Course Descriptions

  • ESE 1. Introduction to Environmental Science and Engineering. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisites: Ph 1 ab, Ch 1 ab, and Ma 1 ab. An introduction to the array of major scientific and engineering issues related to environmental quality on a local, regional, and global scale. Fundamental aspects of major environmental problems will be addressed with an overall focus on the dynamic interplay among the atmosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere. Underlying scientific principles based on biology, chemistry, and physics will be presented. Engineering solutions to major environmental problems will be explored. Not offered on a pass/fail basis. Satisfies the menu requirement of the Caltech core curriculum. Instructor: Leadbetter.
  • ESE 90. Undergraduate Laboratory Research in Environmental Science and Engineering. Units by arrangement; any term. Approval of research supervisor required prior to registration. Independent research on current environmental problems; laboratory or field work is required. A written report is required for each term of registration. Graded pass/fail. Instructor: Staff.
  • ESE 100. Special Problems in Environmental Science and Engineering. Up to 12 units by arrangement; any term. Prerequisites: instructor’s permission. Special courses of readings or laboratory instruction. Graded pass/fail. Instructor: Staff.
  • ESE 101. Earth’s Atmosphere. 9 units (3-0-6); first term. Composition of the atmosphere. Radiative transfer and the greenhouse effect. Scattering and absorption by gases, clouds, and aerosols. Feedbacks due to water vapor, clouds, ice, and vegetation. Transports of energy and momentum and their effects on the surface climate. Chemical reactions in the atmosphere affecting atmospheric ozone and air quality. Instructor: Ingersoll.
  • ESE 102. Earth’s Oceans. 9 units (3-0-6); first term. Fundamentals of ocean dynamics: Ekman layers, wind-driven gyres, boundary currents, and overturning circulations. Oceanographic observational methods and phenomenology of the distribution of temperature, salinity, and tracers. Ocean biology and chemistry: simple plankton population models, Redfield ratios, air-sea gas exchange, productivity and respiration, weathering inputs, and carbon cycle basics. Fundamentals of past climate changes. Geochemical methods of inferring past ocean behavior, and changes of ocean circulations over Earth’s history. Instructor: Adkins.
  • ESE 103. Earth’s Biogeochemical Cycles. 9 units (3-0-6); second term. Global cycles of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur. Photosynthesis, respiration and net primary production. Soil formation, erosion, and carbon storage. Ecosystem processes, metrics, and function. Nutrient supply and limitation. Microbial processes underlying weathering, decomposition, and carbon remineralization. Stable isotope tracers in the carbon and hydrologic cycles. The human footprint on the Earth. Instructor: Wennberg.
  • ESE 104. Current Problems in Environmental Science and Engineering. 1 unit; first term. Discussion of current research by ESE graduate students, faculty, and staff. Instructor: Staff.
  • ESE 105. Research in Environmental Science and Engineering. Units by arrangement; any term. Prerequisite: instructor’s permission. Exploratory research for first-year graduate students and qualified undergraduates. Graded pass/fail. Instructor: Staff.
  • ESE 110 abc. Seminar in Environmental Science and Engineering. 1 unit; first, second, third terms. Seminar on current developments and research in environmental science and engineering. Graded pass/fail. Instructor: Adkins.
  • Ge/ESE 118. Methods in Data Analysis. 9 units (3-0-6); first term. Prerequisites: Ma 1 or equivalent. Introduction to methods in data analysis. Course will be an overview of different ways that one can quantitatively analyze data, and will not focus on any one methodology. Topics will include linear regression, least squares inversion, Fourier analysis, principal component analysis, and Bayesian methods. Emphasis will be on both a theoretical understanding of these methods and on practical applications. Exercises will include using numerical software to analyze real data. Instructor: Tsai.
  • ESE 130. Atmosphere Dynamics. 9 units (3-0-6); first term. Prerequisites: ESE 101 or instructor’s permission. Introduction to the physical balances and dynamical mechanisms govIntroduction to the dynamics of large-scale flows in the atmosphere. Governing equations and approximations that describe these rotation and stratification dominated flows. Topics include: conservation laws, equations of state, geostrophic and thermal wind balance, vorticity and potential vorticity dynamics, shallow water dynamics, atmospheric waves. Instructor: Bordoni.
  • ESE 131. Physical Oceanography. 9 units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequisite: ESE 102 or instructor’s permission. Introduction to the physical balances and dynamical mechanisms governing ocean circulations. Topics include: Overview of observation systems; wind-driven planetary gyres and western boundary currents; buoyancy-driven circulations and abyssal flow; energetics of ocean circulations and combined effects of wind and buoyancy driving; meridional overturning circulations; thermocline models; mesoscale eddies; equatorial waves and response to wind driving at the equator; El Niño and the Southern Oscillation. Instructor: Thompson.
  • ESE 132. Tropical Atmosphere Dynamics. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisite: ESE 130 or instructor’s permission. Phenomenological description of tropical atmospheric circulations at different scales, and theories or models that capture the underlying fundamental dynamics, starting from the large-scale energy balance and moving down to cumulus convection and hurricanes. Topics to be addressed include: large-scale circulations such as the Hadley, Walker, and monsoonal circulations, the intertropical convergence zone, equatorial waves, convectively coupled waves, and hurricanes. Instructor: Bordoni. Given in alternate years; offered 2014–15.
  • ESE 133. Large-scale Atmosphere Dynamics. 9 units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequisite: ESE 130 or instructor’s permission. Introduction to the global-scale fluid dynamics of the atmosphere, beginning with an analysis of classical models of instabilities in atmospheric flows and leading to currently unsolved problems. Topics include barotropic Rossby waves and barotropic instability; the quasigeostrophic two-layer model and baroclinic instability; conservation laws for wave quantities and wave-mean flow interaction theory; turbulent fluxes of heat and momentum; geostrophic turbulence; genesis of zonal jets; Hadley cell dynamics. The course focuses on Earth’s atmosphere but treats the circulation of Earth’s atmosphere as part of a continuum of possible planetary circulations. Instructor: Bordoni. Not offered 2014–15.
  • ESE 134. Cloud and Boundary Layer Dynamics. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisite: ESE 130 or instructor’s permission. Introduction to the dynamics of clouds and atmospheric boundary layers, from a phenomenological overview of cloud and boundary layer morphologies to closure theories for turbulence and convection. Topics include similarity theories for neutral and thermally stratified boundary layers; dry convective boundary layers; mixed-layer models; stably stratified boundary layers; moist thermodynamics and stability; stratocumulus and trade-cumulus boundary layers; shallow cumulus convection and deep convection. Given in alternate years. Not offered 2014–15.
  • ESE 137. Polar Oceanography. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisites: ESE 131 or instructor’s permission. This courses focuses on the high latitude circulation of the Earth’s ocean as well as the ocean’s interaction with the cryosphere, including glaciers, ice shelves and sea ice. Topics covered include: water mass formation and modification processes, the dynamics of the Southern Ocean’s overturning circulation, Arctic circulation, controls on sea distribution, the stability of marine-terminating ice sheets. Given in alternate years, offered in 2014-15. Instructor: Thompson.
  • ESE 138. Ocean Turbulence and Wave Dynamics. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisite: ESE 131 or instructor’s permission. Introduction to the dynamics of ocean mixing and transport with a focus on how these processes feed back on large-scale ocean circulation and climate. Topics include: vorticity and potential vorticity dynamics, planetary and topographic Rossby waves, inertia-gravity waves, mesoscale eddies, turbulent transport of tracers, eddy diffusivity in turbulent flows, frontogenesis and submesoscale dynamics, diapycnal mixing. This course will also include a discussion of observational techniques for measuring mesoscale and small-scale processes in the ocean. Given in alternate years; not offered 2014-15. Instructor: Thompson
  • ESE/Ge 139. Atmospheric Radiation. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisite: ESE 101 or instructor’s permission. The basic physics of absorption and scattering by molecules, aerosols, and clouds. Theory of radiative transfer. Band models and correlated-k distributions and scattering by cloud and aerosol particles. Solar insolation, thermal emission, heating rates, and applications to climate and remote sensing. Instructor: Yung.
  • Ge/ESE 143. Organic Geochemistry. 9 units (3-2-4); first term. Prerequisite: Ch 41 a or equivalent. Main topics include the analysis, properties, sources, and cycling of natural organic materials in the environment, from their production in living organisms to burial and decomposition in sediments and preservation in the rock record. Specific topics include analytical methods for organic geochemistry, lipid structure and biochemistry, composition of organic matter, factors controlling organic preservation, organic climate and CO2 proxies, diagenesis and catagenesis, and biomarkers for ancient life. A laboratory component (three evening labs) teaches the extraction and analysis of modern and ancient organic biomarkers by GC/MS. Class includes a mandatory one-day (weekend) field trip to observe the Monterey Formation. Instructor: Sessions. Given in alternate years; offered 2014–15.
  • Ge/ESE 146. Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisites: Ge 140a or equivalent. This course serves as an introduction to the use of stable isotopes in biogeochemistry, and is intended to give interested students the necessary background to understand applications in a variety of fields, from modern carbon cycling to microbial ecology to records of Ancient Earth. Topics include the principles of isotope distribution in reaction networks; isotope effects in enzyme-mediated reactions, and in metabolism and biosynthesis; characteristic fractionations accompanying carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycling; and applications of stable isotopes in the biogeosciences. Instructors: Sessions.
  • Ge/ESE 149. Marine Geochemistry. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisites: ESE 102. Introduction to chemical oceanography and sediment geochemistry. We will address the question “Why is the ocean salty?” by examining the processes that determine the major, minor, and trace element distributions of seawater and ocean sediments. Topics include river and estuarine chemistry, air/sea exchange, nutrient uptake by the biota, radioactive tracers, redox processes in the water column and sediments, carbonate chemistry, and ventilation. Instructor: Adkins. Given in alternate years; offered 2014–15.
  • Ge/ESE 150. Planetary Atmospheres. 9 units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequisites: Ch 1, Ma 2, Ph 2, or equivalents. Origin of planetary atmospheres, escape, and chemical evolution. Tenuous atmospheres: the moon, Mercury, and outer solar system satellites. Comets. Vapor-pressure atmospheres: Triton, Io, and Mars. Spectrum of dynamical regimes on Mars, Earth, Venus, Titan, and the gas giant planets. Instructor: Ingersoll.
  • Ge/ESE 154. Readings in Paleoclimate. 3 units (1-0-2); second term. Prerequisite: instructor’s permission. Lectures and readings in areas of current interest in paleoceanography and paleoclimate. Instructor: Adkins.
  • Ge/ESE 155. Paleoceanography. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisites: ESE 102. Evaluation of the data and models that make up our current understanding of past climates. Emphasis will be placed on a historical introduction to the study of the past ten thousand to a few hundred thousand years, with some consideration of longer timescales. Evidence from marine and terrestrial sediments, ice cores, corals, and speleothems will be used to address the mechanisms behind natural climate variability. Models of this variability will be evaluated in light of the data. Topics will include sea level and ice volume, surface temperature evolution, atmospheric composition, deep ocean circulation, tropical climate, ENSO variability, and terrestrial/ocean linkages. Instructor: Adkins. Given in alternate years; not offered 2014–15.
  • Ge/EE/ESE 157 c. Remote Sensing for Environmental and Geological Applications. 9 units (3-3-3); third term. Use of different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum (visible, ultraviolet, infrared, and radio wavelengths) for interpretation of physical and chemical characteristics of the surfaces of Earth and other planets. Topics: interaction of light with materials, spectroscopy of minerals and vegetation, atmospheric removal, image analysis, classification, and multi-temporal studies. This course is complementary to EE 157ab with additional emphasis on applications for geological and environmental problems, using data acquired from airborne and orbiting remote sensing platforms. Students will work with digital remote sensing datasets in the laboratory and there will be one field trip. Instructor: Ehlmann.
  • ESE/ChE 158. Aerosol Physics and Chemistry. 9 units (3-0-6); third term; Open to graduate students and seniors with instructor’s permission. Fundamentals of aerosol physics and chemistry; aerodynamics and diffusion of aerosol particles; condensation and evaporation; thermodynamics of particulate systems; nucleation; coagulation; particle size distributions; optics of small particles. Given in alternate years; offered 2014–15. Instructor: Flagan.
  • ESE/Bi 166. Microbial Physiology. 9 units (3-1-5); first term. Recommended prerequisite: one year of general biology. A course on growth and functions in the prokaryotic cell. Topics covered: growth, transport of small molecules, protein excretion, membrane bioenergetics, energy metabolism, motility, chemotaxis, global regulators, and metabolic integration. Instructor: Leadbetter.
  • ESE/Bi 168. Microbial Metabolic Diversity. 9 units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequisites: ESE 142, ESE/Bi 166. A course on the metabolic diversity of microorganisms. Basic thermodynamic principles governing energy conservation will be discussed, with emphasis placed on photosynthesis and respiration. Students will be exposed to genetic, genomic, and biochemical techniques that can be used to elucidate the mechanisms of cellular electron transfer underlying these metabolisms. Given in alternate years; offered 2014–15. Instructor: Newman.
  • Ge/ESE 170. Microbial Ecology. 9 units (3-2-4); second term. Prerequisite: ESE/Bi 166. Structural, phylogenetic, and metabolic diversity of microorganisms in nature. The course explores microbial interactions, relationships between diversity and physiology in modern and ancient environments, and influence of microbial community structure on biogeochemical cycles. Introduction to ecological principles and molecular approaches used in microbial ecology and geobiological investigations. Instructor: Orphan.
  • ESE/Ge/Ch 171. Atmospheric Chemistry I. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisite: Ch 1 or equivalent. A detailed course about chemical transformation in Earth’s atmosphere. Kinetics, spectroscopy, and thermodynamics of gas-phase chemistry of the stratosphere and troposphere; sources, sinks, and lifetimes of trace atmospheric species; stratospheric ozone chemistry; oxidation mechanisms in the troposphere. Instructors: Seinfeld, Wennberg.
  • ESE/Ge/Ch 172. Atmospheric Chemistry II. 3 units (3-0-0); first term. Prerequisite: ESE/Ge/Ch 171 or equivalent. A lecture and discussion course about active research in atmospheric chemistry. Potential topics include halogen chemistry of the stratosphere and troposphere; aerosol formation in remote environments; coupling of dynamics and photochemistry; development and use of modern remote-sensing and in situ instrumentation. Graded pass/fail. Instructors: Seinfeld, Wennberg.
  • ESE 175. Physical Inorganic Chemistry of Natural Waters. 9 units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequisites: Ch 1 or instructor’s permission. This course will cover selected aspects of the chemistry of natural and engineered aquatic systems. Lectures cover basic principles of physical-organic and physical-inorganicchemistry relevant to the aquatic environment under realistic conditions. Specific topics that are covered include the principles of equilibrium chemistry in natural water, acid-base chemistry of inorganic and organic acids including aquated carbon dioxide, metal-ligand chemistry, ligand substitution kinetics, kinetics and mechanisms of organic and inorganic redox reactions, photochemical transformations of chemical compounds, biochemical transformations of chemical compounds in water and sediments, heterogeneous surface reactions and catalysis. Thermodynamic, transport, kinetics and reaction mechanisms are emphasized. The primary emphasis during the winter term course will be on the inorganic chemistry of natural waters. Instructor: Hoffmann.
  • ESE 176. Physical Organic Chemistry of Natural Waters. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. This course will cover selected aspects of the chemistry of natural and engineered aquatic systems. Lectures cover basic principles of physical-organic and physical-inorganic chemistry relevant to the aquatic environment under realistic conditions. Specific topics that are covered include the principles of equilibrium chemistry in natural water, acid-base chemistry of inorganic and organic acids including aquated carbon dioxide, metal-ligand chemistry, ligand substitution kinetics, kinetics and mechanisms of organic and inorganic redox reactions, photochemical transformations of chemical compounds, biochemical transformations of chemical compounds in water and sediments, heterogeneous surface reactions and catalysis. Thermodynamic, transport, kinetics and reaction mechanisms are emphasized. The primary emphasis during the spring term course will be on the organic chemistry of natural waters emphasizing the fate and behavior of organic compounds and persistent organic pollutants in the global environment. Instructor: Hoffmann.
  • ESE 200. Advanced Topics in Environmental Science and Engineering. Units by arrangement; any term. Course on contemporary topics in environmental science and engineering. Topics covered vary from year to year, depending on the interests of the students and staff.
  • ESE 300. Thesis Research.

For other closely related courses, see listings under Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Biology, Geological and Planetary Sciences, Economics, and Social Science.

Environmental Science and Engineering