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  Aug 22, 2017
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Graduate Record 2011-2012 [ARCHIVED RECORD]

Environmental Sciences

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Clark Hall
University of Virginia
P.O. Box 400123
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4123
(434) 924-7761, Fax: (434) 982-2137

The Environmental Sciences Department offers graduate students a multi-disciplinary education in a program that emphasizes basic research and that requires a background in the physical and biological sciences and mathematics. Graduate students are expected to obtain an early proficiency in the four core areas offered by the department and to become accomplished in field methods, laboratory methods, data analysis, and/or mathematical modeling. These subjects are emphasized in many courses and offer a common ground for interdisciplinary communication.

Each graduate student is expected to specialize in at least one of the core areas in which the department excels: atmospheric sciences, ecology, geosciences, or hydrology. The department also offers training in environmental chemistry.

Degree Requirements

Most Environmental Sciences graduate students are awarded Masters of Science and/or Doctor of Philosophy degrees at the completion of their programs. The department also offers a Masters of Arts. All three degrees are in Environmental Sciences. For more information on these programs, please see

Area Requirements

In addition to fulfilling the general University requirements for graduate degree programs, all graduate students must pass a 3- or 4-credit 5000- or 7000-level non-seminar course in each of the core areas of the department: atmospheric sciences (EVAT), ecology (EVEC), geosciences (EVGE) and hydrology (EVHY). The specific courses needed for graduation are established by each student’s individual committee based upon research requirements. Each graduate student must also enroll in the Department Seminar (EVSC 7092) once during their candidacy, and this course will be counted once and only once toward the required degree credits.

Doctor of Philosophy

72 credits required. The Ph.D. emphasizes original research and independent study and is the highest degree attainable in the field. In many cases, students entering the program without an M.S. may be required by their committee to complete the requirements for the M.S. in Environmental Sciences before being admitted to the Ph.D. program. Of the 72 credits required for the degree, at least 54 credit hours must be derived from courses other than Non-Topical Research (EVSC 8998-8999 or 9999) and have the associated tuition and fees paid. In addition to the area requirements and advanced course (see below), the 54 credits required for the Ph.D. may include Research Problems (EVSC 9995). Students who already have M.S. degrees may count 24 graduate hours earned (except for Non-Topical Research) toward the Ph.D. In addition, Ph.D. candidates must fulfill the following requirements:

I           Advanced Course. Each student must pass a 700-level 3- or 4-credit non-seminar Environmental Sciences course (EVSC, EVAT, EVEC, EVGE, or EVHY).

II          Comprehensive Examination. Upon conclusion of the course work, each student must pass a comprehensive written examination prepared by the student’s committee. The examination is based in part on the student’s course work and in part on the general background required to complete research in the student’s area of interest. Shortly after completing the written exam, the student must complete an oral examination before their committee and all interested faculty.

III         Dissertation Proposal Defense.   This consists of a written document on the student’s proposed research that is publicly defended.

IV         Seminar. All Ph.D. candidates must deliver a department-level seminar based on the results of their dissertation research sometime after their proposal defense and prior to their dissertation defense.

V          Dissertation defense. Each student must present and publicly defend the results of their dissertation research. Because publication of research results is an important professional activity, each Ph.D. student must also prepare a manuscript arising from the dissertation that is deemed suitable for publication by the committee at the time of the dissertation defense.

Master of Science

30 credits required. The M.S. degree emphasizes research in addition to fundamental course work and is designed for students interested in careers as scientists or who may continue in a doctoral program. The 30 required credits may include up to six credits of Non-Topical Research (EVSC 8998-8999 or 9999) or Research Problems (EVSC 9995). M.S. students must write and publicly defend a thesis proposal before an interdisciplinary committee of departmental faculty. M.S. students must likewise write and publicly defend their Master’s thesis.

Master of Arts

Master of Arts 30 credits required. The M.A. degree is designed to provide students with an advanced, graduate-level background in the disciplines that comprise the environmental sciences so that students could apply this knowledge in areas such as law, teaching, and public policy. The M.A. is course work intensive and does not require basic research and thus is not designed for students wishing to pursue research careers or a science doctorate. Course requirements are identical to the M.S. program. M.A. students must also complete a thesis project in consultation with their committee. Examples of appropriate M.A. theses include a detailed survey of the consequential literature on a given topic or the compilation and synthesis of disparate data sources related to an important environmental issue. The thesis results must be presented in both oral and written forms and publicly defended.

Research Programs

Active research programs emphasizing basic science exist within each of the core areas of the department. In addition, a number of current research efforts aim to integrate many or all of the core disciplines in order to address complex environmental questions from a comprehensive viewpoint. Details on current research projects and interests of individual faculty are available on the department web site or from the department on request.


The Department of Environmental Sciences is located in Clark Hall, along with the Brown Science and Engineering Library, on the central Grounds of the University. Additional laboratory space is located in adjacent Kerchof, Maury, and Halsey Halls. Departmental facilities include boats, aerial photographic interpretation equipment, machine and electronics shops, environmental chambers, analytical chemistry laboratories, three stable isotope mass spectrometers and two gas chromatograph/mass spectrometers, greenhouse facilities, a portable aerosol lidar (eyesafe) that is used primarily for atmospheric boundary layer research and computer laboratories in support of remote sensing/GIS/weather-related research. The department maintains a workstation that continuously ingests data from the Unidata Internet Data Delivery (IDD) real-time data stream. It provides satellite imagery, meteorological model initializations and forecasts from meso- to hemispheric scale, atmospheric soundings, hourly surface data, radar products, and text-based forecasts, along with weather watches and warnings from the National Center for Environmental Prediction. These data are accessible through data acquisition and display software including GEMPAK, McIDAS and the 3-D Integrated Data Viewer (IDV). The department also maintains two high-speed multiple-node computational clusters that can be used for running complex atmospheric and oceanic numerical models. The department has a geographic information system (GIS) laboratory equipped with several SUN workstations running ERDAS and ARCINFO software. Within the department, the Climatology Office, with its extensive data archives and expertise, can assist with any weather-related research and teaching needs.

Departmental field facilities include instrumented watersheds in multiple regions of Virginia, including the mountains, the Piedmont, the coastal plain, and on the Eastern Shore. 

The department maintains the Shenandoah Watershed Study and the Virginia Trout Stream Sensitivity Study (SWAS-VTSSS) in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park and National Forests. The focus of the SWAS-VTSSS program is understanding processes that govern biogeochemical conditions in forested mountain watersheds. The SWAS-VTSSS data collection framework represents spatial variation through site selection based on differences in landscape properties and temporal variation by collecting data at different frequencies. The data record includes 20 years of quarterly stream water composition in 65 watersheds, with high-frequency data collection in a subset of instrumented watersheds.

The Pace-Steger Estate is a department research facility in a Piedmont secondary forest that contains hydrological and meteorological monitoring equipment, including an instrumented walk-up tower through the canopy.

The department has recently established a meteorological research station in the Shenandoah National Park near the Thornton Gap entrance. A 15 m walk-up tower is equipped with a suite of meteorological instruments including temperature, humidity, wind, and radiation sensors, and gas analyzers for the measurement of CO2 concentration and fluxes. A LIDAR is housed in a shed adjacent to the tower and continuously monitors boundary layer heights and aerosol loading of the atmosphere.

The department also operates the Virginia Coast Reserve Long Term Ecological Research (VCR LTER) site which has been funded for over 20 years by the National Science Foundation. The headquarters for the VCR LTER is the University’s Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center, located on 42 acres at the harbor of Oyster, Virginia. The facility includes over 9,000 square feet of dry and wet lab space and residence building that can accommodate 30 people in 1-5 bedroom suites with full kitchen facilities. The Center operates several 18’-24’ boats to transport researchers to field study sites. The VCR LTER is one of 24 LTER sites in the country that study the effects of long-term change environmental change on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The primary focus of research at the VCR LTER is on how long-term changes in climate and land use affect the dynamics and biotic structure of coastal barrier ecosystems, including the barrier islands, lagoons, and tidal marshes, and the services they provide. 

Blandy Farm

The Blandy Experimental Farm provides residential, greenhouse, laboratory, and field facilities for student and faculty research. It is particularly well-suited for manipulative field experiments in agricultural, old field, and forest environments.

Moore Lectures

The department presents a University-wide series of lectures under the sponsorship of Mr. Fred H. Moore, an alumnus of the University. These are delivered annually by nationally known authorities on broad areas of environmental concern to society.

Course Descriptions

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