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Geophysics (GP)

Students in the Geophysics graduate program study Earth and other planets to advance our fundamental understanding 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 group allows us to welcome graduate students from a diverse range of backgrounds in science and engineering, resulting in graduates being well prepared for future careers in academia, industry, or public service.

Our multidisciplinary program offers graduate students a unique hands-on, collaborative learning environment. In addition to our core academic curriculum, we emphasize linking observational techniques and the collection of novel datasets for testing new theoretical and computational approaches. GP students participate extensively in field experiments, instrument development, laboratory investigations, and shipboard expeditions.

Is the Scripps Geophysics graduate program for you?

You can either complete a PhD or Masters degree. Here are some thoughts from Peter Shearer on which is best for you, and why you should choose Scripps.

Potential Advisors and Projects for Fall 2020 Admission

The following faculty and research scientists are interested in seeking new students for Fall 2020 intake.  If you wish to find out more about their research, please email them individually.  If you are are not sure what specific area of research you wish to pursue, or have any questions, please email the admissions coordinators, Ross Parnell-Turner and Catherine Constable at for help and guidance.

Yehuda Bock
Geodesy, crustal deformation, data science, natural hazards. Projects include integration of GNSS and InSAR for detecting transient deformation across the Western U.S. plate boundaries; solid earth science time series analysis and mining of large data sets for geodesy, hydrology and meteorology; monitoring the impact of earthquake strong motions on large engineered structures using GNSS, lidar and drone imagery; real-time GNSS and seismic (seismogeodetic) monitoring for earthquake and tsunami warnings.

Adrian Borsa
Geodesy and crustal deformation. Current projects include investigations of Earth surface deformation due to hydrological and other loading, groundwater flux, permafrost freeze/thaw, past and current ice mass changes, and mantle flow. Collaborations with other groups at UC San Diego (School of Global Policy and Strategy, Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, San Diego Supercomputer Center) support socioeconomic/policy applications and cyberinfrastructure development relevant to this research.

Catherine Constable
Geomagnetism. Possible projects include modeling paleosecular variation and linking paleomagnetic records of geomagnetic excursions and reversals to numerical dynamo simulations. Website: 

Steven Constable
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.

Yuri Fialko
Geodesy and tectonics. Observations and modeling of crustal deformation due to active faults and magmatism, rock mechanics, earthquake physics. Current projects include studies of sub-surface geometry of the Southern San Andreas Fault using space geodetic and seismic data. Website: 

Helen Amanda Fricker
Glaciology and remote sensing. Satellite radar and laser altimetry (especially ICESat-2) over ice shelves and outlet glaciers to understand ice loss processes & incorporation into ice-sheet models.
Websites: and

Alice Gabriel (joining July 2020)
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.

Gabi Laske
Seismic tomography using surface wave data. Possible projects include the investigation of crustal structure and seismic anisotropy across North America and a new deployment of ocean bottom seismometers in the North Pacific to explore the evolution of a maturing oceanic plate.

Dave May (joining July 2020)
Computational geophysics. Projects are available which involve the development and deployment of modern numerical methods to conduct physics-based simulations relevant for the following application areas: deformation of the lithosphere; wave phenomena in the Earth; dynamics of ice sheets and landscape evolution. The projects are inter-disciplinary, spanning Earth science, applied mathematics and computer science. Project specifics will be tailored to suit individuals previous experience / skills and their current / future interests.

Mattias Morzfeld
Data assimilation and theoretical geophysics. The research projects are interdisciplinary and revolve around creating new numerical methods (Markov chain Monte Carlo or optimization) and their application across disciplines in geophysics.

Ross Parnell-Turner
Marine geophysics. Possible projects will investigate oceanic crustal formation, faulting and magmatism using earthquake seismology and underwater mapping with robots.

Anne Pommier
Earth and planetary interiors. Different projects are available and will combine high-pressure and high-temperature experiments on Earth and planetary materials with geophysical observations, in order to probe the structure and dynamics of planetary interiors. The student will also have opportunities to participate in experiments on melts at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Lab (Chicago), and in an outreach program for K-12 teachers and students in the San Diego Unified School District.

David Sandwell
Research Interests: Geodynamics, global marine gravity, crustal motion modeling, space geodesy.
Lab web site:

Peter Shearer
Earthquake seismology. Possible projects include analysis of upper-mantle discontinuity structure and its implications for composition and dynamics, studying the possible time dependence of seismic parameters on Hawaii related to volcanic and tectonic activity, and analysis of P-wave spectra in southern California to better understand the origin of variations in high-frequency seismic radiation.

Dave Stegman
Geodynamics. Projects are available on topics related to the dynamics of planetary interiors and lithospheres using numerical models, high performance computing, and scientific visualization. Focus of ongoing research includes mantle plumes in Earth and Venus, magnetic field generation in basal magma oceans, and multi-scale, multi-physics geodynamic models of subduction zones.

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.

There are various application fee waiver programs offered by the UC San Diego Graduate Division. Please inquire with

Applications for Fall 2020 entry are closed. Please check back again in October 2020 for details on how to apply for Fall 2021 entry. Meanwhile, if you have any questions, please email

Financial Support

All PhD applicants are considered for financial support. More information about funding can be found here

Additional Information

Program of Study for PhD

Students admitted to Geosciences of the Earth, Oceans, and Planets (GEO) are assigned an adviser, who is the chair of their three-person guidance committee. Based on the student’s interests and the major affiliation of the adviser, students are assigned to a curricular group upon admission. 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). The material covered is quite different so students must begin preparing for a particular group's exam from the start. Student support for the first year comes from a variety of sources including departmental fellowships and research grants. 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, and they must find an adviser by the end of the first year.

There is no single course of study appropriate to the geophysics curriculum; instead, the individual interests of the student will permit, in consultation with the first-year guidance committee, a choice of course work in seismology, geomagnetism, etc.

The content of six core courses taken during the first year (SIOG 223B, SIOG 224, SIOG 225, SIOG 227A, SIOG 229, SIOG 234) forms the basis for the written departmental examination. Those lacking adequate preparation in probability and statistics are encouraged to take SIOG 223A, or a comparable course, before enrolling in SIOG 223B. Students should also consider taking SIOG 233 if they have little experience in programming.

Finally, students are also encouraged to participate in the Special Topics seminars (SIOG 239) where students have a chance to practice their speaking skills before their peers.

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:

Plan I—Thesis

This involves both course work and research, culminating in the preparation of a thesis. A total of thirty-six units of credit is required: twenty-four units must be from Category A courses (see below); and twelve units in research work leading to the thesis. Students should contact a thesis adviser and coadviser 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 MS program director, will select the courses and research topic to be completed in two years or less.

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. At least twenty-four units must be from Category A and will be selected in consultation with the geophysics MS program director. The remaining twelve units are electives chosen from either Category A or B, or other courses taken with permission of the geophysics MS program director. Students must pass a comprehensive final examination at the end of the spring quarter of the first year, which will cover material in the Category A course work.

Category A courses (24 units):

  • 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 227A. Introduction to Seismology (4 units)
  • SIOG 229. Gravity and Geomagnetism (4 units)
  • SIOG 230. Introduction to Inverse Theory (4 units)
  • SIOG 231. Introduction to EM Methods in Geophysics (4 units)
  • SIOG 234. Geodynamics (4 units)
  • SIOG 236. Satellite Remote Sensing (4 units)
  • SIOG 238. Numerical Methods (4 units)

Category B courses (24 units):

  • 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 162. Structural Geology (4 units)
  • SIO 182A. Environmental and Exploration Geophysics (4 units)
  • SIO 182B. Environmental and Exploration Geophysics (4 units)
  • SIOG 224. Internal Constitution of the Earth (4 units)
  • SIOG 226. Introduction to Marine Geophysics (4 units)
  • SIOG 227B. Advanced Seismology I (4 units)
  • SIOG 227C. Advanced Seismology II (4 units)
  • SIOG 233. Introduction to Computing (4 units)
  • SIOG 239. Special Topics in Geophysics (4 units)
  • SIOG 247. Rock Magnetism and Paleomagnetism (4 units)

Students are encouraged to participate in SIOG 239, Special Topics in Geophysics, where students have a chance to practice their speaking skills before their peers.

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

Emeritus Faculty and Researchers‚Äč