University of California, Riverside

Earth Sciences

Department of Earth Sciences

Global Climate & Environmental Change

Field-Based Research in a Pristine Natural Laboratory

Global climate change is one of the most pressing scientific issues of our time, and has created an acute need for well-trained scientists versed in the complexity of the Earth's climate system. The Global Climate and Environmental Change program at University of California, Riverside, offers a two-year, field-based, graduate program that is radical in its conception and new in its kind. GCEC immerses students in the first principles of studying and interpreting the actual record of climate change using the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California as its laboratory. From the modern glaciers to ancient bristle cone pine trees, the oldest living organisms on Earth, the high Sierra contains one of the best records of continental climate in North America.

Keeping the Science in the Global Climate Debate

The decisions about climate change society makes in the next decade will determine the habitability of our planet. Those decisions can only be as good as the scientific understanding of climate change that they are based on. Society needs more scientists to undertake this work.

The Global Climate and Environmental Change Graduate Program at UCR was created to meet this need by providing a unique immersion in the record, techniques of analyzing and theory of climate change leading to a Masters degree. This program provides the scientific skill and understanding necessary to begin a career in this important field.

UCR, in the Sierras

The GCEC Program has direct and convenient access to the Sierras. The broad diversity of environments and climatological history in a small region provides the best and most diverse record of continental climate in North America. The GCEC program utilizes this readily accessible natural laboratory for its teaching program with field camps, research projects and field seminars.

State of the Art Laboratory Facilities

The Earth Sciences Department houses a variety of analytical equipment in state-of-the-art laboratory facilities that opened this year and four additional labs to open in 2009. Facilities provide opportunities to integrate field studies in the Sierras and elsewhere with a laboratory component using any of six brand new mass spectrometers, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, and x-ray diffraction. This provides the opportunity for a variety of studies, including: isotopic studies of carbonates, organic materials and waters, elemental analysis of organics and sediments, and optical, geochemical and diffraction-based studies of sediments and rocks.


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Program Structure

This program is designed as a 2 year Master of Science Degree with the following components:

Field Component
A team of faculty teach GCEC students how to collect, analyze, and interpret, climate records from glaciers, lakes, trees and sediments in the Sierra Nevada Mountains based out of the University of California White Mountain Research Station. This affords students an extended period of time in the high Sierras to gain the strategies and skills necessary for obtaining paleoclimate data. This is the core class for the program.

Class & Class-Oriented Field Training A range of seminars and classes in the first year, both at UC Riverside and at White Mountain Research Station, provide the theoretical knowledge and practical skills necessary to study the complexity of the climate system.

Individual Research Project written up as a Thesis In the second year, GCEC students under the mentorship of a chosen faculty member embark on their own research project, drawing on the skills gained inthe first year to conduct field studies, analyze samples in the laboratory, and write these results up as thesis toward and award of Masters of Science.


State of the Art Laboratory Facilities

The Earth Sciences Department houses a variety of analytical equipment in state-of-the-art laboratory facilities that opened this year and four additional labs to open in 2009. Facilities provide opportunities to integrate field studies in the Sierras and elsewhere with a laboratory component using any of six brand new mass spectrometers, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, and x-ray diffraction. This provides the opportunity for a variety of studies, including: isotopic studies of carbonates, organic materials and waters, elemental analysis of organics and sediments, and optical, geochemical and diffraction-based studies of sediments and rocks.

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Funding Opportunities

The Moscarello Family Fellowship in Climate Change Research offers graduate student support to outstanding applicants to the GCEC program who's research will focus on the controls and rates of climate change.

The 2008 Moscarello Fellow is Joanna Oseguera, studying the biotic response to glacial interglacial cycles in Owens Lake, and is shown here to the left with Dr. Richard Moscarello

In addition to private fellowships, most Students in the GCEC program receive support from UCR Graduate Fellowships, Teaching Assistantships or work as Graduate Student Researchers. For the best chance of receiving support, application to the program should occur by January 10 for fall admission.

Other Opportunities:

University of California NRS Mildred E. Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant Program (Mid October Deadline). The Natural Reserve System provides grants to support graduate students at UCB, UCD, UCI, UCLA, UCR, UCSD, UCSB, and UCSC for their independent and field science studies at NRS reserves.

WMRS Graduate Student Minigrant Program: White Mountain Research Station provides minigrants (up to $2000) to graduate student researchers who plan on using their facilities.  Announcements are typically made in January and applications are due in mid-February.   

VESR Graduate Student Grand information: Valentine Eastern Sierra Reserve (VESR) and Sierra Nevada Aquatics Research Laboratory (SNARL) offer minigrants (up to $3000) to student researchers who plan on using their facilities.  Applications are typically due in late January.


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GCEC Students

The diverse group of GCEC students work collaboratively on a number of projects in the Sierras advancing our understanding of the record of climate change preserved there.

Margie DeRose- 

Detailed mapping of glacial deposits and their stratigraphic relationships to dated volcanic flows for potential use as absolute age constraints, in addition to details of till clast lithology for possible correlation with source locations, Long Valley Caldera, Eastern Sierra, CA. 

Cassandra Meyers-

Cassy is studying geochemical proxies for climate in the Owens Lake core OL-92. She is examining climatic variability at centennial and millennial timescales during the Mid-Pleistocene.

Michael Trumbower

Michael plans to collect lake sediment cores from 3-5 alpine lakes in the Eastern Sierra Nevada to better constrain possible
additional climatic fluctuations in the Holocene.  He will compare various physical and chemical properties to radiocarbon
dates of these cores to develop a more robust set of absolute dates for the Holocene Period.  Better understanding of Holocene climate will allow us to better predict how current climatic
conditions and alpine water resources will trend in the future. 

Baird King-

Baird King

Baird is using detailed mapping of moraines as well as lake core analysis to construct a timeline of high-resolution glacial fluctuations occurring in the late-Pleistocene and Holocene.  His research will advance the current understanding of the relationship between global climate changes and the regional changes observed in the Sierra Nevada paleoclimate record.  He is working in the Eastern Rock Creek drainage of the Sierra Nevada, California.

Joanna Oseguera- 

Joanna is investigating the variability of gastropod fossils within the ancient Waucobi lake beds of eastern Sierra Nevada, CA. Her current research project is testing the biotic variability of the fossils as a potential climate signal for the late Pliocene. Other interests include the gastropod fossils of Lake Bonneville and how they relate to changes in subsystem of the lake and the overall system of the climate. 

Daryl Kohut

Daryl is interested in mapping contacts between glacial moraines and lava flows, as well as studying their stratigraphic relationships to obtain a possible age constraint on ice advances.

Dustin Burton

Dustin will be developing Quaternary paleoclimate records from Speleothems from the Cedar Flats Cave in the White-Inyo Mountains. This research aims to determine wet-dry cycles in the Owens Valley potentially providing insight into future climate change for the region especially as global climate change continues to trend upward and approach levels not seen since interglacial periods of the past.

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How to Apply

Although the Department accepts applications on an on-going basis throughout the year, students are encouraged to complete their application early to insure consideration for fellowship support. A variety of fellowships are available on a competitive basis through the UCR gradute division to augment the stipends of outstanding applicants.

Please select the appropriate application below.
U.S. Applicants
International Applicants

Additional Information:
Financial Support
Housing Information

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The diverse and collaborative faculty in the Earth Sciences Department provide a unique opportunity for a broad background in Global Climate and Environmental Change.

Martin Kennedy (Program Director) paleoclimate events recorded in the stratigraphic record; Cenozoic and modern carbon cycle and biogeochemical feedbacks within the biosphere; oceanographic events surrounding climate change events; modern and quaternary sedimentary systems of California.

Rich Minnich- lateral snow transport and quaternary glaciation inCalifornia; tertiary climate and vegetation change in California, Perennial snow and subalpine tree lines; Extreme drought and forest dieback in southern California and northern Baja California Mexico.

Gordon Love- understanding the global carbon cycle and the long-term fate of organic molecules, and the use of molecular organic geochemistry in monitoring of a variety of organic pollutants and microbial processes.

Mary Droser- the biotic response to environmental perturbation; diversification of animals following the Neoproterozoic glaciations; ecology of mass extinctions and diversifications animal-sediment relationships in terrestrial and marine environments.

Alan Williams- stable isotope geochemistry as an indicator of global climate changes; weather dynamics as a consequence and/or a driver of climate change, and planetology including atmospheric energy balance.

Tom Scott- Wildlife conservation in fragmented and altered landscapes, including studies of wildlife movement, habitat use, and population biology in diverse habitats; behavioral changes and adjustments in habitat use of woodland bird species; the conservation and management of bird species through captive propagation, predator control, and habitat restoration.

Katherine Kendrick- landscape response to climatic and tectonic perturbations; pedogenesis to constrain rates of surficial processes and determine landscape sensitivity in Quaternary systems.

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GCEC Research Trip 2008

GCEC Trip Participants at Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake

Mono Lake Deformed Lakebeds

Soft Sediment Formation in Mono Paleo Lakebeds

Mammoth Earthquake Fault

Mammoth Earthquake Fault

Jointing & Erratics

Yosemite Jointing and Erratics

Mono Lake water sampling

Testing Momo Lake Water Chemistry


Mapping Convict Lake Moraines



Glacial Potholes


Raising the Drill Core


Mono Lake Remediation Ponds


Ashfall Profiles


Glacial Highstand Terraces


Identifying Till Characteristics


Identifying Till Characteristics

Waucobi Beds

Waucobi Lake Beds

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Research at UC Riverside

Within the Earth Sciences department are located 5 mass spectrometers including a VG Prism Dual Inlet Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer for analyzing carbon and oxygen in bulk carbonates) and a new ICP-MS (inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer) for identification and quantification of trace/major elements.

Two new Thermo Finnigan Delta V continuous flow stable isotope ratio mass spectrometers attached to carbonate, water and solids auto preparation devices interface with an Elemental Analyzer, Thermal Combustion Elemental Analyzer and GC Combustion peripherals.

Together these instruments are capable of analyzing the full range of isotopic variation of biologically important elements such as C, O, H, N, S along with fossil molecules or biomarkers and organic compounds and ultra sensitive trace element determination for tracing elements in the natural environment. These instruments are the latest models and housed in newly constructed, state of the art laboratories designed specifically for environmental research.

Renovations in the Earth Sciences building provide brand new, state of the art laboratory facilities.


(left) Kratos X-ray diffractometer for qualitative and quantitative analyses of mineral samples.

(right) New ICP-MS for analysis of major and trace elements .


Clay Lab

Brand new labs house the department's XRD and clay-research facilities.

Clay Lab

Additional analytical capability includes the quantitative determination of sediment and soil mineralogy using Xray Diffraction (XRD) and the Central Facility for Advanced Microscopy and Microanalysis (CFAMM) incorporates two transmission, two scanning electron microscopes, and a confocal laser microscope system. Three basic kinds of information in the micron down to atomic scale range are provided by the electron microscopes; images, crystal structure, and chemical analyses. The laser confocal microscopy offers the opportunity for imaging of fluorescent samples and 3Doptical reconstructions. We also have multiple rock, sediment and soil preparation facilities and are complemented by the extensive analytical capability in the Environmental Science Department.

Delta V Advantage

Thermo Finnegan Delta V Advantage CF-MS (left) with an attached Gas Bench II for automated analysis of carbonates and water. This mass spec also hosts an attached GC-MS (right) for component specific analysis of organics in sediments and rocks.


Prism II

A Prism II dual-inlet mass spectrometer is available for analysis of carbon and oxygen isotopic ratios in bulk rock samples.


Delta V Plus

A Delta V Plus (left) is also new to the department and attached to an elemental analyzer (right) for identifying isotoppic ratios of carbon and sulfur and a TC-EA (left) for analysis of oxygen ratios in sulfates and phosphates.



The newest mass spectrometer in the department will be a Waters Autospec Premier GC-MS/MS This latest development in magnetic sector technology provides an unmatched combination of high sensitivity, high resolution, and low background noise and is ideal for detailed analyses of trace molecular biomarkers (fossil biochemicals) present in ancient sediments and oils, as well as organic constituents of carbonaceous chondrite meteorites and organic pollutants in modern environmental samples.

More Information

General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

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Earth Sciences Information

Department of Earth Sciences
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Tel: (951) 827-3182
Fax: (951) 827-4324