Exploring the chemistry, biology, and physics of Earth’s 4.6 billion year history - School of Science, the University of Tokyo
Sep 7, 2015

Exploring the chemistry, biology, and physics of Earth’s 4.6 billion year history

05. Exploring life, the environment, and the dynamics of Earth — Department of Earth and Planetary Environmental Science

Join us as we perform fieldwork around the globe to explore the evolution of life and the history of our planet.

Professor Hajime Kayanne
2013 Department Chair
Department of Earth and Planetary Environmental Science

Earth and planetary environmental sciences is a field in which we use the power of chemistry, biology, and physics to elucidate the evolution of the environment and life on Earth, and on other planets. The Earth has experienced dramatic changes over its 4.6 billion year history, from threats of extinction to being nearly completely covered with ice. Throughout the Earth’s history, the Earth’s atmosphere, seas, planetary crust, and forms of life have formed planetary systems with complex interrelationships. For example, the atmosphere now contains about 20% oxygen, largely the product of photosynthesis by living organisms. At first, oxygen was poisonous to life but, eventually, organisms that could convert oxygen into energy appeared. One of the tasks of the Earth and planetary environmental sciences involves probing into and understanding such co-evolutionary relationships between life and the environment. Current problems involving global change and the future of our Earth can be more fully understood by means of a new perspective that positions these issues within the long history of relationships between our planet’s environment and its life forms.

Our curriculum is largely divided into two tracks: “the environment and life”, and “planetary dynamics”, which deals with solid Earth topics such as volcanoes and earthquakes. An emphasis on fieldwork is a characteristic of our program; the planned curriculum includes three domestic field trips and one international one. During domestic fieldwork, you will spend about a week performing investigations such as exploring the past through geological strata and fossils, observing ecosystems, and collecting rocks and minerals. The international field trip, called the “overseas excursion”, is a 10-day trip in which you will be able to learn about volcanoes, deserts, atolls, and other geological phenomena that cannot be observed in Japan. In 2013, we visited Fiji and Tuvalu and, in previous excursions, we have visited locations including Hawaii, Australia, and China. Fieldwork such as this promotes a close relationship between instructors and students through the time spent living and working together.

During your fourth year, you will select a topic for your graduation thesis, which is called “special research”. Our department has a student learning room where you will be assigned your own desk, providing an environment in which you can immerse yourself in your study.

What most stimulates us in our research is curiosity, a desire to know more about the evolution of life and our planet’s history. However, the results of our curiosity often contribute to fundamental solutions to problems related to the environment, resources, and natural disasters.


Advancement after graduation

In most years, 70–90% of our graduates move on to graduate studies, many into other fields such as agriculture and engineering. Those who seek employment go on to a wide variety of jobs, including those in the media, trading, consulting, IT, and finance.



1877(Establishment of the University of Tokyo) Department of Geology
1886(Reorganized as Imperial University under the Imperial University ordinance) Department of Geology
1907Split into the Departments of Geology and Mineralogy
1919(Amendment to the Imperial University ordinance) Department of Geography
1949School of Science restructured, resulting in the Department of Geosciences (with Schools of Geology, Mineralogy, and Geography)
2006Department of Geosciences restructured as the Department of Earth and Planetary Environmental Science


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