Prospective Students

Research in Geophysics

For an overview of the latest geophysics research at Scripps, please see the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics annual report.  For a broader view of Earth Sciences research at Scripps, see the Earth Section annual report.

Faculty and Researchers in GP Curricular Group

Information for the Geophysics PhD and Master’s degree programs

Students in the Geophysics (GP) graduate program study Earth and other planets to advance our fundamental understanding of their origin, composition, and evolution, and explore the implications for life, for the environment, and for society.

The graduate program provides a broad education in the fundamentals of geophysics, alongside research and coursework spanning multiple specializations. Our flexible curriculum and multidisciplinary researchers enable us to welcome graduate students from a diverse range of backgrounds in science and engineering, producing graduates who are well prepared for future careers in academia, industry, or public service.

Our multidisciplinary program offers graduate students a unique hands-on, collaborative learning environment. A core academic curriculum provides the foundation for working on research projects that emphasize observational techniques and the collection of novel datasets linked to testing new theoretical and computational approaches. GP students participate extensively in field experiments, instrument development, laboratory investigations, and shipboard expeditions. Many students take advantage of the opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant at some point during the course of their degrees.

Is our Geophysics graduate program for you?

At Scripps you can enroll for either a PhD or Masters (MS) degree. Many PhD students complete an MS en route to the PhD by completing sufficient units of coursework.  Join us for our annual Pre-Application Virtual Open House on November 18th at 10-11 a.m. (PST) to decide which might be best for you, and why you should choose Scripps. Please register for our Virtual Open House here.

Potential Advisors and Projects for Fall 2022 Admission

The following faculty and research scientists are interested in seeking new students for Fall 2022 intake. If you wish to find out more about their research, please email them individually. If you are not sure what specific area of research you wish to pursue, or have any questions, please email the admissions coordinators, Wenyuan Fan at gp-admission@ucsd.edu for help and guidance.

Adrian Borsa aborsa@ucsd.edu
Geodesy, remote sensing, and the water cycle. We use Earth surface deformation (GNSS and InSAR), gravity, and optical/radar imaging to understand the movement and storage of freshwater in the Earth system. Current studies target mountain watersheds in the Western USA, groundwater in California’s Central Valley, and Arctic permafrost. Other research interests include coastal erosion, shallow-water bathymetry, and policy applications of geoscience. Student who wish to do so are encouraged to collaborate with other scientists and groups.
Website: aborsa.scrippsprofiles.ucsd.edu.

Steven Constable sconstable@ucsd.edu
Marine electromagnetic methods. Projects include the study of offshore groundwater, marine gas hydrate, tectonic plate boundaries, and pretty well any other geological feature found offshore. We collect and interpret our own field data, but the lab is also interested in developing algorithms and software needed for data processing and modeling/inversion of EM data.
Website: marineemlab.ucsd.edu

Wenyuan Fan wenyuanfan@ucsd.edu
Observational seismology. We focus on seismic sources and use onshore and offshore, dense array seismic observations to investigate earthquakes, slow earthquakes, subduction zone processes, environmental processes, and their interaction and triggering.
Website: igppweb.ucsd.edu/~wenyuanfan

Alice Gabriel algabriel@ucsd.edu 
Computational and theoretical seismology. Projects are available which use high-performance computing and physics-based modeling constrained by a multitude of observations. Application areas range from the seismic cycle in subduction zones and tsunami genesis, to strong ground motion scenarios in complicated settings, to induced seismicity. Projects may involve utilising new methods in terms of numerical discretisation, uncertainty quantification, imaging and monitoring.
Website: 
scripps.ucsd.edu/profiles/algabriel

David Sandwell dsandwell@ucsd.edu
Geodynamics, space geodesy, global seafloor mapping. We are improving the accuracy and spatial resolution of the marine gravity field using data from satellite radar altimeters.  The improved marine gravity is important for exploring unknown tectonics in the deep oceans as well as revealing thousands of uncharted seamounts.  In addition, we are developing methods to combine the high accuracy of point GPS time series with the high spatial resolution from radar interferometry to measure interseismic velocity along the San Andreas Fault system associated with earthquake hazard.
Website: https://topex.ucsd.edu

Peter Shearer pshearer@ucsd.edu
Seismology. Peter Shearer may have funding to support a student to study earthquakes and/or Earth structure.
Website: https://igppweb.ucsd.edu/~shearer/mahi/

Vashan Wright vwright@ucsd.edu
Tectonics, granular physics, and Martian geophysics. Project topics might include but are not limited to (1) statistical physics of landslides, fault zones, and earthquakes, (2) factors controlling long-term continental erosion, (3) relationship between continental rifting, climate, and geomorphology, and (4) effects of earthquakes, seismic waves, or fluid flow on quasistatic sediment deformation.
Website: stripplelab.ucsd.edu/

Requirements for Admission

In addition to the general requirements for admission to the PhD program, a major in physics, mathematics, or earth sciences is recommended. GRE scores are not required for Fall 2023 admission.

There are various application fee waiver programs offered by the UC San Diego Graduate Division. Please inquire with gp-admission@ucsd.edu.

GP Applicant evaluation Criteria

Factors which we use to evaluate applicants include, but are not limited to, (1) Academic Preparation; (2) Scholarly potential; (3) Diversity, equity, and inclusion contributions; (4) Alignment with the program; (5) Realistic self-appraisal; and (6) Long-term goals.

Applicants should ensure that they represent themselves accurately with the best possible information in all of the above areas. The admissions committee will consider all aspects of the application including the statement of purpose, transcripts, balance of coursework, letters of recommendation, and responses to optional questions about additional experiences. GRE scores may be included if you wish, and may serve as part of our holistic review, but they are not required. Please inquire with gp-admission@ucsd.edu.

For full consideration, please submit applications by December 7th. Applications submitted after the deadline may be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Financial Support

All PhD applicants are considered for financial support. Student support during the first year may come from a variety of sources including external or departmental fellowships and research grants.  More information about funding can be found here

Additional Information

Program of Study for PhD

Students are admitted to the GP curricular group within the Geosciences of the Earth, Oceans, and Planets (GEO) Program based on their interests and the affiliations of their adviser. Each student is assigned a first year advisory committee, comprising their primary advisor and the three person GP departmental committee. Although students may change curricular groups in the course of the year, they must choose which departmental exam they will take. Departmental exams have similar structures among the curricular groups within GEO (a written exam at the end of spring quarter of their first year and an oral exam before the beginning of fall quarter of their second year).

Students are encouraged to begin a research project from the beginning and typically do not hold teaching assistant positions during their first year. Students may change advisers during their first year, but it is important for them to find an adviser by the end of the first year so that they are ready to work on research over the summer and develop a thesis proposal during their second and third years. Students are normally expected to present this proposal at their qualifying exam by the end of their third year.

No single course of study is appropriate to every student in the geophysics curricular group: instead, there is a sequence of foundational classes that each student is expected to complete successfully during the first year, together with a three-quarter seminar sequence on Geophysical Research Skills. Additional graduate class electives or research units (SIO299) under the guidance of a specific instructor provide a minimum of 12 units/quarter required for full-time study. Electives should be chosen from the broad range of available topics in consultation with the first-year guidance committee and the student’s advisor to provide breadth of expertise and to support the individual interests of the student. Some students will find it useful to take courses offered by other curricular groups across Scripps or by other departments on UCSD General campus.

The content of the foundational courses combined with the research skills acquired during the first year seminar forms the basis for the written departmental examination. A list of graduate classes offered by the GP faculty is provided below.

Students are also encouraged to attend Geophysics and Earth Section seminars for exposure to a broad range of geophysical research topics.

Program of Study for MS

The geophysics master’s degree provides a solid grounding in the fundamentals of geophysics for students intending to pursue professional positions in government, industry, or nonprofit organizations or to apply to PhD programs. Two different degree options are available:

MS Plan I—Thesis

This plan combines course work and research, culminating in the preparation of a thesis. A minimum of thirty-six units of credit is required: twenty-two units are expected from Foundational Courses (see below); and twelve units of research work (SIO299) lead to the thesis. Students should contact a thesis adviser and co-adviser prior to, or as part of, the application process. Students are rarely accepted into the program without this prior consultation. This two-member faculty committee, in consultation with the student and the Geophysics Curriculum Advisor, will select the courses and research topic to be completed in two years or less.

MS Plan II—Comprehensive Exam

This course of study is intended to be completed in a single year and requires a minimum of thirty-six credit units. Twenty-two units are expected from the Foundational Group and the remaining twelve units will be selected in consultation with the student’s faculty mentor and geophysics departmental committee. Students must pass a written comprehensive examination at the end of the spring quarter of the first year, which will cover material in the foundational course work.

Foundational classes:

  • SIOG 200 A/B/C Geophysics Research Skills: Geophysics 1st year seminar (2 units/ quarter)
  • SIOG 223A Geophysical Data Analysis I (4 units)
  • SIOG 223B. Geophysical Data Analysis II (4 units)
  • SIOG 225. Physics of Earth Materials (4 units)
  • SIOG 234. Geodynamics (4 units)

Electives:

  • SIOG 221. Plate Tectonics in Practice (4 units)
  • SIOG 222. Introduction to Industry Reflection Seismic Methods (4 units)
  • SIOG 224. Internal Constitution of the Earth (4 units)
  • SIOG 227A. Introduction to Seismology (4 units)
  • SIOG 227B. Structural Seismology (4 units)
  • SIOG 227C. Seismological Sources (4 units)
  • SIOG 228. MS Research Seminar for students in contiguous BS/MS programs
  • SIOG 229. Fundamentals of Gravity and Geodesy (4 units)
  • SIOG 230. Introduction to Inverse Theory (4 units)
  • SIOG 231. Geomagnetism and Electromagnetism (4 units)
  • SIOG 232. Ethical and Professional Science (2 units)
  • SIOG 233. Introduction to Computing (4 units)
  • SIOG 236. Satellite Remote Sensing (4 units)
  • SIOG 238. Numerical Methods for PDEs (4 units)
  • SIOG 239. Special Topics in Geophysics (4 units)
  • SIOG 240. Marine Geology (4 units)
  • SIOG 247. Rock Magnetism and Paleomagnetism (4 units)

Potential Upper Division UG Electives (if appropriate):

  • SIO 105. Sedimentology and Stratigraphy (4 units)
  • SIO 110. Introduction to GIS and GPS for Scientists (4 units)
  • SIO 113. Introduction to Computational Earth Science (4 units)
  • SIO 160. Introduction to Tectonics (4 units)
  • SIO 161. Seismology (4 units)
  • SIO 162. Structural Geology (4 units)
  • SIO 182A. Environmental and Exploration Geophysics (4 units)