Earth System Science


On this Page: Major Description | Requirements | Learning Objectives | Faculty & Staff | Student Research | Courses

Use your research and observation skills to increase a shared sense of social responsibility and confront the complex issues facing humans and the world.​

Do topics like remote sensing, air quality, and geology of the Pacific Northwest sound exciting? Do you want to work outdoors testing soil and water quality or explore a career in tech using geophysical monitoring tools?

two students writing down notes in a blooming greenhouse

The Earth System Science (ESS) major at the University of Washington Bothell offers students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the planetary processes that create, change, or destroy livable habitats. Classroom activities and hands-on field research allows students to observe and interpret how the Earth’s atmosphere, ocean and land surfaces interact and impact human and environmental health.

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 Earth System Science major are passionate about understanding the interrelationships among the physical, chemical, and biological components of the Earth. Students identify patterns that can help predict and protect against the future impact of global warming by broadening their interests in water, ice, soil, rocks, air, weather, plants, and animals.


Courses in the Earth System Science major provide an opportunity to examine changes in various environments and landscapes due to human interaction. Through a foundational knowledge of calculus, physics, chemistry, and other natural sciences, students gather data, monitor environmental conditions, and conduct scientific investigations.


Using their background in Earth System Science, graduates from this major get hands-on experience using GPS and other remote sensing technologies to sustain and improve natural environmental resources. The major leads to jobs in government, research labs, science education, management, consulting, and environmental protection agencies.

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Degree requirements

Want to know more? View the planned ESS courses for the 22-23 academic year. Requires UW NetID to view.

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


In addition to the general admission requirements, students must have completed the following prerequisites to be considered for admission to Earth System Science:

  • One Introductory Earth System Science Courses:
    • BEARTH 153 Introduction to Geology
    • BEARTH 154 Introduction to Oceanography
    • BEARTH 155 Introduction to Climate Science
    • BEARTH 201 Mapping the Earth System
    • BEARTH 202 Modeling Global Systems
    • BIS 242 Environmental Geography
    • BIS 243 Introduction to Environmental Issues
    • B PHYS 101 Introduction to Astronomy
    • Or equivalent course

Degree Requirements

  • Earth Systems Science Base Coursework (25 Credits)
    • BEARTH 300 Environmental Systems Thinking* (5 Credits)
    • BIS 342 Geographic Information Systems (5 Credits)
    • BES 301 Science Methods & Practices or BST 301 Scientific Writing
    • Introductory Environmental Courses (10 credits)
  • Introductory Math and Science Requirements (25-30 Credits)
    • Introductory Chemistry (5-6 credits)
    • Introductory Physics (5 credits)
    • ​Introductory Statistics (5 credits)
    • Introductory Calculus (5 credits)
  • Additional Foundation Science Courses (15-17 credits)
  • Earth Systems Ascent Coursework (40 Credits)
    • Earth System Science Focus Courses (20 Credits)
    • Computer Methods and Quantitative Analysis (9-10 credits)
    • Human Dimensions of the Earth System (10 credits)
  • BIS 499 Portfolio Capstone – min. 2.5 grade (5 Credits)
  • Capstone & Portfolio- 5-10 credits from the below options (Subject to approval based on project topics)**
    • B CHEM 495 Investigative Chemistry I**
    • B CHEM, B PHYS, or BST 498/499 Undergraduate Research
    • BES 492 + BES 493**
    • BES 498 Independent Research
    • BIS 495 Internship

Total= 115-127 credits
*Should be taken in the first quarter of IAS enrollment.

Admitted prior to Autumn Quarter 2022?

Students admitted to the Earth System Science major prior to Autumn 2022 may be eligible to complete a retired set of major requirements. For more information, please check with your major advisor.

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Learning objectives

ESS graduates will be expected to demonstrate advanced achievement of UW Bothell’s 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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Academic Advisor

Research Librarian

Environmental Science Lab Manager

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Examples of undergraduate research

Finding undergraduate research opportunities

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*Course requires a prerequisite. Required prerequisites can be found in the course description located in the UW Bothell course catalog.
**Course list maintained by the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

A. Earth Systems Science Base

  • BEARTH 300 Environmental Systems Thinking (5 Credits)
  • BIS 342 Geographic Information Systems (5 Credits)
  • BES 301 Science Methods & Practices or BST 301 Scientific Writing (5 credits)
  • Introductory Environmental Courses (10 credits) **
    • BEARTH 153 Introduction to Geology
    • BEARTH 154 Introduction to Oceanography
    • BEARTH 155 Introduction to Climate Science
    • BEARTH 201 Mapping the Earth System
    • BEARTH 202 Modeling Global Systems
    • BIS 242 Environmental Geography
    • BIS 243 Introduction to Environmental Issues
    • BIS 245 Environment and Humanities
    • 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

B. Introductory Math and Science Requirements (25-30 Credits)

NOTE: A total of 35-38 credits in this bin will be taken due to an additional 5 credits of this requirement being a prerequisite for entry to the degree program.

  • Introductory Chemistry (5-6 credits)
    • B CHEM 143 General Chemistry I + B CHEM 144 General Chemistry I Lab
  • Introductory Physics (5 credits)
    • B PHYS 114 General Physics + B PHYS 117 General Physics Lab
    • B PHYS 121 Mechanics*
  • Introductory Statistics (5 credits)
    • BIS 215
    • B MATH 215
    • STMATH 341
  • Introductory Calculus (5 credits)
    • B MATH 144 Calc for Life & Social Science
    • STMATH 124 Calculus I

C. Additional Foundation Science Course (15-17 credits)**

  • B BIO 180 Introductory Biology
  • B CHEM 153 General Chemistry II + B CHEM 154 General Chemistry Lab II*
  • B CHEM 163 General Chemistry III + B CHEM 164 General Chemistry Lab III*
  • B PHYS 115 General Physics + B PHYS 118 General Physics Laboratory*
  • B PHYS 116 General Physics + B PHYS 119 General Physics Laboratory*
  • B PHYS 122 Electromagnetism & Oscillatory Motion*
  • B PHYS 123 Waves*
  • CSS 112 Introduction to Programming for Scientific Applications
  • CSS 142 Computer Programming I
  • STMATH 125 Calculus II*
  • STMATH 126 Calculus III*

D. Earth Systems Ascent (40 Credits)

ESS majors must take 2 courses at the 400-level as well as 1 fieldwork (F) course from the following 3 categories. Fieldwork 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. Courses counting toward fieldwork are marked as (F).

  • Earth System Science Focus Courses (20 Credits)** — at least 1 course taken must be a field course
    • B BIO 330 Marine Biology (F)*
    • B BIO 335 Salmon and Society (F)*
    • B CHEM 350 Atmospheric Chemistry and Air Pollution*
    • BEARTH 310 Fundamentals of Weather and Climate*
    • BEARTH 317 Soils in the Environment*
    • BEARTH 318 Hydrogeology
    • BEARTH 320 Impacts of Climate Change
    • BEARTH 321 Geomorphology (F)
    • BEARTH 341 Natural Hazards and Human Disasters
    • BES 303 Environmental Monitoring Practicum
    • BES 312 Ecology*
    • BES 316 Ecological Methods*
    • BES 330 Limnology*
    • BES 460 Water Quality (F)
    • BES 486 Watershed Ecology and Management*
    • BES 488 Wetland Ecology (F)*
    • BIS 392 Water and Sustainability
    • BIS 490/B BIO 495 Advanced Seminar/Investigative Biology*
      • Topic: Re-Wilding Northshore: Biodiversity Conservation in an Urbanizing Environment (F)
  • Computer Methods and Quantitative Analysis (9-10 credits)**
    • B CHEM 315 Quantitative Environmental Analysis*
    • B ENGR 310 Computational Physical Modeling*
    • BES 440 Remote Sensing of the Environment
    • BIS 343 Geographic Visualization
    • BIS 344 Intermediate Geographic Analysis and Application*
    • BIS 408 Critical Physical Geography
    • BIS 412 Advanced Data Visualization*
    • BIS 442 Advanced Geographic Analysis and Applications*
    • BIS 447 Topics in Quantitative Inquiry
    • CSS 455 Introduction to Computational Science and Scientific Programming*
    • STMATH 207 Introduction to Differential Equations*
    • STMATH 208 Matrix Algebra with Applications*
    • STMATH 224 Multivariable Calculus*
  • Human Dimensions of the Earth System (10 credits)**
    • BES 485 Conservation Biology
    • BIS 218 Power of Maps
    • BIS 245 Environment and Humanities
    • BIS 252 Politics of Science
    • BIS 282 Globalization
    • BIS 304 Political Economy and the Environment
    • BIS 306 Marine Diversity and Conservation
    • BIS 307 Environmental Justice
    • BIS 319 Public Arts and Environmental Restoration
    • BIS 320 Comparative Political Economies
    • BIS 338 Political Institutions and Processes
    • BIS 345 American Environmental Thought
    • BIS 353 Human Rights Theory and Practice
    • BIS 346 Topics in Environmental Policy
    • BIS 356 Ethics and the Environment
    • BIS 359 Principles & Controversies of Sustainability
    • BIS 372 Representation, Colonialism, and the Tropical World
    • BIS 385 Art & Climate Change
    • BIS 386 Climate Change Adaptation Policy
    • BIS 391 Environmental History of the Pacific Northwest
    • BIS 392 Water & Sustainability
    • BIS 394 Comparative Economic Development
    • BIS 405 Environmental Education
    • BIS 406 Urban Planning and Geography
    • BIS 408 Critical Physical Geography
    • BIS 415 Public Policy and Law
    • BIS 458 Energy, Environment and Society
    • BIS 459 Conservation & Sustainable Development
    • BIS 468 Human Rights and Sustainable Development
    • BIS 483 Community Organizing
    • BISGST 303 History and Globalization
    • BISGST 324 International Political Economy
    • BISSTA 304 Institutions and Social Change
    • BISSTS 355 History of Science and Technology
    • BST 445 Political Economy of Energy

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