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Prospective Students


Welcome to the Department of Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences! Our department represents a recent (2021) merger of the Marine Sciences and Geological Sciences departments (on the Chapel Hill campus), as well as the Institute of Marine Sciences (in Morehead City). We offer M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Earth and Marine Sciences for students entering the program in fall 2024.

The Department of Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences believes that the richest learning environment is provided by a diverse community of students and faculty.

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Frequently Asked Questions

All full-time Earth and Marine Sciences graduate students receive financial support that includes a competitive stipend, health insurance, and tuition. Sources vary. Some students are supported on external fellowships (e.g., NSFGRF). Some financial awards are made directly from the Graduate School. Most students are funded through both teaching assistantships provided by the department and research assistantships associated with funded research projects.
The university provides limited on-campus housing for graduate students in Chapel Hill. No permanent long-term housing is provided at the Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, although short-term bunking accommodation is available. Most students elect to live in off-campus rooms, apartments, and houses in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area or in Morehead City. No direct public transportation is available between the main campus and the Institute, and those who work at the Institute generally maintain a personal vehicle for trips to main campus.
All registered students who have paid their fees are eligible for health care at the Student Health Service facility on main campus. The health fee does not cover hospitalization, surgery, or intensive care. Graduate students not otherwise covered by their parents’ or spouses’ policies will be enrolled in the Student Blue RA/TA plan offered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

We consider all elements of the application. Applications are evaluated based on an applicant’s preparation for graduate school and their motivation to complete a graduate degree in our program.

Preparation for graduate school includes:

  • academic preparation as indicated by the academic record
  • work and research experience
  • relevant extracurricular activities
  • personal experiences and challenges overcome

Motivation to attend graduate school in the UNC Earth and Marine Sciences program includes:

  • career goals and how the EMES graduate program will help achieve these
  • research interests that are a good match for the UNC EMES department
  • identification of and an effort to communicate with potential advisor(s)

All incoming graduate students must obtain a faculty sponsor that will serve as their academic advisor and agree to provide financial support, usually through a research assistantship from research grants. We strongly encourage prospective students to communicate with potential faculty advisors prior to applying to the program to enquire whether they will be taking on new students for the following academic year, and to begin discussing potential research projects.

This depends on the research direction you will take in graduate school and the research of your potential advisor. For example, labs with a biological focus tend to accept students with a degree in the biological sciences, ecology, microbiology, etc. Those with a chemistry focus tend to accept students with a degree in chemistry, biochemistry, etc. Students planning to work on physical oceanography or coastal dynamics usually have undergraduate degrees in math, engineering, or physics. Students with a geology focus generally have an undergraduate degree in Geology or Earth Sciences.
There are no specific research requirements although your application will be more competitive if you have some research experience that aligns with the area of research of the lab in which you are interested in joining. We encourage all prospective students interested in graduate school to obtain research experience during their undergraduate program. This will also strengthen your application by potentially providing good letters of recommendation which can highlight your research skills.

Opportunities for New Graduate Students

Below is a list of potential research projects for new graduate students starting in fall 2024. Applicants interested in these projects should contact the faculty advisor for further information and to discuss the opportunity. The list is not exhaustive. Applicants are encouraged to contact faculty members whose research best matches their interests.

Faculty Advisor: Laura Moore (
The UNC-CH Coastal Environmental Change (CECL) Lab has two openings for Ph.D. students (M.S. considered) starting in Fall 2023. Dissertation research in the CECL will typically fall under one of two categories: 1) Coastal foredune dynamics (including interactions between vegetation and sediment transport processes), and the response of barrier island landscapes to changing climate, and 2) interactions between anthropogenic activities and landscape processes on barrier island coastlines (i.e., coupled human-natural coastal dynamics). Most student projects in CECL include a primary modeling component, with observational and field work to supplement and support modeling efforts.
Faculty Advisor: Antonia Sebastian (
Funding exists for a graduate student to build and validate a high-resolution hydrodynamic model for the Texas coast to better capture the influence of tropical cyclones and extreme precipitation on the spatial distribution of flood hazards and risk in low-lying, coastal areas. Extensions of this project will investigate the role of climate change on future flooding using stochastic event models. Candidates should have a strong quantitative background and prior experience with coding (Matlab, R or Python) or computational models. Preference will be given to candidates who have an MSc in a relevant field (engineering, geological sciences, environmental sciences, geophysics, or similar) or several years of work experience. Candidates from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.
Faculty advisor: Rick Luettich (
Storm surge modeling studies to include: the effectiveness of data assimilation on storm surge forecasts, linking hydrologic and coastal models to better capture compound flooding, process studies to improve storm surge modeling capabilities and studying the effects of climate change on future coastal water levels. Interested students should have strong quantitative backgrounds and experience with computer programming.
Faculty advisor: Rachel Noble (
Support is available for either an incoming M. Sc. or Ph. D. student to assist with developing a portfolio of molecular analyses (PCR-based) associated with shellfish mortality and pathogenic species of Vibrios, and cycling of nitrogen in shellfish for shellfish aquaculture. This project will involve collaboration with external for-profit corporations and shellfish growers on both the east and west coasts.
Faculty advisor: Rachel Noble (
Support is available for either an incoming M. Sci. or Ph. D. student to assist with the development and optimization of new molecular tests for viral and bacterial pathogens in wastewater. The student will work collaboratively with UNC Charlotte, and the NC Department of Health and Human Services to develop molecular tests that can quantify pathogens in wastewater influent and effluent, for the prediction of human health and community prevalence of infectious diseases.
Faculty advisor: Dr. Xiao-Ming Liu(
Opportunities exist for new graduate students to delve into the intricate processes that have shaped the geochemical evolution of Earth’s surface environments. This research will focus on analyzing vast datasets to uncover patterns, trends, and anomalies that provide insights into the Earth’s historical geochemical transformations. Potential areas of exploration include but not limited to the study of mineral compositions, isotopic variations, and the influence of tectonic activities on geochemical distributions. The project will employ advanced computational tools and methodologies to process and interpret complex geochemical data.

Candidates should possess a robust quantitative aptitude and prior experience in coding (Python, R or similar) or working with computational geochemical models. A preference will be extended to those who hold an BS or MSc in relevant disciplines such as geochemistry, geology, environmental sciences, or related fields. We are committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive research environment. As such, candidates from all backgrounds are warmly invited to apply.