Marine and Environmental Sciences


Geoffrey C. Trussell, PhD
Professor and Chair

Marine Science Center
781.581.6076 (fax)

Jonathan Grabowski, PhD
Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies and Co-Director of MS in Environmental Science and Policy

Jennie Stephens, PhD
Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy, College of Social Sciences and Humanities, and Co-Director of MS in Environmental Science and Policy

David Dawson, Academic Coordinator, 617.373.2059,

The PhD program in marine and environmental sciences is designed to train high-caliber and independent scientists whose research addresses fundamental and applied ecological and evolutionary questions at local, regional, national, and global scales.

This training will include both general and specialized course work in ecology and evolution, geoscience, sustainability, and marine sciences, with curricular programs providing specialized options tailored to each student’s research interests. Students benefit from top-notch research facilities at the Marine Science Center in Nahant and on the main campus in Boston. Graduates of the program are prepared for careers in academia, government agencies, and the private sector.

The Master of Science in Marine Biology, also known as the Three Seas Program, gives students an opportunity to learn in three world-renowned research facilities in New England, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Northwest. In addition to rigorous course work, the program offers the opportunity for students to formulate research questions, design and conduct critical experiments, and interpret and present results. The 15-month program culminates with an internship in the field and independent research project.

The Master of Science in Environmental Science and Policy is a joint program between the College of Science and the College of Social Sciences and Humanities’ School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. The interdisciplinary program aims to prepare the next generation of environmental professionals for dynamic opportunities focused on the science and policy of sustainability and resilience. 

Earth and Environmental Sciences Courses

ENVR 5115. Advanced Topics in Environmental Geology. 4 Hours.

Examines selected topics in geology through an understanding of the basic processes, materials, and evolution. Topics include basin analysis, landform evolution, volcanology, or regional geology. May be repeated without limit.

ENVR 5190. Soil Science. 4 Hours.

Provides a description and evaluation of the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils. Includes soil formation, soil types, and processes that occur in soil including the importance of these processes for the soil productivity and management of soil. Also covers sources, reactions, transports, and fates of chemical species in soils and associated water and air environments, as well as the chemical behavior of elements and compounds and the phenomena affecting natural and anthropogenic materials in soils.

ENVR 5201. Geologic Field Seminar. 4 Hours.

Studies aspects of geology/environmental science associated with a particular field setting, in the classroom, followed by an intensive field investigation. Examples include carbonate petrology and reef ecology, then field studies in the Bahamas; glacial geology and volcanology, followed by field studies in Iceland; or stratigraphy of the U.S. Southwest, with field studies in the Grand Canyon. Focuses on using field observations and field data to interpret modern and ancient geologic processes. May be repeated without limit.

ENVR 5202. Environmental Science Field Seminar Abroad. 4 Hours.

Offers an intensive environmental science field study experience associated with a particular off-campus geographic setting, such as Iceland, Newfoundland, Bahamas, etc. Offers students an opportunity to learn the principles of field study, to learn to recognize and record significant data, and to reach conclusions about a range of field-based problems being studied. May be repeated without limit.

ENVR 5210. Environmental Planning. 4 Hours.

Examines aspects of surface runoff from geomorphic and hydrologic perspectives. Develops methods for description and calculation of major river and drainage basin processes and applies the results to the planning process. Examines human modification of these systems—including urbanization, dams, and channelization—and applies this information to an understanding of regulatory processes. This is a writing-intensive course.

ENVR 5230. Structural Geology. 4 Hours.

Focuses on the description and origin of rock structures, with emphasis on interpretation of the mechanics of deformation. Lab analyses of structural features and problems utilize geologic maps, structural models, stereograms, petrographic microscope, rock specimens, and field exercises.

ENVR 5231. Lab for ENVR 5230. 1 Hour.

Accompanies ENVR 5230. Covers topics from the course through various experiments.

ENVR 5240. Sedimentary Basin Analysis. 4 Hours.

Presents the analysis of sedimentary basins based on detailed study of sedimentary petrology, sedimentary structures, and stratigraphic sequences and fossils.

ENVR 5241. Lab for ENVR 5240. 1 Hour.

Accompanies ENVR 5240. Lab work uses geologic sections, suites of sedimentary rocks and thin sections, and drill cores and bore hole logs to interpret and analyze the geologic history and environmental and economic potential of sedimentary basins.

ENVR 5242. Ancient Marine Life. 4 Hours.

Begins with a survey of major events, processes, and important invertebrate phyla preserved in the fossil record. This knowledge of paleontology is then utilized to evaluate evolutionary principles and the nature of function and adaptation in the history of life. Organization of populations into paleocommunities and their relationships to changes in environments through time permit the assessment and evaluation of paleoecology in Earth history.

ENVR 5243. Lab for ENVR 5242. 1 Hour.

Accompanies ENVR 5242. Introduces invertebrate fossil morphology by study of fossil specimens of all major groups. Principles of paleoecology and evolutionary theory are illustrated by analysis of suites of fossil specimens.

ENVR 5250. Geology and Land-Use Planning. 4 Hours.

Studies the causes and solutions of geologic environmental problems related to land use. Emphasizes geologic-based land-use planning solutions to problems related to landslides, ground subsidence, coastal erosion, stream erosion, flooding, soil erosion, and groundwater pollution. Assignments are based on actual examples requiring application of concepts covered in the course.

ENVR 5260. Geographical Information Systems. 4 Hours.

Examines geographical information systems (GIS), a way to input, store, analyze, and display spatial data (data with a geographic location). Introduces the major components and applications of this exciting new tool. Consists of two lectures and one laboratory period a week. Laboratory exercises introduce methods of data analysis as well as practical issues of how to manipulate various GIS software packages.

ENVR 5270. Glacial and Quaternary History. 4 Hours.

Examines the environmental conditions conducive to forming glaciers, the processes of ice movement, glacial erosion, modes of deposition, and the resulting landforms created under and around glaciers. Introduces the natural climate change of the ice age cycles and the major events of the Quaternary period.

ENVR 5271. Lab for ENVR 5270. 1 Hour.

Accompanies ENVR 5270. Covers topics from the course through various experiments.

ENVR 5400. Marine Science Policy and Ethics. 3 Hours.

Offers ethics training for a critical review of marine policies in the following topical areas: marine environmental ethics (conservation and preservation), conflicts of interest/research integrity, human subjects/mammal protections, ethical challenges in marine science modeling, ethics of fishing governance (marine conservation and regulations), sustainability models for marine sciences, data management, and new models of comanagement and community engagement with marine research. Reviews critical environmental policies affecting marine resources (NEPA, CERCLA, RCRA, Endangered Species, Marine Mammal Protection, and Oil Pollution acts, Magnuson-Stevens Act, etc.). Critically evaluates case studies and ethical review of coastal management for sustainability and pollution control, marine fisheries, and energy development.

ENVR 5984. Research. 1-4 Hours.

Offers an opportunity to conduct research under faculty supervision. May be repeated without limit.

ENVR 6102. Environmental Science and Policy Seminar 2. 4 Hours.

Critically explores fundamental and modern theory, methodologies, and practices for conserving and managing coupled social-ecological systems (SES). Focuses on science and policy of environment management through the lens of coupled SES. Historically, the majority of studies focused on human-environment interactions have typically involved measuring and describing the negative impacts of human populations and development on natural ecosystems. More recently, however, environmental science and practice have experienced a paradigm shift to where now humans and the natural environment are recognized as tightly coupled systems. From an SES perspective, humans continue to shape the structure and function of ecosystems through both stressors and stewardship. However, a key advancement is the recognition that people and their behavior are directly influenced by structure, function, and services of ecosystems.

ENVR 6150. Food Security and Sustainability. 4 Hours.

Explores the science of sustainable food production around the world and examines the issues related to nutrition and hunger, food safety, and food production. Discusses issues such as population growth, climate change, and sustainability, which are presented as thematic topics. Also discusses issues such as soil health, genetically modified (and engineered) foods, water use, governmental food guidelines, and human health. Pulls focus on the thematic topics from scientific literature but also includes additional sources of information, such as gray literature, media coverage, documentaries, and popular nonfiction. Explores local examples of sustainable agriculture, including incentives in food security and sustainability in New England.

ENVR 6500. Biostatistics. 3 Hours.

Offers an in-depth overview of statistical methods used to analyze data, with a focus on the biological sciences as well as nonbiological applications. Covers probability theory, Bayes' theorem, hypothesis testing, derivations of statistical distributions, models used for inference with categorical and/or continuous data, linear models, model selection, information theory, and nonparametric methods in statistics. Offers students an opportunity to learn how to apply models to data in supervised lab sessions in the R programming environment.

ENVR 6501. Lab for ENVR 6500. 1 Hour.

Accompanies ENVR 6500. Introduces the core principles for programming in R, key functions, and application to real datasets.

ENVR 6962. Elective. 1-4 Hours.

Offers elective credit for courses taken at other academic institutions. May be repeated without limit.

Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology Courses

EEMB 5130. Ecological Dynamics. 4 Hours.

Offers a comprehensive overview of mathematical and computational concepts needed to construct (meta)population, (meta)community, and (meta)ecosystem models. Focuses on how to mathematically derive and model processes (growth, trophic and nontrophic species interactions, dispersal, and environmental variability) to understand patterns of population abundance and species diversity. Emphasizes the mathematical tools required to analyze the dynamical behavior of ecological models (stability, invasion, graphical, and numerical analyses) and validate model predictions using empirical data (via maximum likelihood and optimization methods). Sophomores admitted by permission of instructor.

EEMB 5131. Lab for EEMB 5130. 1 Hour.

Accompanies EEMB 5130. Offers supervised lab sessions designed to show how the topics covered in the lectures can be addressed in industry-standard programming environments.

EEMB 5303. Marine Biology Careers Seminar. 1 Hour.

Covers the information and tools needed to begin pursuing career opportunities in marine biology. Encourages students to explore a variety of career paths, construct résumés, contact potential employers for their internship and permanent positions. Presents invited speakers from state and federal agencies, and from private consulting firms, to talk about their work and career track.

EEMB 5504. Biology of Corals. 3 Hours.

Focuses on the biology of Scleractinian reef-building corals and associated anthozoans found in coral reef ecosystems. Topics include systematics, anatomy, physiology, and population biology of corals, with an emphasis on the latest techniques employed by coral molecular biologists and physiologists.

EEMB 5506. Biology and Ecology of Fishes. 3 Hours.

Presents an examination of the systematics, functional morphology, and behavioral, larval, and community ecology of reef fishes through lectures. Field and laboratory experiments focus on morphology, behavior, and community ecology of reef fishes.

EEMB 5508. Marine Birds and Mammals. 2 Hours.

Studies principles of classification, anatomy, physiology, behavior, and evolution of seabirds and marine mammals. Also addresses conservation and protection of animals and essential habitat. Includes field trips to observe local species.

EEMB 5509. Lab for EEMB 5508. 1 Hour.

Accompanies EEMB 5508. Covers topics from the course through various experiments.

EEMB 5512. Tropical Terrestrial Ecology. 1 Hour.

Studies the animals, plants, and ecosystems of the new world tropics, with the community structure and diversity of terrestrial Jamaican habitats as an example. Includes field trips to lowland forests, carbonate caves, and the Blue Mountain mist-montane forest. The issue of land use and development vs. conservation is a recurring theme.

EEMB 5516. Oceanography. 4 Hours.

Offers an integrated overview of physical, chemical, biological, and geological processes operating in the world ocean. Seemingly unrelated topics like plate tectonics, oscillating currents and waves in the atmosphere, the activities of microbes and phytoplankton, and land-use practices in the middle of the continent have global reach and interact with each other in surprising yet understandable ways. Examines how new technologies have allowed stunning insights into global weather and climate, the deep sea, biodiversity, and how the biogeochemistry of the oceans can be measured and understood. Presents data use and analysis and formal reasoning used in marine science. Views the ocean as a “system of systems” where integration of experience from disparate disciplines is key.

EEMB 5517. Lab for EEMB 5516. 1 Hour.

Accompanies EEMB 5516. Offers experiential field and laboratory exercises in oceanography. The New England rocky intertidal, subtidal, wetlands, barrier islands, and dunes provide opportunities for field exercises in marine geology, physical oceanography, and marine ecology. Investigates processes affecting changes in the global ocean, such as ocean acidification; temperature stress in organisms; hydrodynamic drag and lift; suspension feeding; and the ecophysiology of reef corals, boreal invertebrates, and macroalgae.

EEMB 5518. Ocean and Coastal Processes. 2 Hours.

Examines the coupling between physical and biological processes on coral reefs and adjacent habitats. Focuses on biophysical, oceanographic, and benthic-pelagic processes acting in coral reef and associated nearshore ecosystems. Specific topics include oceanographic forcing mechanisms, organismal biomechanics, hydrodynamics, and nutrient dynamics.

EEMB 5520. Coral Reef Ecology. 2 Hours.

Examines the ecology and paleoecology of coral reefs. This course highlights the ecological importance of coral reefs and associated nearshore communities, ecosystem function, changes in reef biotas through geologic time, and the causes and consequences of reef degradation worldwide.

EEMB 5522. Experimental Design Marine Ecology. 4 Hours.

Includes introduction to and application of observational methods in three local marine habitats, experimental design, statistical analysis, R statistical computing and graphics software, and principles of marine ecology. Combines lecture, hand-on research experience, and computer laboratory and includes reading and analyzing the scientific literature and developing research projects. At the end of the semester, students are expected to demonstrate an integrative mastery of course topics by writing a scientific manuscript about a class experiment. Seeks to prepare students for practicing ecology in new environments and to provide students with the foundational knowledge necessary for pursuing more complex concepts in experimental design, statistical analysis, and marine ecology.

EEMB 5523. Lab for EEMB 5522. 1 Hour.

Accompanies EEMB 5522. Covers topics from the course through various experiments.

EEMB 5528. Marine Conservation Biology. 3 Hours.

Examines several critical issues facing marine ecosystems, including invasive species, marine pollution and eutrophication, fisheries impacts, physical alteration of habitats, and global climate change. Offers students an opportunity to spend field time surveying intertidal and subtidal habitats within the San Juan Islands and Friday Harbor Marine Reserve and to conduct independent research projects.

EEMB 5532. Physiological and Molecular Marine Ecology. 3 Hours.

Explores the physiological responses of marine organisms to variations in environmental factors. Uses complementary techniques, including molecular and physiological approaches, to determine genetic relationships at the species and population level and elucidate the mechanistic basis of organismic responses to environmental conditions at the level of genes and gene products.

EEMB 5534. Marine Invertebrate Zoology and Botany. 4 Hours.

Surveys the major groups of marine invertebrates, algae, and plants, in addition to their ecological roles and relationships. Offers students an opportunity to learn to identify these groups and understand the mechanisms they use to survive and adapt to changing oceans. Topics include ecological and evolutionary importance, ecosystem engineering, adaptive physiology, and climate change effects. Emphasizes interrelationships among major taxa. Hands-on learning includes field identification; visits to intertidal and subtidal marine environments; and specimen dissection, preparation, and cataloging. Offers students an opportunity to improve skills in reading and discussing scientific literature, experimental design, and scientific communication. Restricted toThree Seas students only; not open to students who have taken EEMB 5500 or EEMB 5502.

EEMB 5535. Lab for EEMB 5534. 1 Hour.

Accompanies EEMB 5534. Covers topics from the course through various experiments.

EEMB 5536. Ocean and Coastal Sustainability. 3 Hours.

Offers students advanced training in the expanding field of sustainability, with a combined focus on the practical aspects of systems management and the theoretical understanding of whole-systems design and resiliency. Seeks to train future leaders capable of creating innovative solutions to sustainability issues at local and global levels. Key interdisciplinary themes discussed include the social and political aspects of ocean and coastal sustainability (i.e., education and communication), sustainable development and ecosystem stability, the impacts of climate change on ocean and coastal resilience, and the economic and entrepreneurial possibilities in the field of sustainability. Restricted to Three Seas students only.

EEMB 5548. Sociobiology. 4 Hours.

Studies sociobiology, a field of biology that strives to understand the biological basis of social behavior in animals. Sociobiology is a multidisciplinary science, meshing together ethology (animal behavior), ecology, genetics, population biology, and comparative psychology, all within the conceptual framework of evolutionary theory. Why do animals live in societies? Why do animals cooperate? Why do they sometimes show extreme forms of altruism? What are the costs and benefits of group living? Reviews studies on nonhuman animals that demonstrate sociobiological principles by using a series of in-class activities, computer modeling assignments, interpretation of graphical and tabulated data, collection and statistical analyses of behavioral data, as well as the generation and presentation of research.

EEMB 5589. Diving Research Methods. 2 Hours.

Presents experimental design, sampling methodology, statistical analysis, techniques, and the use of underwater equipment to conduct subtidal research.

EEMB 7100. Colloquium. 1 Hour.

Offers a seminar-style course that includes weekly lectures and presentations of selected topics. May be repeated up to four times.

EEMB 7102. Seminar in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. 2 Hours.

Offers an overview of major concepts in the fields of ecology and evolution and how these concepts can be synthesized under a common framework. The first half of the course is organized according to major areas of evolutionary biology, from quantitative genetics to population genetics and phylogenetics and their synthesis. Quantitative genetics, population genetics, and phylogenetics have been historically separate fields and have only recently been synthesized through genomics. Note that quantitative genetics is a field that studies the evolution of phenotypes and requires no genetic information. The second half of the course introduces major concepts in ecology and is designed to introduce students to the major historical underpinnings of community ecology so as to understand the utility (or lack thereof) of these concepts for modern ecology.

EEMB 7103. Seminar in Sustainability Sciences. 2 Hours.

Explores key papers that have shaped modern theory, methodologies, and practices of sustainability science. Sustainability science hinges on integrating social and ecological sciences to assess the sustainability of human-environment interactions. From the social science dimension, many past studies focused on understanding how values, beliefs, and social norms shape human behavior. From an ecological perspective, much work focused on the influence of various institutional arrangements on resource and environmental sustainability. Importantly, a coupled natural-human or social-ecological systems (SES) perspective focuses on the inherently dynamic nature of these systems and interactions.

EEMB 7104. Seminar in Geosciences. 2 Hours.

Exposes graduate students pursuing a PhD in marine and environmental sciences to classical and recent high-impact papers in the fields of recent and deep earth history, landform evolution, microbes and their role in global biogeochemical cycling, nutrient stoichiometry, the global carbon cycle, geochemical proxies, evolution of ocean chemistry, oceanic acidification, the role of organisms in sediment and rock production, and geochemical paleoproxies. Examines applications of the above disciplines to mitigating the impacts of anthropogenic impacts on the Earth system. This is a guided readings course.

EEMB 8507. Marine Biology Graduate Co-op Tutorial. 1 Hour.

Designed to complement learning during co-op. Offers students an opportunity to participate in activities to integrate academic learning and experiential learning including written reflections. Helps students share their experiences in the workplace through class discussions moderated by the instructor. May be repeated without limit.

EEMB 8674. Marine Biology Research Project. 1 Hour.

Offers an opportunity to design and implement a scientifically rigorous independent research project that builds upon current knowledge from the primary literature, under the supervision of a faculty advisor from the program. Students conduct research at any of the program’s locations and are then required to analyze data using rigorous statistical methods, write a journal-style research paper, and present their results in a research seminar.

EEMB 8982. Readings. 1-4 Hours.

Assigns students independent readings on selected topics in ecology, evolution, and marine biology. May be repeated without limit.

EEMB 8984. Research. 1-4 Hours.

Offers students an opportunity to conduct research. May be repeated without limit.

EEMB 8986. Research. 0 Hours.

Offers students an opportunity to conduct full-time research under faculty supervision. May be repeated without limit.

EEMB 9990. Dissertation. 0 Hours.

Offers theoretical and experimental research for the PhD degree. May be repeated once.

EEMB 9996. Dissertation Continuation. 0 Hours.

Offers dissertation supervision by members of the department. May be repeated without limit.