UC Santa Barbara General CatalogUniversity of California, Santa Barbara


Division of Mathematical, Life, and Physical Sciences
1832 Ellison Hall
Telephone: (805) 893-3663

Undergraduate matters: (805) 893-4929 Email: ugrad_adv@geog.ucsb.edu
Graduate matters: (805) 893-4944 E-mail: grad_assistant@geog.ucsb.edu

Website: www.geog.ucsb.edu
Department Chair: Stuart Sweeney


Geography is the study of the Earth as the home of humanity. As such, it involves analysis of the spatial and temporal phenomena that make up the human and natural environment of Earth, from multiple disciplinary perspectives. The Department of Geography at UCSB is on the cutting edge of geographic research, technologies, and interdisciplinary studies.

The Department of Geography, founded over four decades ago, is now one of the crown jewels of UCSB. With 28 tenure-track faculty, 11 affiliated faculty, 3 adjunct faculty, 10 administrative and 8 research staff, approximately 75 graduate and over 200 undergraduate students,, the department is not only among the largest and best geography departments in the country, but it is also one of the highest ranked graduate departments at UC Santa Barbara, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

The department offers four undergraduate and two graduate degrees: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Geography, Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Geography with an Emphasis in Geographic Information Science, Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Physical Geography, Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Physical Geography with an Emphasis in Ocean Science, Master of Arts (M.A.) in Geography, and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Geography.

Undergraduate courses are arranged into four main areas: physical systematics, human systematics, techniques, and integrative and regional courses. Physical systematics courses teach students how the Earth’s systems work in conjunction with each other. A variety of oceanography, climatology and meteorology, hydrology, soil science, geomorphology, and biogeography courses are offered each year. Human systematics courses cover the myriad ways that humans interact with each other and with their environment. These issues are discussed in courses on population, migration, economic geography, transportation systems, urban and regional planning and modeling, human-nature relationships, and behavioral and cognitive geography. Geographic techniques involve the collection, processing, and interpretation of information about geo-referenced phenomena, and are studied in courses on remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), cartography and geovisualization, and spatial analysis and statistics. The department is well known for its technical training in these rapidly expanding fields, and a number of students from other departments take advantage of our technical courses. Integrative and regional courses discuss in an integrated way the physical, human, and historical characteristics of geography and of various regions of local and global interest.

The B.A. in Geography is an interdisciplinary program that offers students maximum flexibility with a minimum number of units. This major permits students the freedom of choosing their own path through various courses offered in the human, physical, and technical areas. The interdisciplinary nature of the major is supported by a Related Course List, which contains over two hundred classes from over 20 different departments which students can apply towards their upper-division electives. These courses allow students to apply their geographic knowledge toward specific areas like archaeology, land use and planning, plant ecology, or social change in developing nations. The low unit requirement makes this an ideal major for students wishing to pursue multiple objectives. Many geography students complete double majors with related disciplines such as business economics, environmental studies, anthropology, and global studies; others pursue such diverse double majors as geography and art history, renaissance studies, or microbiology.

The B.A. in Geography with an Emphasis in Geographic Information Science is intended to build upon the Geography B.A. by adding a focus on the science behind geo-spatial information technologies. The understanding of this science is imperative to the evolution of the technologies and advancement of the fundamental theories that arise from their use. The specialization of Geographic Information Science includes both the methods of geographic information technologies (geographic information systems, computer cartography and geovisualization, remote sensing, global positioning systems, geospatial analysis), and the bodies of theory that relate the tools to problem solving in geography. Students will choose one or more tracks in GIScience specializations, can combine tracks for coverage in breadth and depth, and pursue interests in particular technologies, methods, or approaches. Graduates from the Emphasis will find themselves well prepared to start a career in any of the geographic information technology fields, or to continue their education in graduate school.

The B.S. in Physical Geography provides majors with rigorous training in earth and environmental science. The degree offers students the option of choosing a more structured, directed program which emphasizes the quantitative and scientific approaches to studying the Earth’s physical environment. At the same time, the major offers the flexibility of deciding on which areas of systematics the student wants to focus on: soils, geomorphology, hydrology, oceanography, atmospheric science, biogeography, or any combination thereof. B.S. students are offered a specific list of related courses from biology and geology to supplement their selection of systematics courses.

The B.S. in Physical Geography with an Emphasis in Ocean Science will give students a strong foundation in basic mathematics and physical sciences, a solid knowledge of basic physical oceanography and marine science, a strong connection to the domains of climate and Earth System Science, and expertise in advanced geographical data analysis that can be applied to problems in oceanography and marine science. This emphasis provides an intellectual foundation for students entering graduate school in Oceanography or Marine Science, as well as strong practical training for students seeking employment in environmental consulting, environmental data analysis, and government agency work. In addition, students in the Geography Department gain an understanding of human-environment interactions and geographical data analysis skills that give our graduates a unique intellectual perspective compared to those from more traditional Marine Science and Oceanography programs.

Declaring a Geography Major

To declare geography as a major, students need to have completed two geography classes, and be in good academic standing with at least a 2.0 overall grade-point average. All major courses must be completed for a letter grade. The department has three faculty undergraduate advisors and one staff undergraduate advisor available for counseling on matters such as major requirements, quarterly scheduling, honors programs, petitions, internships, career planning, and graduate school information.

Research Opportunities
Upper-division students are encouraged to take part in research within the department. Faculty and graduate students welcome assistance on various research projects. Many faculty members integrate their research projects into teaching and individual studies, and the large number of geography majors participating in internships shows that geographers engage well with the workplace. Our students find employment in a variety of fields in industry, government, and academia. Consult the undergraduate advisors for more information regarding Internships (Geography 193), Directed Readings (Geography 198), Independent Studies (Geography 199), and Independent Research Assistance (Geography 199RA).

Study Abroad
Geography is the study of the Earth and its people, and because of this, geographers need to get out into the world and explore. Our students are encouraged to take part in study abroad opportunities offered by the Education Abroad Program. Similar programs from other schools offer excellent experiential learning opportunities, although degree credit cannot be assured without approval.

Distinction in the Major
Students who maintain a 3.5 overall grade-point average and a 3.6 grade-point average in the major are welcome to pursue Distinction in the Major. In addition to maintaining the GPA, by the time of graduation, students must have completed 8 units of individual study (Geography 198, 199, 199RA), graduate-level courses, or a combination of the two. Students must obtain permission from a faculty member and the department chair to take part in these courses. Please see an undergraduate advisor for more information.

Careers in the Major
The undergraduate major is designed to prepare students for careers in many different fields. Geographers find work as meteorologists, cartographers, ecologists, demographers, hydrologists, urban and regional planners, soil conservationists, aerial photo interpreters, marketing analysts, intelligence analysts, transportation planners, GIS technicians, and educators, among numerous other professions. To learn more about careers in the major students can register for the department’s careers in geography class offered Winter quarter.