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February 11, 2015

Stanford renames Earth Sciences school to convey the breadth of its research and teaching

The new name – the Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences – reflects the school's focus on understanding the workings of the planet and helping address resource and environmental challenges facing the world.

The new name of the Stanford School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences reflects the breadth of the school's research and teaching. (Earth photo / NASA)

Stanford's Earth Sciences school is changing its name to better reflect the breadth of its research and teaching. Effective today, it is known as the Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. Provost John Etchemendy advised the Stanford Board of Trustees of the change yesterday.

"Earth's resource and environmental challenges are critical to humankind, and Stanford has been active in these areas for decades," said Steven A. Denning, chair of the Board of Trustees. "Our School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences has been engaging in and has been a leader in these efforts, and now has a name that more clearly conveys the scope of its contributions."

The school's long-term strengths involve understanding Earth's subsurface processes and their relationship to mineral and energy resources; natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanoes; and the evolution of the planet – areas traditionally known as "earth sciences." Over the past two decades, it has added expertise focused on land, ocean, water and climate systems and environmental changes within them. In addition, with input from faculty around the university, it created two innovative interdisciplinary environment and resource degree programs  – the Earth Systems Program and the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources – which complement the school's departmental programs and have set the pace for such interdisciplinary programs around the country. The school also has pioneered analytical and computational approaches for evaluating complex systems and analyzing the large amounts of data generated by satellite remote sensing and other imaging techniques.

Tackling challenges

"The faculty, students and alumni of the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences tackle some of the most complex questions facing the world,"  Etchemendy said. "They focus on advancing knowledge about Earth, and address resource and environmental challenges in ways that benefit not only people today but future generations as well." 

One of seven degree-granting schools at Stanford, the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences has 63 regular faculty members, 10 of whom are in joint positions with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Precourt Institute for Energy, the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Seven current faculty are members of the National Academies of Sciences or Engineering and three are recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship. Many of the faculty participate in corporate affiliate programs and advise state and national governments and non-governmental organizations.

"Our faculty carry out research on Earth processes on all seven continents and in all the oceans," said Pamela A. Matson, the Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. "At the same time, nearly half of them now focus on energy resources, and nearly half on environmental issues. It is fitting that we change our name to more fully represent who we are."

The school's research and teaching incorporate a range of geosciences, including geology, geophysics, hydrogeology and geochemistry; a range of resource engineering disciplines focused on oil and gas, geothermal, wind and wave energy resources, and carbon capture and storage; biogeochemistry, paleontology, geobiology and microbial biology; ecosystem and soil sciences; and geography, land and water management and resource economics.

Studies conducted by the school's faculty, students, research staff and post-doctoral scholars are published in high-impact scientific journals and have real-world impacts. Recent research advances include predicting the severity of earthquake shaking along the San Andreas Fault in Los Angeles, determining a link between the causes of the California drought and climate change and utilizing satellite data to measure aquifer levels. In addition, scientists from the school have forecast a drop in crop yields due to warming global temperatures, determined that methane emissions from natural gas systems in the United States are higher than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates, developed a technique that uses ocean waves to monitor offshore oil and gas fields, and revealed a cataclysmic asteroid strike on Earth more than 3 billion years ago that was much greater than the strike that triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The school currently has approximately 400 graduate students and 150 undergraduates across its degree programs, including in the departments of Environmental Earth System Science, Energy Resources Engineering, Geological and Environmental Sciences and Geophysics, and the interdisciplinary programs. The school recently partnered with the Stanford School of Engineering's Institute for Computational & Mathematical Engineering to create a master's of science degree track in computational geoscience, and is currently developing a new curriculum in sustainability science and action.

Innovative learning

The School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences offers innovative field, laboratory and experiential learning opportunities. They include courses at the new O'Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm, a five-acre teaching farm on campus where students can learn about agriculture and resource management, and in the Wrigley Field Program in Hawaii, which allows students to spend a quarter studying a range of sciences as they engage in Hawaii's social-environmental systems.

Matson said the school plans to maintain its current strengths while continuing to build in four interrelated areas that are among the most important to human well-being in the coming decades: securing the energy future, developing climate solutions, reducing disaster risks, and ensuring food and water security.

"The scope and urgency of these challenges continue to grow, and so does our mandate for generating new knowledge to address them," Matson said. "We need to accelerate our research, teaching and impact."

Long history

The Earth sciences have been a part of Stanford since the founding of the university in 1891, when geologist John Casper Branner was hired as Stanford's first professor. Three years later, the first doctorate awarded by Stanford was in the Department of Geology. Noted early alumni in the field include eventual U.S. President Herbert Hoover, who received a degree in mining engineering in 1895. He later married Lou Henry Hoover, the first woman to earn a Stanford geology degree, awarded in 1898.   That same year, the original Department of Geology changed its name to the Department of Geology and Mining, reflecting its focus on the search for and extraction of natural resources during a period of Western development.

In 1913, Branner was named Stanford's second president, succeeding David Starr Jordan. When he first moved to Stanford, Branner brought with him his private geological library, which contained about 5,000 volumes. That collection grew to become the foundation of the Branner Earth Sciences Library, housed in the Mitchell Earth Sciences Building, and now home to about 125,000 volumes and 270,000 sheet maps.

By 1930, petroleum and mining were moved to the School of Engineering, and geology was part of the School of Physical Sciences.  A separate school for Earth sciences was established at Stanford in 1947, although it was known at that time as the School of Mineral Sciences. Fields covered included geology, geophysics, geochemistry, and mining, metallurgical and petroleum engineering. It was renamed the School of Earth Sciences in 1964, and continued to expand its disciplines as resource issues changed.

More recently, School of Earth Sciences Dean Pamela Matson was one of three co-leaders of Stanford's Initiative on Environment and Sustainability, launched in 2004. This led to the creation of Stanford's interdisciplinary institutes, the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy. About 70 percent of the faculty in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences are affiliated with those institutes. Professors from the school currently serve as director and deputy director of the Precourt Institute for Energy. 



Nancy Peterson, School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences: (650) 498-2520,


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