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Overview The interdisciplinary field of environmental sciences is concerned with the interaction of physical and biological processes that shape our natural environment. The Department of Environmental Sciences offers instruction and conducts research in the areas of atmospheric sciences, hydrology, geosciences, and ecology. It offers students the opportunity to understand how these processes interact in time and space, and how a change in any one may affect others. The research efforts of faculty and students deal largely with understanding the fundamental science of Earth’s physical and ecological processes, and to a lesser extent with applications of this understanding to environmental problems. Majors can emphasize course selection in one area or diversify across all areas depending on career goals.
The environmental sciences major provides strong preparation for several post-graduate paths. The program’s in-depth training in the theory and methods of atmospheric sciences, hydrology, geosciences, and ecology prepares students for graduate school in either environmental sciences or one of the disciplines it involves. Moreover, with its focus on reasoning and analytical skills that involve natural processes, the program provides a strong foundation for professional schools. It also furnishes students with the liberal arts science training necessary for post-graduate employment in natural resource fields. Many environmental sciences majors concentrate their programs in one or two fields with graduate or professional schools in mind. Others use the breadth and interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum to prepare for careers in environmental consulting and management, resource planning, or teaching.
The department’s 1000- and 2000-level courses provide introductions to the geologic, ecologic, atmospheric, and hydrologic processes that are frequently managed, planned, financed, litigated over, and involved in health considerations. For science majors, as well as non-science and pre-professional students, these courses provide solid training in the interactions of biological and physical processes, and the procedures of interdisciplinary research and discovery. The 3000- and 4000- level courses are more focused on in-depth scientific understanding of the Earth-surface environment, using the tools of observation and measurement, statistical analysis, and synthetic data analysis and modeling within the context of current scientific knowledge.
Faculty There are approximately thirty faculty members in the department. Many of these faculty are world-renowned for their research in such areas as terrestrial ecology, limnology, atmospheric chemical and physical processes, bacterial reactions with contaminants in groundwater, isotope geochemistry, and coastal processes. All of the faculty are committed to teaching and working with students.
Recognizing that environmental processes and concerns are among the most important issues of our time, departmental faculty perform research with scientists and others both at UVa and worldwide who examine global environmental change.
Students There are currently about 200 students majoring in environmental sciences. In addition to the core curriculum, students may select courses to specialize in one area or select work from two or more of the four areas of studies. Majors who aim for continued education in graduate and professional schools or specific job paths generally concentrate in one or two areas. Those interested in careers such as teaching or resource management choose advanced courses from a broader range. Majors are employed in consulting companies, government agencies, forestry and agricultural firms, lobbying agencies, weather and climate impact assessment firms, and a variety of other companies that result in exciting and enjoyable careers.
Introductory courses are usually conducted in a lecture format; some are large, but faculty members are easily accessible. Advanced courses are small, and all are taught by faculty. The department encourages majors to explore opportunities to work with faculty and graduate students on research projects to gain experience in using the tools and concepts of various disciplines to help advance their career goals and opportunities.
Special Resources Departmental facilities include boats, machine shop, greenhouses, environmental chambers, extensive computing facilities, a Geographic Information Systems laboratory, aerial photographic interpretation equipment, the Virginia State Climatology Office, and several environmental research sites, including the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center at Virginia’s Eastern Shore; a site in the northern Shenandoah Valley, the Blandy Farm Experimental Research Station at Front Royal, Virginia; a site in the Piedmont, the Pace site near Charlottesville; and the Mountain Lake Biological Research Station in Giles County, Virginia. Majors are encouraged to take advantage of these various facilities.