Earth Sciences & Environmental Sustainability


The interdisciplinary Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability doctoral program will prepare you to be part of a growing industry of leaders, scientists, and engineers addressing issues of climate change, water scarcity, natural resource demand, and environmental sustainability in the Southwest, United States, and the global community. 


In addition to coursework in the areas of environmental science, ecosystem science, geoscience, environmental engineering, conservation biology, and climate science, the program offers a choice of three emphases:

  • Earth and Planetary Systems
  • Climate and Environmental Change
  • Engineering Sustainable Systems


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Admissions requirements for the Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability graduate program:

Preference is given to students with a graduate degree from an accredited college or university of recognized standing:

  • geology
  • earth sciences
  • environmental sciences
  • environmental policy and sustainability
  • engineering
  • ecology
  • forestry
  • planetary sciences
  • a closely related field
  • Minimum of a 3.00 cumulative GPA (scale is a 4.0 = A)
  • GRE General Test

Application deadline: January 15

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A potential faculty advisor must be identified by the applicant before applying to the Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability PhD program. This advisor will assist you in developing your program of study.


Academic Catalog Link

Funding Your Graduate Education

A variety of funding possibilities exist to support your education at NAU:

For more information on funding, please visit the Graduate College.



The Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability degree program reaches across the applied and basic sciences and environmental policy and engineering solutions by focusing on three emphases, outlined below and described in the academic catalog.

Earth and Planetary Systems

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    This emphasis will prepare you to pursue research and educational opportunities that:

    1) Advance knowledge in the critical areas for society of energy, natural resources and water, and natural hazards.
    2) Continue the cutting-edge research currently being done on the Earth and planets.
    3) Apply this knowledge in areas that bridge between the geosciences and physics, chemistry, engineering, and biology.

    This focus area will train and educate you to be a future leader in areas of industry with growing demands (e.g., natural resources and energy), and in government agencies that require PhD-level researchers to inform policy decisions on some of the largest problems facing society.

    Climate and Environmental Change

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    The Climate and Environmental Change emphasis is designed to develop research and educational skills that:

    1) Advance new understandings of the natural climate variability.
    2) Improve projections of climate change and its impacts on ecosystems and their hydrological and geological underpinnings (i.e. the landscape).
    3) Apply this knowledge to informing policy decisions about how best to manage natural resources under changing climate and related environmental stresses.


    It combines the long-term perspective from geological archives with process-oriented investigations of today, with the goal of integrating a field-based understanding of natural systems into predictive models to support sustainable resource management in the face of climate change.

    Engineering Sustainable Systems

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    The goals of this emphasis are to develop research and educational skills that:

    1) Advance engineering analysis and applications relevant to sustainable development.
    2) Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of engineering processes, products, and education.
    3) Understand and apply their knowledge in the sustainability contexts of economic viability, environmental compatibility and sustainability, societal impacts, and policy development and implications.

    The Engineering Sustainable Systems emphasis is designed for you as an engineer, if you’re interested in an understanding of the economic, societal and environmental implications of engineering systems. You will have a strong background in engineering enhanced by understanding future sustainability of our environment, and will be prepared for careers in academia, industry, and governmental organizations.


    Course requirements

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    Required for all emphases:

    • ENV 555: Environmental Science/Policy Interface
    • EES 605: Regional Topics in Earth and Environmental Science and Policy
    • EES 606: Research Methods in Earth and Environmental Science        

    Professional experience: Any experience that significantly broadens knowledge and skills, and advances your career objectives.  See an advisor. (6 units) 

    • 2 seminar courses (698) selected by student and committee
    • 15 units of EES 799 for the research, writing, and oral defense of an approved dissertation
    • Comprehensive exam

    Emphasis requirements:

    Select courses specific to an area of emphasis and dissertation topic, with at least 6 units in the area of emphasis chosen with approval of the student's dissertation committee. (30 units):

    Climate and Environmental Change Emphasis

    Graduate-level courses with EES, ENV, BIO, or FOR prefixes, or other courses that focus on climate or environmental change

    Earth and Planetary Systems Emphasis

    Graduate-level courses with GLG prefix, or other courses that focus on earth or planetary systems

    Engineering Sustainable Systems Emphasis

    Graduate-level courses with CENE or ME prefixes, or other courses that focus on engineering sustainable systems

    Potential Faculty Advisors

    See our Faculty Directory, browse our Research Areas, or view faculty lists below (including faculty from additional departments outside of SESES)

    Earth & Planetary Systems

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    Nadine Barlow, PhD
    Impact Cratering and Planetary Surfaces
    Phone: 928-523-5452

    Thomas Hoisch, PhD
    Metamorphic Petrology and Tectonics
    Phone: 928-523-1904

    David Koerner, PhD
    Phone: 928-523-4562

    Rod Parnell, PhD
    Aqueous Geochemistry
    Phone: 928-523-3329

    Ryan Porter, PhD

    Mary Reid, PhD
    Igneous Petrology and Isotope Geochemistry
    Phone: 928-523-7200

    Nancy Riggs, PhD
    Volcanology and Tectonics
    Phone: 928-523-9362

    James Sample, PhD
    Low-temperature Geochemistry and Structural Geology
    Phone: 928-523-0881

    Michael Smith, PhD

    David Trilling, PhD
    Planetary Sciences

    Paul Umhoefer, PhD
    Phone: 928-523-6464

    Climate & Environmental Change

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    Scott Anderson, PhD
    Phone: 928-523-5821

    Clare Aslan, PhD
    Conservation Ecology

    Rebecca Best, PhD
    Aquatic Ecology and Evolution

    Brett Dickson, PhD
    Conservation Biology
    Phone: 928-523-3592

    Laura Huenneke, PhD

    Deborah Huntzinger, PhD
    Climate Science and Solutions
    Phone: 928-523-1669

    Nancy Johnson, PhD
    Soil Ecology
    Phone: 928-523-6473

    Darrell Kaufman, PhD
    Phone: 928-523-7192

    Nicholas McKay

    Rachel Mitchell, PhD
    Plant Ecology

    Denielle Perry, PhD
    Environmental Policy

    Temuulen “Teki” Sankey, PhD
    Land cover remote sensing

    Robert L. Sanford, Jr., PhD
    Ecosystems biogeochemistry
    Phone: 928-523-1637

    Ted Schuur, PhD
    Ecosystem Dynamics

    Thomas Sisk, PhD
    Conservation Biology
    Phone: 928-523-7183

    Diana Stuart, PhD
    Environmental Sociology

    Abe Springer, PhD
    Ecohydrology and Sustainable Hydrogeology
    Phone: 928-523-7198

    Engineering Sustainable Systems

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    Tom Acker, PhD
    Energy Systems and Renewable Energy
    Phone: 928-523-8363

    Bridget Bero, PhD
    Environmental Transport, Air Quality
    Phone: 928-523-2051

    Constantin Ciocanel, PhD
    Engineering Mechanics and Advanced Materials

    Rand Decker, PhD
    Snow and Avalanche Engineering
    Phone: 928-523-6083

    Heidi Feigenbaum, PhD
    Engineering Mechanics/Continuum Mechanics/Material Modeling

    Paul Flikkema, PhD
    Computational Ecological Systems
    Phone: 928-523-6114

    Joshua Hewes, PhD
    Sustainable Structural Engineering
    Phone: 928-523-1478

    Brent Nelson, PhD
    Energy, Renewable Energy, Thermal Processes
    Phone: 928-523-0862

    Ernesto Penado, PhD
    Applications of Composite Sustainable Materials
    Phone: 928-523-9453

    John Tester, PhD
    Systems Engineering and Engineering Education
    Phone: 928-523-0032

    Peter Vadasz, PhD
    Energy Systems and General Sustainability
    Phone: 928-523-5843

    Niranjan Venkatraman, PhD
    Sustainable Electrical Engineering
    Phone: 928-523-0373