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Stanford University School of Earth Sciences

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Stanford University School of Earth Sciences

The Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, who recently changed their name from the School of Earth Sciences, is one of three schools at Stanford awarding both graduate and undergraduate degrees. Stanford's first faculty member was a professor of geology;[1] as such the School of Earth Sciences is considered the oldest academic foundation of Stanford University. It is composed of four departments and three interdisciplinary programs.[2] Research and teaching within the SES spans a wide range of disciplines.


Earth Sciences at Stanford can trace its roots to the university's beginnings, when Stanford's first president, David Starr Jordan, hired John Casper Branner, a geologist, as the university's first professor. The search for and extraction of natural resources was the focus of Branner's geology department during that period of Western development.


There are four academic departments within the SES; Environmental Earth System Science, Geological and Environmental Sciences, Geophysics, and Energy Resources Engineering There are two interdisciplinary programs housed within the school: the undergraduate and coterminal master's program Earth Systems, and the graduate Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources. In addition, the school organizes a master's degree in Computational Geoscience in collaboration with the Stanford Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering.[3]

The interdisciplinary programs, in conjunction with the four departments, reach out to all other schools on the Stanford campus, the USGS, and both state and federal policy makers.

The school's library, Branner Earth Sciences Library, contains over 125,000 volumes, a large map collection and Stanford's GIS lab for ongoing GIS reference and research consultation.


The school as a whole was ranked as the third best Earth Sciences program by the U.S. News & World Report as of 2014. (Caltech is ranked no. 1, and MIT no. 2).


The SES offers both undergrad and graduate degrees. The majority of the students are graduate students, with a large contingent of coterminal master's degree recipients from the Earth Systems interdisciplinary program. The school attracts students from all 6 of the inhabited continents, and continues to be one of the most ethnically diverse Earth Sciences programs in the US.

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of earth sciences, students entering the program often have a strong background in multiple fields outside of earth sciences such as engineering, mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science, political science, anthropology, and biology.

Students seeking the PhD spend anywhere from 5 to 8 years in their program. All PhD students are fully funded throughout their academic careers at Stanford. The vast majority of the students in GES and Geophysics are admitted as PhD track candidates. By the end of the second academic year (or 6th quarter) PhD students are expected to fulfill the University Orals Doctorate Qualifying requirement. Unlike most disciplines at Stanford, the qualifying examination in the SES is extremely rigorous (often lasting in excess of 4 hours, compared to 1–3 hours in other schools). The students present on their previous research findings- most of which the students have already published in peer-reviewed journals. Also unique to the SES, the faculty strongly encourage the students to lead their own research projects. This results in an abnormally high yield of first authored student publication in peer-reviewed journals.

The majority of the students completing PhDs from the SES do not find it difficult to acquire jobs related to their dissertation work (most entering industry/natural resources, and about a third enter prestigious post-doctoral positions- often at the USGS in Menlo Park, CA).

Because the SES is modest in number of graduate students compared to the other 6 graduate/professional degree granting schools at Stanford, the School of Earth Sciences has a Graduate Student Advisory Committee. The Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC) is composed of students in the School of Earth Sciences who are committed to making the school a better environment by providing a forum for student concerns, promoting integration of the disciplines within the school, and developing programs that will benefit the greater Earth Sciences community. Likewise, most students in the SES report being very happy at quarterly town hall meetings.


Research programs in the SES continue to make groundbreaking discoveries about the planet, its environment, and human interactions. As a result, there are a number of industry funded-research groups (i.e.Stanford Exploration Project, Stanford Wave Physics Laboratory, Stanford Rock Physics and Borehole Geophysics Project) that implement student-led research for industry implementation. Research Groups in the SES:

  • Atmospheric Chemistry
  • Basin and Petroleum Systems Modeling Group
  • Benson Lab
  • Biogeochemistry
  • China Research Group
  • Climate, Tectonics and Landscape Evolution
  • Crustal Deformation and Fault Mechanics
  • Crustal Geophysics
  • Earthquake Seismology
  • Environmental Geophysics
  • Environmental Molecular Science Institute
  • Experimental Mineral Physics
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Geostatistics
  • Geothermal Program
  • High-Pressure & Ultrahigh-Pressure Study Group
  • Hydrogeology
  • Noble Gas Laboratory
  • Ocean Biogeochemistry
  • Paleobiology
  • Radar Interferometry
  • Sedimentary Research Group
  • Silicic Magmatism & Volcanology
  • Smart Fields
  • Soil and Environmental Chemistry
  • Solid-State NMR and Silicate Materials
  • Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry Laboratory
  • Stanford Center for Computational Earth & Environmental Science
  • Stanford Center for Reservoir Forecasting
  • Stanford Exploration Project
  • Stanford Project on Deep-sea Depositional Systems
  • Stanford Rock Physics and Borehole Geophysics Project (
  • Stanford Wave Physics Lab
  • Stress and Crustal Mechanics
  • Structural Geology and Geomechanics
  • Structural Geology and Tectonics
  • SUPRI-A (Heavy and Thermal Oil Recovery)
  • SUPRI-B (Reservoir Simulation)
  • SUPRI-C (Gas Injection)
  • SUPRI-D (Well Testing)
  • SUPRI-HW (Horizontal Wells)
  • Surface and Aqueous Geochemistry
  • Tectonic Geomorphology

San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD)

The San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD) is one of three components of the Earthscope Project, funded by the National Science Foundation in conjunction with the USGS and NASA. The SAFOD site is located just north of the town of Parkfield, California. The SAFOD main hole was drilled to a depth of ~3.4 km in 2004 and 2005, crossing the San Andreas near a region of the fault where repeating Magnitude 2 earthquakes are generated.

A goal of this project is to install instruments to record data near the source of these earthquakes. In addition to the installation of these instruments, rock and fluid samples were continuously collected during the drilling process, and will also be used to analyze changes in geochemistry and mechanical properties around the fault zone. The project will lead to a better understanding of the processes that control the behavior of the San Andreas fault, and it is hoped that the development of instrumentation and analytic methods will help evaluate the possibility of earthquake prediction which is of primary importance for earthquake engineering.

The project is co-PIed by Bill Ellsworth and Steve Hickman of the USGS, and Stanford geophysics faculty member and alum Mark Zoback. Zoback's research in the SES focuses on stress and crustal mechanics. His students are heavily engaged in on-going research in the Global Climate and Energy Project.


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