Coastal Geology Graduate Programs

Feb 15, 2019

As scientific and policy-related discussions of climate change grow more intensive, coastal geologists may play an important role in remediating many relevant concerns. These professionals study topics including the rise of sea levels, increasing severity of storms, and changes to coastal environments. Graduate study may provide an opportunity to research and study these topics of concern.

Program Options

Master of Science in Geology

One potential graduate degree for those interested in coastal geology is a master of science (M.S.) in geology. The M.S. typically requires two years of study. To complete this degree, students will normally complete a range of geology coursework and prepare a thesis or graduate research paper. A formal thesis proposal including methodologies and timeline for completion may be a component of the program. Applicants should expect to provide transcripts, recommendations, a personal essay, and GRE scores.

Doctor of Philosophy in Geology

Students who wish to pursue high-level careers that may incorporate teaching and research in this field might consider earning a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in geology or geosciences. Students earning a Ph.D. in geology may expect to complete coursework, qualifying examinations, oral examinations, and a dissertation of independent research over the course of their program of study. Applicants should expect to provide GRE scores, all transcripts, recommendations, and an essay. Undergraduate courses in mathematics, physics, and chemistry may be expected. It may be useful to identify a faculty member with shared research interests.

Doctor of Philosophy in Marine Science

Another doctoral degree option for students in this field is a Ph.D. in marine science. This degree typically includes interdisciplinary study between the various departments in a university. To complete this degree, students work with a professor or advisory committee to choose a relevant program of coursework. Teaching or field experience may be a degree component. They should expect to prepare a research topic, and once it is approved based on a qualifying interview, prepare a dissertation of independent research. A qualifying examination measuring the ability to complete the research project and defense of the dissertation may be milestones as well. Students should also expect to sit for a comprehensive examination measuring breadth of knowledge in the field. Applicants should expect to provide GRE results, recommendations, and transcripts. Making contact with a potential faculty member sharing research interests may support a student's admission.

Program Information and Courses

Successful completion of graduate study in coastal geology will require a range of courses in geology, marine science, and environmental policy. Read on for some descriptions of applicable courses.


This type of course may consider the chemical composition of water in the natural environment. Specific topics might include meteoric ground water, brines, and fluid/solid reactions. The application of this knowledge to environmental and pollution problems may be studied.

Climate Change

This course may begin with an overview of the earth's historical climate and scientific methods to understand how climate has changed. The class may then focus upon modern times, examining the various factors that are contributing to observed climate change. Scientific considerations on how to remediate changes in climate may be considered.

Physical Oceanography

A course in physical oceanography may provide an introduction to the various types of motion that occur within the ocean. The circulation of waters in the open ocean and in basins and estuaries may be a major topic of consideration. The dynamics of water motion may also be studied. How the ocean and atmosphere interact in a physical sense could also be a topic of study.

Coastal Processes

This sort of course may consider both physical, geological, and biological processes in coastal and other aquatic environments. Specific environments may be examined, such as estuarine, beach, and barrier islands. How various conditions effect change to the coast may be studied.

Ocean Waves

A course considering ocean waves may begin with a focus upon the mathematics of wave motion, including the equations governing the study of waves. The class may then move into physics-based considerations, including wave kinetics. Other topics may include fronts, wave dispersion, and tides.

Environmental Policy

Coastal geologists may wish to use their scientific investigations to impact public policy. A course in environmental policy may provide a basis in current laws and regulations, both in the U.S. and abroad, that affect environmental conservation issues. Economic considerations of policy decisions may be discussed.

Coastal and Ocean Remote Sensing

A course in coastal and ocean remote sensing may consider the technology and instrumentation available to study these environments. Optical properties to be contemplated when utilizing remote sensing technologies may be reviewed. Other challenges in remote sensing, such as scattering by sea water and reflectance, may be discussed.

Students who study coastal geology at the master's or doctoral level can gain knowledge regarding scientific processes and instrumentation around the earth and sea line. They can also learn how to present this information to policy makers and to the public to effect change in environmental issues.

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