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College of Arts & Sciences
School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment


A Historical Perspective

The academic programs and degrees, and the research institutes now housed within the School of the Earth, Ocean & Environment have a long and inter-related history. The SEOE was first authorized by the Board of Trustees in 2010, and served as an umbrella organization for five entities: the Department of Earth & Ocean Sciences, the Environment & Sustainability Program, the Marine Sciences Program, the Earth Sciences and Resources Institute, and the Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine & Coastal Sciences. In December 2015, the Board of Trustees approved the designation of the SEOE as a tenuring unit, which is leading to the consolidation of the academic programs, but retaining the individual degrees and curricula.

The component parts of the SEOE each have a long and illustrious history, presented here in the order of their establishment: Geosciences, the Baruch Institute, Marine Sciences, Earth Sciences and Resources Institute-SC, and Environment & Sustainability

Geosciences:

The University of South Carolina has a long tradition in the Geosciences. Courses in Geology were a part of the curriculum as early as 1819; geology exams from 1857 and 1869 are held in the USC Digital Archives. A Master of Science in Geology was first offered in the early 1950s, with the PhD program added in 1968.

A 1970 self-study of the Department of Geology identified two departmental strengths. The first was "Environmental Research", or the study of geological environments, especially sedimentary and coastal processes. This emphasis area meshed well with the fledgling Marine Sciences program and created the symbiotic relationship between those two areas that continues to this day. The second area was "Materials Research", the study of physical and chemical behavior at high temperatures and pressures. The department also included a program in Geoscience Education. This eventually led to the establishment of the Center for Science Education at USC, a program that gained state and national prominence through the leadership of geology faculty.

In 1970, growth was recommended both in a new area, geophysics, and in the "Environmental" group by adding faculty who could interact with more ecologically-oriented faculty in other departments. During the 1970's, there was an increased emphasis on petroleum-related research and training, and the establishment of ESRI-SC (Earth Science and Resources Institute at the University of South Carolina), which for decades was the premier research institute at USC. A second growth spurt occurred in the department the 1980’s, when the faculty increased to 27. This expansion resulted in a considerable increase in the level of external funding and the size of the graduate program, and led to the department's emphasis on and international reputation for petroleum-related research and training. During this period, a BS degree in Geophysics was established, which remains one of the few such degree programs in the US. The MERM (Masters of Earth Resource Management) also was established in 1987 to support the needs of students studying with faculty associated with ESRI. In 1995, as ESRI migrated toward environmental research, it separated from the department. At the same time, the MERM degree was transferred to the School of the Environment and was broadened to the MEERM degree (Masters of Earth and Environmental Resource Management).

Another period of hiring and revisiting priorities began in 1995 with the establishment of three emphasis areas, Environmental Geosciences, Evolution of Orogenic Systems, and Global Climate Change. Through a major investment by the College of Arts & Sciences, we upgraded our geochemical facilities with state-of-the-art instrumentation in support of geological, marine and environmental science research. The association with Marine Sciences remained strong throughout this period, with half of the faculty jointly appointed in the Marine Sciences program.

Throughout its history, the department has gone by several names. The original Department of Geology was transformed to a Department of Geological Sciences in the 1980s and then to the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences in 2009. These name changes corresponded both to trends in the field and to attempts to represent the diversity of the interests of our faculty. With the formation of the School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment, our faculty join our colleagues in Marine and Environmental disciplines to formalize in administrative structure what has existed for many years: a large and diverse group of faculty doing research and training students in a very broad sphere of disciplines related to the natural earth. From this bigger stage, the strengths for which the Department of Geology/Geological Sciences/Earth & Ocean Sciences have been known for 200 years will continue to thrive.
 

Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine & Coastal Sciences:

The Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences is the nexus for coastal and estuarine research at the University of South Carolina. Our mission is to conduct research and support education that will improve the management of marine and coastal resources and advance basic science for the well-being of people and their environment.

Established in 1969 through the joint efforts of the Belle W. Baruch Foundation and the University of South Carolina, the Baruch Institute is internationally recognized for its contributions of scientific knowledge. Using a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the complexity of coastal and marine environments, we bring together researchers in the sciences and in disciplines such as geography, economics, environmental health, policy, and statistics.

We have headquarters and laboratory facilities on the University’s main campus in Columbia and a field laboratory located on Hobcaw Barony, a privately held wildlife reserve near Georgetown, SC. The 16,000-acre Barony is dedicated in perpetuity for conservation and research, and is owned by the Belle W. Baruch Foundation. Through a long-term agreement with the Foundation, the University oversees research and education activities in the marsh-estuarine area. Additionally, the SC Algal Ecology Laboratory, Charleston, SC, is operated as a unique partnership between the Baruch Institute and the Marine Resources Division of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Our primary research site, North Inlet Estuary, offers the unique opportunity to study essentially pristine major coastal habitats. Comprehensive long-term (35+ years) and other datasets provide context for new studies, and changes observed in our studies can be interpreted as natural processes free of local human disturbance. This increasingly rare opportunity enables scientists to compare North Inlet to other more developed estuaries and assess impacts associated with human activities. Scientists provide information to resource managers who set goals for establishing a healthy balance between maintaining the ecological integrity of these systems and satisfying economic interests. The Institute’s researchers and Associates also are involved in studies of other systems, locally and throughout the world.

Research must be a partner of education, and in conjunction with many USC departments and education programs, hundreds of students have completed independent projects, Masters theses, and Ph.D. dissertations based on research conducted at our field laboratory. We welcome visiting researchers and classes, and offer educational programs for a range of constituencies, including university and secondary school faculty and students, government regulatory personnel, environmentalists, and the general public.


Marine Sciences:

The Marine Science academic program in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC (USC-Columbia) is an interdisciplinary educational program offering curricula which lead to the Bachelor of Science, Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Marine Science. A key feature of the program from its inception has been a combination of experience across the disciplines that broadly constitute Marine Science and involvement in research. Currently there are ~ 300 undergraduate majors and ~ 30 graduate students in our program.

Established in 1972 by Dr. F. John Vernberg, we are among the oldest, most respected and vibrant marine science degree programs in the country. Our first doctoral and masters students graduated in 1973 and our first undergraduate Marine Science degree was awarded in 1974. We now have more than 1200 undergraduate and 150 graduate alumni who have positions throughout academia, government, and industry. Our internationally-recognized faculty span a wide range of disciplines and include Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Geochemical Society. Their diversity of talents results in a curriculum that is cutting edge and interdisciplinary; drawing upon subject matter from Geology, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Engineering, Law, Medicine and Environmental Health, and the Social Sciences into pioneering studies of the ocean. Furthermore, our faculty provide research opportunities across all aspects of marine science. The acclaim of our students and faculty, coupled with increasing enrollments, resulted in the formalization and incorporation of our program into one of the central components the School of the Earth, Ocean, and Environment in 2016.

Earth Science and Resources Institute (ESRI-SC):

The Earth Sciences and Resources Institute at the University of South Carolina (ESRI-SC) is a premier center for applied research in earth and environmental sciences, synergizing research across the academic, industry, and government sectors. We have one of the most complete facilities for the acquisition, processing, interpretation and visualization of geophysical data. ESRI-SC focuses on both site-specific and regional-scale projects that involve field, laboratory, and modeling activities within both energy-related and environmental disciplines.
ESRI-SC was established in 1973 as a self-supporting research center under the leadership of William (Bill) H. Kanes, Distinguished Professor in USC’s Department of Geological Sciences. The National Science Foundation provided the initial funding, to conduct earth science research in North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt). Work soon expanded into petroleum exploration, which led to the development of an “Industrial Associates” program focused on the petroleum industry. Research activities then further expanded to include South America, the former Soviet Union, China, and Southeast Asia.
In 1987, the Master of Earth Resources Management (MERM) was created in response to the unique research opportunities offered by ESRI-SC. This program attracted students from diverse academic backgrounds. With the formation of the School of the Environment (SOE) in the mid-1990s, the MERM degree moved to that unit, and became the current MEERM degree (Masters of Earth and Environmental Resource Management).

Also in the mid 1990’s, a significant part of ESRI-SC’s conventional energy research was moved to the University of Utah’s newly formed Energy and Geosciences Institute. ESRI-SC’s focus shifted to a comprehensive understanding of the earth’s subsurface through environmental geophysics, hydrology and computer science research. In 2001, ESRI-SC itself was transferred to the School of the Environment, and with the integration of the SOE into the College of Arts and Sciences in 2010, ESRI-SC’s home again moved, this time to the newly-formed School of the Earth, Ocean & Environment within the College.
ESRI-SC’s focus has expanded in the 2010’s to include broader energy and environment-related initiatives, such as renewable energy and carbon sequestration. We also focus on workforce development through enhancing the teaching and learning environment at the university by integrating research into the educational experience of undergraduate and graduate students. This role is further facilitated by the unification of the geosciences, marine sciences and environment and sustainability degree programs under the same umbrella as ESRI-SC in the School of the Earth, Ocean & Environment.


Environment & Sustainability:

The School of the Environment (SOE) (the predecessor of the Environment and Sustainability Program) was established as a true interdisciplinary program in 1995 to provide a focus for enrichment, coordination, and expansion of environmental activities across the University. The SOE was established as “virtual” college whose Dean reported to the Provost. Professor F.J. Vernberg, in the year before his retirement, was the founding Dean. Carolina Distinguished Professor Bruce Coull followed as Dean from 1996-2006, until his retirement. Faculty in colleges and institutes as divergent as business, engineering, law, liberal arts, public health, journalism, physical and natural sciences, computational science, and social science were invited to apply for affiliated membership in the SOE.

In 1995, the Masters of Earth Resources Management (MERM) degree program was broadened to form the Masters of Earth and Environmental Resources Management (MEERM) and moved to the SOE. In 1999, the joint Dual MEERM/Juris Doctor (JD) degree with the USC School of Law was approved. A university-wide undergraduate Environmental Studies minor was established in 1996, and in 2009, the BS in Environmental Science was approved, followed by the BA in Environmental Studies in 2012. Currently there are ~ 175 undergraduate majors and ~ 27 graduate students across these degrees.

When Professor Coull was appointed Dean in 1996, he was charged “to facilitate things environmental” and to build a program. Soon thereafter the SOE was awarded a planning grant of $193,000 for the highly successful the Sustainable Universities Initiative (SUI), followed by an award totaling nearly $4 million over 5 years from the V. Kahn Rasmussen Foundation. This was USC’s largest private foundation grant at the time. The SOE grew from a three-person staff with about 80 virtual faculty in 1997 to a 35 person staff (of which only 5.25 FTE employees were supported by state/university funds) with 158 virtual faculty and new jointly appointed faculty in 2006.

During these first 10 years, major units of the SOE included: the Sustainable Universities Initiative, a multi-university program coordinated by the SOE to make all students aware of their impact on the earth and to help universities reduce their environmental footprint; the Center for Water Research and Policy, which integrated the expertise, facilities and resources of the many water researchers on campus; and the Industrial Ecology and Environmental Management programs that work with industry on pollution prevention and developing environmental management systems. The SOE also joined with the Center for Humans & Nature to create the ACE River Basin video; and initiated multiple research trips to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site. In 2001, the Earth Sciences and Resources Institute-SC, which solves environmental problems using geophysics, modeling, GIS and database development, was transferred from the Vice President for Research to the SOE.

From its inception, the SOE provided focus and creative support for many campus environmental activities, including Earth Day events, sponsorship of environmental sections of freshman English, support of an environmental manager for university housing, and establishment of a campus-wide Environmental Advisory (to the President) Committee (EAC), which transitioned to the President’s Sustainability Council in 2014. The successful creative and programmatic efforts of the SOE, SUI and EAC provided an essential foundation for the University’s commitment to sustainability, formalized when the USC President signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007.

In 2006, during the merger of the College of Science and Mathematics and the College of Liberal Arts to form the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), the SOE was integrated into the CAS, and Prof. Madilyn Fletcher was appointed as the first Director of the SOE. In 2010 the SOE became part of the new School of the Earth, Ocean & Environment within the CAS, and in 2011 was renamed the Environment and Sustainability Program. After joining the CAS, the number of jointly appointed tenure-track faculty increased from three (with Law, Economics, and Biological Sciences) to six in 2016 (all within the CAS). A large number of affiliate faculty continue to support the program’s mission and goals in education and sustainability. The increasingly recognized critical importance of the environment and sustainability to human well-being, and the inter-disciplinary nature of environmental studies, is reflected in the incorporation of the Environment and Sustainability program as a central component of the SEOE.