Study earth sciences at university

What is earth sciences? 

Earth sciences encompasses all the natural sciences that are related to the physical constitution of Earth and its atmosphere. It is the study of the earth, covering its physical characteristics, through four major branches: geology, meteorology, oceanography and astronomy.

The four main branches of earth science all have their own sub-fields, allowing you to study specific aspects of each area or even go on to specialise in one of those areas.

Geology - concentrates on Earth's physical structure and substance

  • Volcanology - focuses on the study of volcanoes
  • Seismology - studies earthquakes

Meteorology - covers forecasting the weather through the study of the processes of the atmosphere

  • Climatology - the study of climate
  • Atmosphere physics - applying physics to the study of the atmosphere

Oceanography - concentrates on the sea and its physical and biological properties

  • Chemical oceanography - the study of chemical elements in the ocean
  • Physical oceanography - focuses on physical conditions and processes within the oceans

Astronomy - deals with space and the physical universe

  • Astrobiology - concerns the study of life in the universe
  • Astrophysics - concentrates on the physical nature of stars and other celestial bodies

Why study earth sciences?

There are a number of benefits to studying Earth Sciences at undergraduate level:

Studying Earth Sciences means you could conduct research that can contribute positively to society. From understanding climate change and its potential consequences, to helping with environmental sustainability or predicting geohazards.

From studying the oceans, volcanoes and earthquakes to space and Earth’s atmosphere, you could help discover something new. Whether it is a new way to predict natural disasters to new weather patterns, stars or even planets, earth sciences really are an area of discovery.

Earth science is a combination of many different subjects. It incorporates areas such as physics, geography and chemistry and applies them to the study of the earth. You will develop and build on skills and practices, such as numeracy, data collection, experimenting and creating hypotheses.

Why study Earth Sciences at Durham University?

Choosing to study Earth Science at Durham means you will be part of the Earth Science Department, set in a state-of-the-art building with top researchers and lectures. You will be able to take advantage of top-class facilities that include:

  • Ocean-Bottom Instrumentation Facility
  • Durham Geochemistry Centre
  • Rock Mechanics Laboratory
  • Petrography and microscopy

The Earth Science Department has a number of major research units that include: the Centre for Research in Earth Energy Systems and the Terrestrial Laser Scanning facility.

In 2017, 95% of graduates of Durham Earth Sciences secured employment or went into further study within six months of graduating. Some of the employers have included BP, Wardell Armstrong, Halliburton and Sirius. Graduates of the Earth Science Department have also pursued different career routes with employers such as Royal Air Force, University of Edinburgh and RIPA International.

Key skills from studying Earth Sciences

There are a variety of key skills you will develop from studying Earth Science at university:

  • Analysis
  • Presentation
  • Time management
  • IT skills
  • Mathematics
  • Data processing
  • Problem solving

What Earth Sciences degree can I study at Durham University?

If you are looking to follow an Earth Sciences path after a foundation year, then Durham University offers five undergraduate degrees that provide a route to a number of careers. The progression degrees are:

  • BSc (Hons) Geology - A three-year course that focuses on different areas of geology, as well as core Earth Science subjects
  • BSc (Hons) Environmental Geoscience - This three-year programme will prepare and develop specialist geoscience students for a future in the environmental sector
  • BSc (Hons) Geophysics with Geography - Gain the skills and the knowledge to assess and mitigate natural hazards and help explore our usage of hydrocarbon and mineral resources with this three-year degree
  • BSc (Hons) Geoscience - Covering a wide range of Earth Science subjects, this three-year course offers all modules are optional, giving you a high degree of flexibility to pursue a variety of careers in this industry when you graduate
  • MSci Earth Sciences - A four-year Masters degree course that gives you the opportunity to follow one of the above degrees for the first three years, before undertaking an independent research project in your area of choice in the fourth year.

Degree preparation at the International Study Centre

Our International Foundation Year in Science and Engineering prepares international students for their Earth Sciences degree at Durham.

You will cover a range of core modules to help you develop the academic and English language skills needed to succeed at university. You will also cover modules directly related to earth science, to help you gain the required knowledge.

1st in the UK

for Geography and Environmental Sciences (The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019)

2nd in the UK

for Geography and Environmental Studies (The Guardian University League Table 2019)

Zain from Saudi Arabia at Queen's Campus

I’m sponsored by the world’s largest petrochemical company and geologists are one of the core degrees that they’re looking for. Basically, when it comes to extracting oil, obviously we need all sorts of engineers, but at the same time, to specialise in geology, geophysics and petroleum engineering. So, geology is really valuable when it comes to the whole oil extraction process and any petrochemical company would appreciate such a major, and obviously it comes out of interest.

Zain from Saudi Arabia
Studied International Foundation Year in Science and Engineering
Now studying BSc (Hons) Geology

Earth sciences career opportunities

There are a variety of career options directly related to an Earth Sciences degree. You could go straight into a research or field role after graduating, or pursue a Masters degree and specialise in a specific area of earth science.

Some of the jobs you could follow include:

  • Geologist
  • Geotechnical engineer
  • Meteorologist
  • Geochemist
  • Research associate
  • Hydrogeologist
  • Environmental consultant
  • Oceanographer
  • Astronomer
  • Laboratory instructor

Career ambitions after studying at Durham

Abdulmalik from Saudi Arabia on how studying in the UK will help him achieve his career ambitions