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Environmental and Geological Sciences


Environmental and Geological Sciences

The specialization in Environmental and Geological Sciences offers research opportunities in a broad spectrum of Earth-focused science reflecting the research interests of the faculty – including topics of classical Geology; studies of Earth's fluid envelopes; and applying combinations of geology, biology, chemistry, and physics to studying Earth's diverse environments and their ecosystems. These are grouped into four mutually supportive core areas within which faculty expertise and state-of-the-art instrumentation support exciting scientific investigations:

Atmospheric and Hydrological Sciences

Students with a primary interest in the two fluid envelopes that support life on Earth will find research opportunities in the Atmospheric and Hydrological Sciences area of concentration. CUNY faculty members are leaders in studies of weather, climate, and hydrology. Current research addresses topics such as storms, droughts, hurricanes, flooding, groundwater depletion and contamination, and their impacts on society. Recently identified trends in the atmosphere, cryosphere, and hydrosphere indicate that anthropogenic climate changes now underway will profoundly alter terrestrial and marine hydrological systems with uncertain consequences for humanity. Our studies in paleoclimatology not only help with understanding the Earth’s climate history, but also can provide clues to what the future holds in store. Current research projects include: development of the history of hurricanes, isotope distributions within hurricanes, remote sensing of atmospheric pollutants, surface enhanced zeolites in groundwater treatment facilities, and paleoclimates recorded in the sediments below Antarctic ice shelves.

Terrestrial, Estuarine and Marine Studies

The Terrestrial, Estuarine, and Marine Studies (TEMS) specialization is designed for students interested in a wide range of environmental sciences encompassing both basic and applied research. TEMS research emphasizes physical, biological, geochemical, and ecological interactions. TEMS offers opportunities for research in one of the world’s most densely populated areas, including impacts of urbanization, climate change, and invasive species on a variety of areas such as Long Island Sound and the Hudson River Estuary. Worldwide studies include: impacts of changing atmospheric chemistry on forests of the Upper Mid-west; global change and the intensification of Gulf hurricanes; the role of post-glacial climate change and rising sea level in the flooding of Eurasian inland seas; and arsenic contamination of South Asian water supplies.

Earth Materials and Earth Processes

Society has become increasingly aware of the importance of geologic constraints on a sustainable economy within a stable and healthy environment. Topics in this core area have traditionally resided in classically oriented Geology programs but are increasingly incorporated in modern, broad-spectrum studies of urban and rural environments. Such studies offer insights into the foundations of Earth’s varied environments and evidence from the past as to the nature and rate of environmental change. Doctoral studies can be done in mineralogy and petrology; sedimentology and stratigraphy; paleontology and paleoecology; tectonics; geomorphology; geochemistry; geochronology; seismology and other areas of geophysics; and resource exploration and development. Such work not only advances the frontiers of these disciplines but also improves our understanding of the factors controlling environment and environmental change. Ongoing research includes studies on: tectonic evolution of the Appalachian and Caledonide orogens; deformation mechanisms in ductile and brittle fault systems; geothermometry and geobarometry; fluvial, eolian, glacial, and coast erosion and deposition; and evolutionary paleobiology of sharks.

Urban Environments and Public Health

Epidemics, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanism, storms, and their prediction and effects on urban societies have become a subject of intense concern. The Urban Environment and Public Health core area focuses on these and other environmental, geological, and geomedical aspects of urban life. The Graduate Center’s unique location in the heart of one of the world’s largest urban areas insures that students interested in contributing to improvement in urban life and in the health of urban populations and to the preservation of natural ecosystems in urban settings will find unexcelled opportunities at CUNY. Current research in this core area includes: studies of the effect of New York City power station effluents on fish populations; monitoring of heavy metal and organic compounds in benthos/bottom sediment/water in New York City estuaries; repopulation of native species in New York coastal waters; and the epidemiology and risk assessment of asbestos, arsenic, silica, talc, polychlorinated biphenyls, and cigarette smoke in human populations.

Modern research in Environmental and Geological Sciences commonly crosses the boundaries between these areas, e.g. isotope geochemists and biostratigraphers work with sedimentologists and climatologists to analyze paleoclimates over tens of millions of years; bedrock geologists work with geochemists and hydrogeologists to understand arsenic concentration in groundwater drinking supplies. Our program is designed to emphasize such linkages.

A full range of research facilities is available within CUNY, and, in addition, students may work at organizations and institutions with which our faculty are affiliated, such as Brookhaven National Laboratory, the American Museum of Natural History, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.