Earth System Science (ESS)

On this Page: Major Description | Requirements | Learning Objectives

The ESS Major

student with water sample in tubeThe Bachelor of Science in Earth System Science (ESS) offers an interdisciplinary approach to understanding how our planet is shaped through natural and human processes. Students explore the intersection of critical geophysical, biogeochemical, and socio-environmental processes through courses that address the challenges of living on a rapidly changing planet.

ESS students learn to apply systems thinking, spatial analysis, and other natural and social science methodologies as they examine the interactions among humans and earth systems, evaluate the sustainability and resilience of living and built systems, and design solutions to our biggest environmental challenges. The ESS major features experiential learning that takes place in natural environments. These emphases on field work and the human dimensions of the earth system are the unique characteristics of the UW Bothell ESS degree.

The ESS degree program is jointly administered by the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (IAS) and the School of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM). with teaching and research contributions from faculty members in both schools.

students in the field from BIS 397 course

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ESS Requirements

Recommended Preparation

Interested in exploring this major, but not ready to commit? Consider taking one of the below courses! Any of these selections will help familiarize you with the academic program and prepare you for advanced coursework in the major.​

  • BEARTH 153 Introduction to Geology
  • BEARTH154 Introduction to Oceanography
  • BEARTH 155 Introduction to Climate Science 
  • BIS 242 Environmental Geography 


  • Composition (B WRIT 134 or equivalent)
  • Calculus I (STMATH 124 or equivalent)
  • Introductory Earth System Science Courses - two courses (10 credits) from the following):
    • BEARTH 201 Mapping the Earth System
    • BEARTH 153 Introduction to Geology
    • BEARTH 154 Introduction to Oceanography
    • BIS 242 Environmental Geography
    • BIS 243 Introduction to Environmental Issues
    • BPHYS 101 Introduction to Astronomy
    • BEARTH 155 Introduction to Climate Science
    • Or equivalent course 
  • General Chemistry or Physics- one course combination from the following:
    • B CHEM 143 & 144
    • B PHYS 114 & 117 or B PHYS 121
    • Or equivalent course 

Introductory Math and Science Requirements
(25-30 Credits)

  • B CHEM 143 and B CHEM 144 (if not taken as admissions prerequisite; may be any first quarter of a general chemistry sequence)
  • B PHYS 114/117 or B PHYS 121 (if not taken as admission prerequisite)
  • Introductory Statistics (BIS 315 or ST MATH 341 or equivalent)
  • Additional Foundation Science Course (15-18 credits from the following courses)
    • BBIO 180 Introductory Biology
    • BCHEM 153 General Chemistry II + BCHEM 154 General Chemistry Lab II
    • BCHEM 163 General Chemistry III + BCHEM 164 General Chemistry Lab III
    • BPHYS 115 General Physics + BPHYS 118 General Physics Laboratory (recommended for student who took BPHYS 114/117)
    • BPHYS 116 General Physics + BPHYS 119 General Physics Laboratory (recommended for students who took BPHYS 114/117 and 115/118)
    • BPHYS 122 Electromagnetism and Oscillatory Motion (recommended for students who took BPHYS 121)
    • BPHYS 123 Waves (recommended for students who took BPHYS 121 and 122)
    • CSS 112 Introduction to Programming for Scientific Applications
    • CSS 142 Computer Programming I
    • STMATH 125 Calculus II
    • STMATH 126 Calculus III

Earth Systems Science Base
(25 credits)

  • BEARTH 300 Environmental Systems Thinking (5 Credits, required in 1st quarter)
  • BES 301 Science Methods and Practices OR  BST 301 Scientific Writing    (5 Credits)
  • Introductory Environmental Studies Course (5 credits from the following courses)
    • BIS 240 Introduction to Sustainable Practices
    • BIS 246 Introduction to Sustainability
    • BIS 307 Environmental Justice
    • BIS 345 American Environmental Thought
    • BIS 356 Ethics and the Environment
    • BIS 359 Principles and Controversies of Sustainability
  • BIS 342 Geographic Information Systems (5 Credits)
  • Fundamentals of Data Collection & Analysis (5 Credits from the following courses)
    • BES 303 Environmental Monitoring Practicum  
    • BES 316 Ecological Methods
    • BCHEM 315 Quantitative Environmental Analysis

Earth Systems Ascent
(40 Credits)

ESS majors must take 2 courses at 400 level as well as 1 fieldwork (F) course from the following three categories:
(Fieldwork (F) courses are designed to give students hands-on experience outside of the classroom and in the natural environment. Experiences will vary from short on-campus lessons to longer fieldtrips to regional locations.)

Earth System Science Focus Courses
(Complete 4 of the following courses)

  • BBIO 330 Marine Biology (F)
  • BCHEM 350 Atmospheric Chemistry and Air Pollution
  • BEARTH 310Fundamentals of Weather and Climate
  • BEARTH 318 Hydrogeology  
  • BEARTH 320 Impacts of Climate Change 
  • BEARTH 321 Geomorphology (F)
  • BEARTH 341 Natural Hazards and Human Disasters
  • BES 312 Ecology
  • BES 317 Soils Laboratory (F)
  • BES 330 Limnology (F)
  • BES 331 Estuarine Science and Management
  • BES 460 Water Quality (F)
  • BES 486 Watershed Ecology and Management
  • BES 487 Field Lab in Wildland Soils and Plants (F)
  • BES 488 Wetland Ecology (F)
  • BIS 490/BBIO 495 Senior Seminar/Investigative Biology

Computer Methods and Quantitative Analysis
(Complete 2 of the following courses)

  • BCHEM 315 Quantitative Environmental Analysis
  • BENG 310 Computational Physical Modeling
  • BES 439 Computer Modeling and Visualization in Environmental Science
  • BES 440 Remote Sensing of the Environment
  • BIS 343 Geographic Visualization
  • BIS 344 Intermediate Geographic Analysis & Application
  • BIS 442 Advanced Geographic Analysis and Applications
  • BIS 447 Topics in Quantitative Inquiry
  • CSS 455 Introduction to Computational Science and Scientific Programming
  • STMATH 307 Introduction to Differential Equations
  • STMATH 308 Matrix Algebra with Applications
  • STMATH 324 Multivariable Calculus

Human Dimensions of the Earth System
(Complete 2 of the following courses)

  • BIS 346 Topics in Environmental Policy
  • BIS 392 Water and Sustainability
  • BIS 406 Urban Planning and Geography
  • BIS 459 Conservation and Sustainable Development

Capstone & Portfolio
(13 credits)

  • BIS 499 Portfolio Capstone (3 Credits)
  • 10 Credits of Approved Capstone Research. Examples of courses that could qualify include:
    • BES 462 + BES 463 + BES 464 Restoration Ecology Capstone
    • BES 492 + BES 493 Capstone Research in Environmental Science
    • BES 498 Independent Research
    • BISSKL 375 Academic Research and Writing Seminar
    • BCHEM 495/496 Investigative Chemistry I/II
    • BCHEM, BPHYS, or BST 498/499 Undergraduate Research
    • BIS 495 Internship (Subject to approval by the ESS Academic Oversight Committee)

University Requirements

May overlap with the Earth Systems Science major requirements

  • Writing “W” Min. 10 Credits
  • Diversity “Div” Min. 3 Credits
  • Areas of Knowledge: 15 credits required in each area. Natural World (NW) and Individuals & Societies (I&S) may be completed through major requirements. Please plan to take 15 Credits of  Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA) courses.

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Learning Objectives

ESS graduates will be expected to demonstrate advanced achievement of the UW Bothell Learning Goals, and the Learning Objectives of both IAS and STEM. In addition, the ESS Program is designed to provide a curriculum and co-curricular opportunities that will specifically enable graduates to:

Function as Earth System Scientists

  • Demonstrate a foundational understanding of mathematics, chemistry, biology, and/or physics, along with an advanced understanding of geoscience.
  • Apply their multi-disciplinary understanding to characterizing aspects of the Earth system and critically evaluating Earth system science information, models, and methods.

Master Systems Thinking

  • Analyze complex phenomena or problems in the Earth sciences and place them in the context of holistic systems, identifying their components, interconnections, critical thresholds, and leverage points for enhancing system function and environmental justice.

Function as Independent Interdisciplinary Scholars

  • Apply their understanding of Earth system science, the scientific method, and interdisciplinary inquiry in generating research questions and selecting methods for assessing hypotheses, evaluating data, and creating knowledge.
  • Generate a data collection plan and synthesize information derived from observations, experiments, models, and scholarly readings.
  • Critically reflect on what they are learning in their courses and research and make claims of their learning gains and research findings that are supported by evidence.

Integrate Social Science and Natural Science Epistemologies

  • Demonstrate understanding of how human civilization interacts with Earth systems at multiple scales and how Earth system science relates to and informs management and policy objectives.
  • Relate how differing conceptions of ethics, human-nature relationships, structural inequities, and the objectives of sustainability and resilience inform evaluations of Earth system challenges and alternative solutions.

Communicate Effectively and Inclusively

  • Generate graphics, reports, and presentations in ways that are appropriate and educational for their intended audience (e.g., other scientists, policy makers, and the general public).
  • Interact and communicate with others in ways that are inclusive and manifest a respect for diversity in all its forms.

Collaborate and Share Leadership

  • Demonstrate an advanced ability to work with partners and in groups, including the capacities for taking and sharing leadership, following through on collective decisions, promoting the potential of all group members, and mediating conflict.
  • Engage in projects with external partners in a fashion that adheres to the highest standards of professionalism and results in mutually beneficial outcomes.
  • Engage with diverse agencies, communities, and other groups with an understanding of the many cultural, geographic, socio-economic, and political contexts in which people interact with Earth systems.

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