Earth and Planetary Science
EPS Near-Surface Geochemistry and Geobiology

Berkeley Campaign

Heritage and History
The Earth and Planetary Science Department and programs are among the strongest on campus. Significant resources are already in place, including greatly esteemed faculty and staff, brilliant undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, well-equipped labs and substantial building space, some fellowship funds, and a strong alumni base. These assets provide an excellent foundation on which to build the EPS program of the future. The goal: to realize the program’s promise in expanded educational opportunities, research discoveries, and intellectual contributions to global human knowledge.

The Path to Knowledge and Solutions

There is palpable excitement in the classrooms, labs, and field stations where EPS scientists and students explore fascinating questions, do superb research and create innovative solutions to some of our most pressing problems.

This is a pivotal time in our explorations and studies; only limited resources can hold us back. With financial support from others who share the thirst for knowledge and the commitment to global solutions, Earth and Planetary Science at Berkeley can move strongly forward.

The first field class at UC Berkeley in 1891, taught by Prof. Andrew Lawson

Specific funding needs are well defined:

  • New Research Initiatives, Innovation & People: Central to the continued excellence and innovation of the program are new initiatives and the brilliant people to develop them. Strategic leverage points to support these new initiatives and people include Innovation Awards to support:
    • Pilot research projects
    • Graduate student support and graduate fellowships
    • Graduate student awards for excellence
  • Endowed Chairs with emphasis on innovation ($1-2 M): Scientific discoveries and advances in our understanding of the Earth are aided by technological innovations that enable new observations. EPS is leading the innovation on multiple fronts including a new modeling system to more fully understand the life cycle of water, ocean carbon sensors and extensive seismological studies. Such new observations will not only advance earth science, but will also guide management of natural resources and preparedness for natural hazards and climate change. Endowed faculty chairs support these and other opportunities for faculty and the department to pursue new directions of excellence.
  • Speakers Program ($ 500K; $25K / year): Our weekly seminar series presents a lecture on a wide range of earth science topics. Speakers include internationally recognized experts in the field, graduating students and faculty. These inspiring lectures not only convey the state of the art in our highly diverse discipline but also create interaction and exchange of knowledge between various fields, and particularly between students and faculty, an essential component to support cohesion within the department.
  • Renovation Projects ($ 100K-300K): The building is 45 years old. 15 years ago we had a major renovation but largely confined to earthquake safety. There were no funds for improving the infrastructure. At the same time, especially with engaging in new research directions and hiring new faculty there is increasing pressure on space that could be addressed by rational reorganization and renovation. Rooms dedicated to analytical instrumentation are a top priority. Over time our infra-structure may become obsolete and renovation projects, especially for analytical facilities are badly needed.
  • Undergraduate support including field work and research (Endowment: $ 400K ; $20K / year): Undergraduate learning relies on engaging students early in research projects and in earth sciences field work. We are fortunate to have the Ramsden Fund, donated by an alumnus, to promote the undergraduate environment but this fund is restricted. We wish to offer the same opportunities to all students, particularly at a time when we strive to include underrepresented groups.
  • Outreach to K-12 Education ($500K; $25K / year): The department stands poised at a divide in both visibility and contribution to society at large at a critical moment in American history. Global warming, resource depletion, and pollution pose serious threats to the environment and put earth sciences at the forefront of public concerns. Yet understanding of earth science issues remains almost invisible in the K-12 education system. EPS can contribute an important new role in helping to educate young students in earth sciences by having our own students participate in community projects and by preparing earth science teachers for K-12 schools.

Students from Oakland Charter School visiting the Department with undergraduate student instructor

Central Themes:

Climate Change

Climate change is urgent, as are actions to slow global warming and to adapt to or mitigate its impact. Guiding any climate solution or action must perforce be the scientific understanding of the processes that maintain or alter climate. EPS is at the forefront of climate change science, and is leading the development of the next-generation global climate prediction model that links climate physics with the biological and chemical processes that alter atmospheric composition and marine and terrestrial ecosystems. In collaboration with economists, policy experts, computer scientists and mathematicians on campus and at LBNL, EPS faculty are also leading the development of a new generation of an integrated earth system model to link global environmental predictions to regional and local decisions.

Clouds over the Pacific viewed from Space Shuttle (Courtesy of NASA


EPS faculty and students are engaged in earthquake research in order to identify the hazards we face and mitigate their impacts. This effort is focused within the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory (BSL) which remains at the forefront of earthquake research providing tools, data and insight to other seismological laboratories across the US and around the world. BSL also develops and operates geophysical networks across the state and has the unique mission to provide timely information on earthquakes to the University, the general public, local and state government and private organizations. Current research includes imaging of tectonic processes within the lithosphere, study of the earthquake rupture process, and the development of rapid post-earthquake and early warning information systems (see figure). Seed funding is needed for development of innovative new techniques and equipment, to purchase and deploy instrumentation, and support research.

AlertMap generated by the earthquake early warning system currently under developmental testing. It shows a map of the predicted distribution of ground shaking for the magnitude 5.4 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area on October 30, 2007. This prediction of ground shaking was possible a few seconds before shaking in San Francisco. Further development of this system could provide seconds to tens of seconds warning prior to future earthquakes around the world.


Volcanic eruptions provide spectacular and frequent (more than 70 volcanoes erupt every year) reminders that Earth is a dynamic and evolving planet. These events have global effects on climate and life. Despite a long history of investigation, including seminal work by Berkeley faculty over the past century, numerical models of volcanic processes and real-time monitoring of active volcanoes are only now beginning to show their promise to both predict eruptions and quantitatively interpret volcanic deposits. Volcanic systems are also directly relevant for geothermal energy. Precise and accurate geochronology is required. There is a pressing need to develop new methods of quantification and modeling to provide a detailed understanding of how volcanic systems evolve over time.

The greatest departmental need is support for field studies for faculty and students to initiate new projects. This includes travel costs, field instruments, and the analytical costs of making measurements on collected samples. With Berkeley’s long history in volcanology, current faculty interest, and geographic proximity to many recently active volcanoes, Berkeley will continue to influence volcanological research.

California volcanoes: Little Glass Mountain obsidian flow (foreground) erupted around 1000 years ago; Mount Shasta’s (background) last eruption was in 1786. The last major eruption in California was Mount Lassen in 1915.

Pollution and Environment: San Francisco Bay, Delta, and Watershed

The San Francisco Bay and Delta form the hub of California’s water supply system - providing freshwater to twenty-seven Californians. Precipitation and runoff from almost half of California drains through the estuary and out into the Pacific Ocean. San Francisco Bay, now considered one of the most “urbanized” estuaries in the world, has undergone major transformations since the Gold Rush, dramatically transforming the natural landscape, and impacting natural habitats, ecosystems, and wildlife. Research efforts in the EPS Department are focused on understanding the natural processes that shape San Francisco Bay estuary over the timescale of hours to hundreds to thousands of years, including how natural changes in climate and environment have affected ecosystems in the Bay and its surrounding salt marshes, and the role of marsh microbial communities in contaminant amelioration.

San Francisco Bay estuary and Delta. Pollution in Bay near Richmond.