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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 continue to offer M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Marine Sciences and Geological Sciences for students entering the programs in fall 2023.

The Department of Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences believes that the richest learning environment is provided by a diverse community of students and faculty. We are committed to enhancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the department and at UNC. Find out more about our DEI efforts.

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Frequently Asked Questions

All full-time Marine Sciences and Geological 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 the academic record, personal statement, research experience, and letters of recommendation. Most importantly, 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 2023. 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: Antonia Sebastian (
Program: Geology
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 (
Program: Marine Sciences
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 (
Program: Marine Sciences
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 (
Program: Marine Sciences
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: Joel Fodrie (
Program: Marine Sciences
Opportunities exist for new graduate students to study how landscape context (e.g., meadow size, meadow patchiness/fragmentation, meadow isolation) affect the habitat value of seagrass ecosystems for juvenile and adult fishes, crabs, and shrimps.
Faculty advisor: Christopher Martens (
Program: Marine Sciences
Our group will utilize benthic landers sporting advanced chemical and physical sensor systems to make time-series measurements of transport, chemical and sediment disturbance processes in the South Pacific at sites where intensive ferro-manganese nodule harvesting has been proposed. The work will focus on the friction layer starting at the seafloor up to approximately 25 meters in water depths of approximately 5000 meters and will be conducted in collaboration with mooring and ecological studies by associated scientific teams. The issues to be addressed include the potential impacts of deep-sea mining operations on nodule-rich ecosystems.