Stanford University
Death Valley

Geological Sciences

The study of our planet from its deep interior to the surface, and through its 4.6 billion years of history.

About Us

Jonathan Payne

Chair's Welcome

Welcome to the Department of Geological Sciences. Our research and teaching draw on and benefit from additional expertise in the school spanning geophysics, geochemistry, geobiology, Earth resources, and Earth system science as well as the numerous state-of-the-art analytical facilities maintained within the school.

Living at a time of rapid environmental change and growing demand on Earth’s resources, understanding how our planet works has never been more important, not only to satisfy our innate curiosity about how the world we live in came to be but also for ensuring a sustainable world for ourselves and future generations. We are dedicated to improving our understanding of planetary processes from core to atmosphere as well as how those processes led to the origin and evolution of life on Earth (and perhaps other planets) and the formation of Earth’s natural resources.

Undergraduate and graduate courses and degree programs within the department offer an opportunity to understand our planet and its neighbors, broad skillsets in field observation, laboratory analysis and experiment, data analysis, as well as written and oral communication. Previous students in the department have applied these skills to subsequent careers in a wide variety of fields, including: geosciences in academia, government, and industry; law; medicine; journalism; environmental science; and many more. Please contact us if you would like to learn more. 

We look forward to hearing from you!

Students working in Death Valley

The geological sciences are naturally interdisciplinary, and include the study of earth materials, earth processes, and how they have changed over Earth's 4.56 billion year history. More specifically, courses and research within the department address the chemical and physical makeup and properties of minerals and rocks (at pressures from the surface to the core), as well as of soils, sediments, and water; the formation and evolution of Earth and other planets; the processes that deform Earth's crust and mantle and that shape Earth's surface; the stratigraphic, paleobiological, and geochemical records of Earth history including changes in climate, oceans, and atmosphere; present-day, historical, and long-term feedbacks between the geosphere and biosphere, and the origin and occurrence of our natural resources.

The department's research is critical to the study of natural hazards (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and floods), environmental and geological engineering, surface and groundwater management, the assessment, exploration, and extraction of energy, mineral and water resources, remediation of contaminated water and soil, geological mapping and land use planning, and human health and the environment.

A broad range of instrumentation for elemental, structural and radiogenic/stable isotope analysis is available, including ion microprobe, electron microprobe, thermal and gas source mass spectrometry, inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance, X-ray diffraction and scanning electron microscopy. The Stanford Nanocharacterization Laboratory and facilities at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) and the U.S. Geological Survey in nearby Menlo Park are also available. Branner Library, devoted exclusively to the Earth Sciences, represents one of the department's most important resources. The department also maintains rock sample preparation (crushing, cutting, polishing), mineral separation, and microscopy facilities.

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