once each year or every other year. Consult the Department of Earth, Geographic, and Climate Sciences multi-year course schedule to determine when an elective will next be offered.


Related Degree Programs

The Undergraduate Geology Program also offers degrees in:

  • BS-Geology (earth science subplan)
  • BA-Geology
  • BS-Geology with Departmental Honors

as well as a minor in Geology.

Please consult with the Geology Major advisor for more information about these.

Note:  Links below go to the UMass Guide to Undergraduate Programs - follow the links in the left panel.

The Bachelor of Science Degree in Geology (Geology track)
For those interested in studying geology with a strong scientific foundation, leading to a professional career in geological sciences.

The Bachelor of Science Degree in Geology (Earth Science track)
For those interested in teaching earth sciences; the earth sciences track fulfills Standard I (field of knowledge) requirements of the Secondary Teacher Education Program (STEP) leading to Earth Science Teacher Certification in Massachusetts.

The Bachelor of Arts Degree in Geology
For those with an interest in geology in the context of a more broadly based liberal arts education.  Recommended for students interested in a double major.