Master of Science Degree

EEE offers a master of science in Earth resources engineering (M.S.-E.R.E.) degree, designed for engineers and scientists who plan to pursue, or are already engaged in, environmental management/development careers. The focus of the program is the environmentally sound mining and processing of primary materials (minerals, energy, and water) and the recycling or proper disposal of used materials. The program also includes technologies for assessment and remediation of past damage to the environment. Students can choose a pace that allows them to to complete the MS.-E.R.E. requirements while being employed.

M.S.-E.R.E. graduates are specially qualified to work for engineering, financial, and operating companies engaged in mineral processing ventures, the environmental industry, environmental groups of in all industries, and for city, state, and federal agencies responsible for the environment and energy/resource conservation. At the present time, the U.S. environmental industry comprises nearly 30,000 big and small businesses with total revenues over $150 billion. Sustainable development and environmental quality has become a top priority of industry and government in the U.S. and many other nations.

The M.S.-E.R.E. requires a minimum of 30 credits (10 courses) beyond a bachelor's degree, preferably in a science or engineering discipline. Up to 48 credits may be required to allow for make-up undergraduate courses. Also required is original research culminating in a M.S. thesis, worth up to 6 credits of the 30 credit total. Students typically enroll in two semesters of graduate-level interdisciplinary coursework in the fall and spring terms and complete the M.S. thesis in the summer term.

Students interested in eventually earning a doctoral degree can apply as an M.S./Ph.D. candidate, in which they complete a M.S.-E.R.E. before pursuing either a Ph.D. or Eng.Sc. degree, without having to reapply. EEE doctoral candidates must already hold a master's degree in a related engineering or science discipline.

There are three optional concentrations within the M.S.-E.R.E. program. In each concentration there are a number of required specific core courses and electives. Students are encouraged to choose a concentration that matches their specific interests and career plans. A general program is also permissible, providing a broad background in environmental engineering and Earth resources covering water resources, pollution prevention, energy, resource economics, recycling, reclamation, and health. Courses for a general M.S.-E.R.E. program must be selected in close consultation with the graduate program director, Professor Paul Duby.

Water Resources and Climate Risks

Climate-induced risk is a significant component of decision making for the planning, design and operation of water resource systems, and related sectors such as energy, health, agriculture, ecological resources, and natural hazards control. Climatic uncertainties can be broadly classified into two areas: (1) those related to anthropogenic climate change and (2) those related to seasonal-to-century-scale natural variations. The climate change issues impact the design of physical, social, and financial infrastructure systems to support the sectors listed above. The climate variability and predictability issues impact systems operation, and hence design. The goal of the M.S. concentration in Water Resources and Climate Risks is to provide (1) a capacity for understanding and quantifying the projections for climate change and variability in the context of decisions for water resources and related sectors of impact; and (2) skills for integrated risk assessment and management for operations and design, as well as for regional policy analysis and management. Specific areas of interest include:

  • Numerical and statistical modeling of global and regional climate systems and attendant uncertainties
  • Methods for forecasting seasonal to interannual climate variations and their sectoral impacts
  • Models for design and operation of water resource systems, considering climate and other uncertainties
  • Integrated risk assessment and management across water resources and related sectors


The M.S. concentration in Water Resources and Climate Risksis aimed at professionals working in or interested in careers in the application of quantitative risk management methods in any of the sectors listed above. The program is particularly appropriate for engineers and planners who are interested in continuing education in climate and risk management with an interest in water resources. Employment opportunities are anticipated with engineering consultants; federal, state, and local resource management, environmental regulation, hazard management, and disease control agencies; the insurance and financial risk management industry; and international development and aid agencies. A complementary degree (master of arts in climate and society) is available through Columbia University for students who are more directly interested in social or planning aspects of climate impacts, and are not quantitatively oriented.

Water Resources and Climate Risks Coursework

Sustainable Energy

Energy and economic well being are tightly coupled. Fossil fuel resources are still plentiful, but access to energy is limited by environmental and economic constraints. A future world population of ten billion people trying to approach the standard of living of the developed nations cannot rely on today’s energy technologies and infrastructures without severe environmental impacts. Concerns over climate change and changes in ocean chemistry require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, but most alternatives to conventional fossil fuels, including nuclear energy, are too expensive to fill the gap. Yet access to clean, cheap energy is critical for providing mineral resources, water, food, housing and transportation.

Building and shaping the energy infrastructure of the 21st century is one of the central tasks for modern engineering. The purpose of the Sustainable Energy concentration is to expose students to modern energy technologies and infrastructures and to the associated environmental, health, and resource limitations. Emphasis will be on energy generation and use-technologies that aim to overcome the limits to growth that are experienced today.

Concentration-specific classes will sketch out the availability of resources, their geographic distribution, the economic and environmental cost of resource extraction, and avenues for increasing energy utilization efficiency, such as cogeneration, district heating and distributed generation of energy. Classes will discuss technologies for efficiency improvement in the generation and consumption sector, energy recovery from solid wastes, alternatives to fossil fuels including solar and wind energy, nuclear fission and fusion, and technologies for addressing the environmental concerns over the use of fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Classes on climate change, air quality and health impacts focus on the consequences of energy use. Policy and its interactions with environmental sciences and energy engineering will be another aspect of the concentration. Additional specialization may consider region-specific energy development.


This concentration is aimed at engineers with a minimum background of a B.S. degree in an engineering or equivalent science discipline. Candidates with technical strengths in physics, chemistry, chemical, electrical, or mechanical engineering are preferred. The objective is to gain a better understanding of present-day energy infrastructures, their strength and weaknesses and to scope out future technology developments for a world with seemingly insatiable demands for energy. The master's degree aims at preparing a new generation of engineering professionals who will be involved with the rebuilding of a world energy infrastructure that today is stretched nearly beyond the limits of its capacity.

The program aims at young engineers and active professionals who see their future in the large and international energy development markets. Since the challenges are global in nature, this program addresses energy infrastructure engineering for all types of economies. Problems facing the industrialized countries, the emerging economies and the poor countries of the world differ substantially, and a one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely to work.

Expected employment opportunities are in extractive industries and energy processing companies, such as oil companies, the mining industry, power producers, and equipment builders. Employment is also likely to be found in environmental consulting companies, with NGOs interested in environmental and energy issues, as well as local, national, and international government agencies. In short, the program aims to educate technology experts for all stakeholders in the development of the energy backbone of society.

Sustainable Energy Coursework

Integrated Waste Management

Guidelines for MS Thesis                                      Past MS Theses

A 2007 study by the Goddard Institute of Space Studies and the Earth Engineering Center (EEC) of Columbia University established that the amount of solid wastes generated in a particular nation followed closely the consumption of energy. On this basis, it was estimated that the global generation of wastes will be doubled by the year 2030.

On the average, U.S. citizens generate twice as much municipal solid wastes (MSW; about 1.2 metric tons per capita) as Europeans and Japanese who have nearly the same standard of living. They also use twice as much energy. Therefore, there is a lot of room for waste and energy reduction in the U.S.  However, the goal of "zero waste" is unattainable as has been demonstrated by the most environmentally conscious nations, such as Japan, where every possible effort is made to promote recycling and yet they combust or gasify about 0.35 metric tons per capita.

Recycling is the next best thing to do after waste reduction and in the U.S. it has reached the average of 20% of the MSW.

Composting - both aerobic and anaerobic - is the next step in the hierarchy of waste management. It is practical only for source-separated organics; otherwise, much of the compost product is not usable as a soil conditioner and ends up in landfills. About 9% of the U.S. MSW is composted, most of it being source-separated yard wastes composted in open windrows or used as daily cover in landfills.

Waste-to-Energy: Of the post-recycling/composting wastes of the world's urban population, nearly 200 million tons of MSW are processed in waste-to-energy (WTE) plants that recover the energy content of wastes in the form of electricity or district heating. Of the U.S. MSW, only 7% is treated in 87 WTE plants that in total recover about 15 million kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Landfilling: Most of the global urban MSW, over 800 million tons, is landfilled. Eventually, only inorganic, non-recyclable materials will be landfilled in most nations, as already is the case in Japan, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands. However, until there is sufficient global WTE capacity, it is necessary for developing nations like China and India to follow the leading example of U.S. in constructing sanitary landfills that prevent liquid effluents from contaminating ground and surface waters and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

Not all landfills are the same. Modern landfills require a large investment and effort to collect landfill gas (LFG) and use it to generate energy, thus reducing GHG impacts and conserve fossil fuels. Therefore, EEC has proposed the Expanded Hierarchy of Waste Management that differentiates between the better and worse types of landfills (see figure below). Uncontrolled landfilling is a major anthropogenic source of methane, the second most important greenhouse gas affecting climate change. The only two options for decreasing LFG emissions, presently corresponding to over 850 million tons of carbon dioxide, are: Replacing landfilling by WTE and increasing LFG capture in the interim period. The U.S. is the world's largest landfiller with about 23% of the total MSW landfilled. However, it is a leader in the capture of landfill methane. The tonnages of MSW generated, recycled/composted, treated by WTE, and landfilled across the U.S. (BioCycle/Columbia National Survey) can be seen  on the Waste Map of Columbia University.

Expanded Hierarchy of Waste Management

Career opportunities

Columbia University is the place to prepare you for a career that advances Sustainable Waste Management, anywhere in the world. For past theses of the Sustainable Waste Management program of the Earth and Environmental Engineering Department, please look up EEC Theses.

The M.S. concentration in Integrated Waste Management is aimed at professionals interested in industry, government or education careers in what has become the most costly sector of urban management. Past graduates have been engaged by engineering firms (e.g., Malcolm Pirnie, Hydroqual, Covanta Energy, etc.), government and NGOs in the U.S. and abroad (e.g., USACE, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Juniper Consultants, National Commission on Energy Policy, NYCED) or have continued with higher studies. Faculty and students in this concentration are closely associated with the Materials and Energy Recovery Division of  ASME International.

Integrated Waste Management Coursework

back to top

500 W. 120th St., 918 Mudd, New York, NY 10027    212-854-2905                
©2012 Columbia University