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In 2001, the Department of Earth and Space Sciences was created through the merger of two UW departments: the Department of Geological Sciences and the Geophysics Program.

The Department of Geological Sciences traces its origins to 1899 when the teaching of earth science began as an official unit within the College of Liberal Arts with the formalization of the Department of Geology and Mineralogy. The department consisted of one faculty member with a curriculum that encompassed physical and economic geology, assaying, and mining engineering (although a School of Mining had been proposed as early as 1888 it was not established until 1901). Considered a "pure science," geology remained in the College of Liberal Arts, which was reorganized into the College of Arts and Sciences in 1910. In 1969 the department was renamed the Department of Geological Sciences.

The 1957-58 International Geophysical Year (when the first satellite orbited the earth) stimulated world-wide collaboration among disciplines and began the momentum at the UW to formalize the geophysical interdisciplinary ties already in existence on campus. From 1959-1963 interdisciplinary geophysics was governed by a committee of faculty from several disciplines and in late 1963 officially became the Geophysics Group, a graduate interdisciplinary program through the Graduate School. Ultimately, in 1969 the modern Geophysics Program was formalized within the College of Arts and Sciences and the first full-time chair was appointed in 1970.

Brief History of Geological Sciences

The Department was established within the college in 1898 with an emphasis in mineralogy, petrology, and mining geology, and developed as a service to the mining, engineering, and forestry programs. Early broadening of the curriculum and research programs established some of the strengths for which the Department is still well known. In 1907 Charles Weaver arrived from U.C. Berkeley to found a program in paleontology, biostratigraphy, and sedimentary geology and George Goodspeed came in 1919 to teach petrology. J. Hoover Mackin began to teach geomorphology here in 1934. A few M.S. degrees and two Ph.D.s were awarded up to this time; the Department concentrated on undergraduate degrees.

Goodspeed's research on the origin granites focused national attention on the Department beginning in the late 1930s, and Howard Coombs joined him in petrological research, before concentrating on engineering geology during World War II.

Julian Barksdale arrived at UW from Yale in 1936. He single-handedly mapped the Methow Valley in the northeaster Cascade Range for nearly 40 years and contributed greatly to UW as Chairman of the Faculty Senate, first Director of the A&S Honors Program, University Marshall, etc.

Harry Wheeler was hired away from the University of Nevada in 1948 and in the following three decades was one of the world's leading sequence stratigraphers (sequence stratigraphy is now one of the major concepts used in petroleum exploration).

Richard Fuller received one of the first Ph.D.s (1930) from the Department and probably was its first research professor; in mid-career as a volcanologist, he became Director of the Seattle Art Museum, which the family ultimately donated to the city of Seattle.

In 1947, Peter Misch arrived from the Geological Survey of China to broaden teaching and research in structure and petrology, and he supervised most of the approximately fifteen Ph.D. theses written between 1950 and 1964.

V.S. Mallory arrived from U.C. Berkeley in 1952 and set up a program in micropaleontology. Joseph Vance, a Washington Ph.D. with interests in petrology and Northwest geology joined the faculty in 1957. R.C. Bostrom arrived from the Chevron Company in 1964 to teach geophysics, and E.S. Cheney came from Yale the same year to teach economic geology.

The graduate program grew rapidly after 1960, and the acquisition of federal research support begun in 1960 by Mackin was continued by Porter, who replaced him, and by Czamanski. In the early 1960s the Department also received its first federal support for X-ray facilities. The Department's research program and graduate degree program grew gradually through the 1960s, but financial support came only slowly. Most M.S. and Ph.D. topics continued to be field-oriented; and the first Ph.D.s in geochemistry were awarded in 1968.

The award of an NSF Science Development Grant to the University in 1968 gave the Department the biggest financial stimulus it has ever experienced. The grant funded: a laboratory for research on the elastic properties of rocks and minerals at high pressure and temperature (Christensen); and electron microprobe laboratory (Evans); a K-Ar dating laboratory (Stuiver); geophysical equipment such as a gravity meter for teaching (Bostrom) and cold rooms for geocryology research (Washburn). The Department's faculty increased by four FTE in 1969, two with initial NSF-SDG assistance (Stuiver from Yale, Evans from U.C. Berkeley) and two justified by rapidly increasing undergraduate enrollments (Hanson, Stewart). At the same time J. Whetten replaced longtime chairman H.A. Coombs. Further growth in faculty occurred in 1970 with the appointment of I.S. McCallum (experimental and igneous petrology) and J.D. Blacic (experimental rock deformation). The rapid increase in faculty FTE was matched by corresponding growth in undergraduate and graduate enrollments, expansion of space for Geological Sciences in Johnson Hall, and an increase in financial support for research.

A Departmental Advisory Committee visited the campus in 1971 and included in its report the recommendation that the next appointment be in quantitative geomorphology. This was needed to provide balance to the research and teaching program of Geological Sciences faculty affiliated with the Quaternary Research Center (Porter, Washburn, Stuiver). As a result, in 1973 Dunne was lured from the faculty at McGill University to open a program in the quantitative study of geomorphic processes. At the same time, a two-year renewal of the Science Development Grant permitted the Department to purchase modern single-crystal X-ray equipment, and S. Ghose was appointed to initiate a crystallography-mineralogy program. The 1973 retirement of J.D. Barksdale and resignation of E.B. McKee gave the Department an opportunity to appoint its first woman faculty member, B. Whitney (biostratigraphy) from VPI, and a new structural geologist, D.S. Cowan from Stanford via the Shell Oil Company.

B.W. Evans assumed the chairmanship in 1974. In 1975, J.B. Adams, a former doctoral student of the Department, returned to the campus as a research professor bringing with him a vigorous NASA-supported research program in remote sensing and planetary geology. In that year, undergraduate majors in Geological Sciences had risen to 134 and graduate enrollments leveled out at 65. The retirements of H.E. Wheeler and H.A. Coombs in the 1975-6 academic year enabled conversion of Ghose's position from research to teaching professor. A concurrent search for a new Director for the QRC Periglacial Laboratory to replace the retiring director A.L. Washburn proved most successful from the point of view of both the QRC and Geological Sciences. Bernard Hallet, concerned with the physics and chemistry of ice, water, and rock interaction as well as other geomorphic processes, was persuaded in 1979 to leave the Stanford faculty for the University of Washington.

J.B. Adams took over the chairmanship in 1979 and became a tenured professor of the Department. At the urging of a 1977 Visiting Committee, the Department responded to its deficiency in contemporary geochemical research, and in 1980 hired M.S. Ghiorso from U.C. Berkeley. At the same time, sedimentologist / stratigrapher J. Bourgeois was hired from the University of Wisconsin to replace B. Whitney, who took a job in the oil industry. Shortly thereafter, N.I. Christiansen departed in response to an irresistible offer from Purdue University. In 1981, S. Chernicoff was hired to replace lecturer L. Hanson, with primary responsibility for teaching the Department's important introductory courses for non-majors. W.M. Bruner, a theoretical structural geologist, was hired from U.C.L.A. in 1983, in part to forge a linkage between Jim Smith's sediment transport research group in Geophysics and in part to support the Department's structural geology program, which was entirely the responsibility of D.S. Cowan. To increase the vigor of the program in paleontology and sedimentology, invertebrate paleontologist P. Ward was hired away from U.C. Davis in 1984 to replace V.S. Mallory who retired from his professorship in geology.

Dunne assumed the chairmanship in 1984 and took up the task of strengthening the historically important program in geochemistry/petrology by acquiring B. Nelson, radiogenic isotope geochemist from U.C. Los Angeles and G. Bergantz, a physical petrologist interested in fluid dynamics of magma transport and storage from Johns Hopkins University. This left the Department with a strong and modern petrology/geochemistry program along with a very strong group in surface processes. Cowan followed Dunne as chairman in 1989. During his tenure, Jim Smith chose to leave the University for a position at the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department appointed D. McTigue from Sandia Laboratories to fill the research and teaching needs in sediment transport and dynamics. During Cowan's chairmanship, student numbers began their recovery from the depressed values experienced nationally in the mid-eighties, and that recovery has been constant ever since.

Ghiorso assumed the chairmanship in 1994. In 1995 Dunne decided to accept an offer from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and this touched off University wide concern over the future of the surface processes research group at the UW. Uncertainty over the future of the QRC fueled this concern and the Deans of Arts and Sciences and Ocean and Fisheries Sciences responded to the situation by conceiving a joint-college hiring initiative to bolster the surface process program both in Geological Sciences and Oceanography. The first hire in this initiative is D. Montgomery, who joined the faculty in 1996. Subsequent hires included J. Stone (cosmogenic isotopes, half-time QRC), S. Willett (geodynamics) and C. Nittrouer (sediment transport, full-time oceanography).

A brief history of the Geophysics Program: 1969-2001

A National Science Foundation Development Grant was awarded to the University of Washington to develop geophysics and Quaternary research in 1969. As a consequence, Lincoln Washburn was brought in to chair the Quaternary Research Center and Stewart Smith, a seismology professor at the California Institute of Technology, was hired as the first chair of the Geophysics Program beginning in 1970, a position he held for the next ten years.

Geophysics received the bulk of the funds, 2.5 million dollars, from the Development Grant. Many research fields were explicitly included in this grant, including seismology, gravity, solid-earth tides, paleomagnetism, marine geophysics, and glaciology. This new Program, unlike the Geophysics Group, which had been in the Graduate School, was now to be a part of the College of Arts and Sciences. An associate dean of the College, Joe Creager, had been a major driving force behind the scenes in establishing the Geophysics Group and the Geophysics Program. He became the first associate (divisional) dean to oversee the development of the newly established Geophysics Program. The Development Grant provided seed funding for new faculty and facilities for five years, after which the University was to provide continued funding. The Geophysics Program was designed to act as a quasi-department. It was not to offer undergraduate degrees, setting it apart from standard departments.

Faculty members in various departments were asked whether they wanted to join the new Program. Most faculty members in the Geophysics Group elected to have adjunct or zero-time appointments. However, there were several exceptions, including Ken Clark (the last chair of the Geophysics Group), who chose to have a 1/3 appointment. Several faculty members in solid-earth geophysics also elected to be paid in part, or all, from Geophysics. Assistant professor, Robert Crosson switched his entire position from Geology to Geophysics and Oceanography assistant professors Clive Lister (who held a research faculty position at that time), Ronald Merrill, and Jim D. Smith elected to have half-time appointments in Geophysics. Robert Bostrom, a full professor in Geology, chose to have a 1/3 appointment in Geophysics. Bostrom received one of the largest components of the research funds from the Development Grant, which he used to develop instrumentation in a tunnel in the Cascade Mountains to measure solid earth tides. Lee Bennett, an Oceanography faculty member who had played a leading role in writing the Development Grant, was denied tenure and left the University.

Several faculty members were hired early on during Stewart Smith's chairmanship. These included academic faculty members, Marcia Baker (cloud physics; part time with Atmospheric Sciences), Jim Blacic (rock mechanics; part time with Geology), John Booker (solid-earth geophysics), Conway Leovy (planetary atmospheres; part time with Atmospheric Sciences), Brian Lewis (seismology; part time with Oceanography), George Parks (space physics), Charles Raymond (glaciology) and research faculty members, Steve Malone (seismology) and Gary Maykut (polar research; part time with Atmospheric Sciences). The different areas of research of these new faculty hires illustrated the diverse nature of the new Program. The character of the Program became well established during the first term of Stewart Smith's chairmanship.

The original geophysics curriculum was designed around the concept of applying physics and mathematics to the earth and its environment. In particular, graduate students were required to take six 'core' courses. These courses were continuum mechanics (which was supposed to emphasize matrix theory and tensors), fluid mechanics (which was supposed to emphasize fluid mechanical applications to oceanography), atmospheric sciences (which was supposed to emphasize thermodynamics), space physics (which was supposed to emphasize electricity and magnetism), seismology (which was supposed to emphasize mathematical analysis of waves) and solid-earth geophysics (which was supposed to emphasize potential theory). In addition, there were specialized courses that reflected the research interests of the faculty. Although the courses and requirements evolved with time, during the last major review of the Geophysics Program, which occurred at the beginning of the 21st century, the external review committee concluded that the Geophysics faculty consisted primarily of applied physicists studying the earth and its environment.

As an aside, space physics received little funding from the Development Grant, but was judged by the Geophysics faculty to be an important component of the Program. The Physics Department dropped space physics as a formal group within its Department in the late 1980s. Concomitantly, the Geophysics Program increased the number of faculty members in this area of research.

The Geophysics Program had several chairs after Stewart Smith: Jim D. Smith (1980-1985), Ronald Merrill (1985-1992), John Booker (1992-1997) and Michael Brown (1997-2001). The Program reached a broad maximum in faculty and funding between the early 1980s to the mid-1990s. During this time faculty teaching equivalents (FTE; two half time faculty translates to one FTE) varied from 11 to 13 and the research faculty numbered around 10. The Geophysics Program had risen to be one of the top units within the College of Arts and Sciences in terms of total funding from grants received. The seismology group, with its large seismic network run by Robert Crosson and Steve Malone, and the space physics group, which had expensive research tied to rockets and satellites, brought in the most research dollars. However, all Geophysics faculty members maintained outside funding and made significant contributions to the total. The academic faculty members who received part or all of their salary from Geophysics in 1995 were: Marcia Baker, John Booker, Michael Brown, Ken Creager, Robert Crosson, Robert Holzworth, Conway Leovy, Ronald Merrill, George Parks, Charles Raymond, Stewart Smith, Steve Warren and Robert Winglee. The research faculty members were: Howard Conway, Gonzalo Hernandez, David Jay, Steve Malone, Mike McCarthy, Tony Qamar, Martin Unsworth and Ed Waddington. (Other research faculty members, such as Gary Maykut, received their salaries through their home departments and are not included here.) There were also many affiliate, adjunct and zero-time faculty members.

During the latter part of the 1990s the College increased its emphasis on undergraduate education. As the 21st century approached, only two major units in the College of Arts and Sciences did not offer undergraduate degrees. One of these, Genetics, elected to leave the College to join the Medical School. The second of these, the Geophysics Program, merged in 2001 with the Department of Geological Sciences (which offered undergraduate degrees) to form the Department of Earth and Space Sciences, ESS. Michael Brown, the last chair of the Geophysics Program, became the first chair of ESS.

A brief history of the Earth and Space Sciences Program: 2001-Present

In 2001, the Department of Earth and Space Sciences was created through the merger of two UW departments: the Department of Geological Sciences and the Geophysics Program within the College of Arts and Sciences. Michael Brown, the last chair of the Geophysics Program, became the first chair of ESS from 2001 to 2005. During this period there were several retired including Profs Evans, Porter and Raymond in 2001-2002, Baker, Crosson and Rensberger in the Spring of 2004, Ghose, Cheney and Merrill in the Spring of 2005. New hires included Assistant Professors Steig and Buick in 2001, Cooper in 2002, and Harris and Roe in 2003, although outside requirement efforts led to the loss of Prof. Ghiorso. In addition to these staffing changes, it was an exciting time with the renovation of Johnson Hall. Plans for these renovations were announced in the summer of 2002 with Johnson Hall being the first in the renovation of the core buildings on campus. Planning for the renovation was reduced from the usual 24-month period to an 18-month design period due to the fact that construction had to start in the beginning of 2004. Faculty responded to this challenge and the design phase was completed on schedule with the move to temporary facilities in Condon Hall occurring December 2003.

In the summer of 2005, Robert Winglee became the 2nd chair of ESS and oversaw the return of the Department to the newly renovated Johnson Hall in the December of 2005 - on time and on budget. In 2008 Provost Phyllis Wise initiated discussion for the formation of the College of the Environment, and ESS moved into the newly formed college as one of the inaugural units at the beginning of the academic year 2009-2010. The formation of the College coincidentally occurred at the start of the Great Recession that lead to substantial cuts to the state funding of UW and ESS.

During this time there were many comings and goings of faculty. Outside offers led to several losses including Assistant Prof. Cooper in 2005, Associate Prof Willett 2006, Assistant Prof. Harris in 2007, and Associate Prof Bachmann in 2012. Prof. McCallum retired in 2009 and Prof. John Booker retired in 2011. Research Associated Tony Qamar was killed in a logging accident in Oct 2005 and Prof. Stewart died from natural courses in 2006. Hiring started in 2006 revitalizing the department after so many losses. These include Profs Vidale and Houston in 2006, Associate Professor Nesbitt and Assistant Prof Bachmann in 2007. Assistant Professors Gorman-Lewis and Huntington joined the faculty in 2008, Associate Prof. Catling in 2009 and Assistant Professor Crider in 2010. After a short lull in hiring we were joined by Assistant Professor Duvall and Associate Professors Schmidt and Teng in 2012. In Autumn 2012 we launched a new Masters in ESS: Applied Geosciences (MESSAGe) with an inaugural class of 12.