Earth and Environmental Engineering

Henry Krumb School of Mines
918 S. W. Mudd, MC 4711
Phone: 212-854-2905

Earth and Environmental Engineering at the Henry Krumb School of Mines fosters excellence in education and research for the development and application of science and technology to maximize the quality of life for all, through the sustainable use and responsible management of Earth’s resources.


The Earth and Environmental Engineering program fosters education and research in the development and application of technology for the sustainable development, use, and integrated management of Earth’s resources. Resources are identified as minerals, energy, water, air, and land, as well as the physical, chemical, and biological components of the environment. There is close collaboration with other engineering disciplines, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction, the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, and other Columbia Earth Institute units.


The School of Mines of Columbia University was established in 1864 and was the first mining and metallurgy department in the U.S. It became the foundation for Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and has been a pioneer in many areas of mining and metallurgy, including the first mining (Peele) and mineral processing (Taggart) handbooks, flotation, chemical thermodynamics and kinetics, surface and colloid chemistry, and materials science.

Nearly 100 years after its formation, the School of Mines was renamed Henry Krumb School of Mines (HKSM) in honor of the generous Columbia benefactor of the same name. The Henry Krumb School of Mines supports three components:


Starting in 1996, the educational programs of Columbia University in mining and mineral engineering were transformed into the present program in Earth and Environmental Engineering (EEE). This program is concerned with the environmentally sound extraction and processing of primary materials (minerals, fuels, water), the management and development of land and water resources, and the recycling or disposal of used materials. EEE offers the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Earth and Environmental Engineering, the Master of Science (M.S.) in Earth and Environmental Engineering, and the doctorate degrees (Ph.D., Eng.Sc.D.) in EEE.

The EEE program welcomes Combined Plan students. An EEE minor is offered to all Columbia engineering students who want to enrich their academic record by concentrating some of their technical electives on Earth/Environment subjects. There is close collaboration between EEE and the Departments of Civil Engineering and Earth and Environmental Sciences, including several joint appointments.


Columbia Water Center. The Center was established in 2008 to address issues of Global Water Security. It currently has 3 major initiatives:

The Global Water Sustainability Initiative is focused on an assessment of global water scarcity and risk, and innovations across scales, from farmer’s field to reservoir optimization to national policy modifications to international trade, to develop real world solutions to an impending global water crisis. This includes the development of new agro-water and chemical sensor systems to improve water use efficiency and reduce non-point-source pollution as well as field studies on how to get farmers to use them; comprehensive modeling and optimization of regional crop and energy facility siting to improve water sustainability and income; field experiments of water/energy pricing policy changes; participatory reservoir management using climate scenarios, elicited stakeholder values, option contracts and insurance; and models for replicable community-managed rural
drinking water systems. Active field research projects are in India, China, Brazil, and Peru.

The Global Flood Initiative recognizes that of all natural hazards, floods are responsible for the largest average annual loss of property and life. They are also a significant contributor to pollutant loading and environmental impact in water bodies. In a globalized society the disruption of food, energy, and manufactured goods supply chains by floods has also emerged as an issue. The initiative is developing state-of-the-art climate analyses for global flood risk projection, its mapping onto supply chains, and risk management using novel structural and financial tools.

America’s Water is the third major initiative. It is driven by the goal of developing sustainable water management and infrastructure design paradigms for the 21st century, recognizing the linkages between urban functioning, food, water, energy, and climate. It seeks to pull together a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing water infrastructure in the USA. These include the financing of and investment in the replacement of aging infrastructure; pricing and allocating water, given changing values and climate; the management of the total urban water cycle through new technologies and network topologies;
groundwater depletion and national food and economic futures; and novel opportunities for flood risk management and non-point-source pollution mitigation.

In addition, the department has active research on improving the efficiency of water use, reclamation and recycling in natural resource processing industries, and on the use of environmental microbiology for wastewater treatment and energy conversion. State-of-the-art methods from molecular genomics are being developed and used to address nitrification and denitrification
in wastewater treatment and energy production.

Center for Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). The Center for Life Cycle Analysis (CLCA) of Columbia University was formed in the spring of 2006 with the objective of conducting comprehensive life cycle analyses of energy systems. LCA provides a framework for quantifying the potential environmental impacts of material and energy inputs and outputs of a process or product
from “cradle to grave.” The mission of the Center is to guide technology and energy policy decisions with databased, well-balanced, and transparent descriptions of the environmental profiles of energy generation and storage systems in current and future electricity grids. Current research thrusts include:

  • Solar energy grid integration: The CLCA is engaged in model development and technical and environmental systems analyses of renewable energy integration into electricity grids. It is developing models for evaluating and optimizing energy storage units for ramping rate control in photovoltaic power plants, optimizing penetration of solar and wind resources, and
    unit commitment and economic dispatch of conventional generators to compensate for solar and wind variability in large-scale penetrations.
  • Resource assessment and recycling of critical energy materials variability: The CLCA, together with the Brookhaven National Laboratory are developing technologies for optimizing recycling of various elements from end-of-life photovoltaic systems and infrastructures for their collection.
  • Life-cycle environmental and environmental health and safety (EH&S) risk assessment: Risk- and LCA-based comparisons of solar electric and conventional energy tecnologies in collaboration with Brookhaven National Laboratory and several European, South American, and Asian institutions.

For more information:; e-mail:

Earth Engineering Center (EEC). EEC was formed in 1995 with the original mission to direct engineering research at Columbia on processes and products that balance the increasing use of materials by humanity with the need for clean air, water, and soil. EEC introduced the teaching of industrial ecology, was the first engineering unit of Columbia’s Earth Institute, and co-organized the 1997 Global Warming International Conference (GW8) at Columbia University. As of 1998, EEC has concentrated on advancing the goals of sustainable waste management in the U.S. and globally. Economic development has resulted in the generation of billions of tons of used materials that can be a considerable resource, but when not managed properly, constitute a major environmental problem both in developed and developing nations. In 2003, in collaboration with the Energy Recovery Council of the U.S., EEC founded the Waste to Energy Research and Technology Council (WTERT). As of 2013, the Global WTERT Council has sister organizations in 14 countries including Canada, China, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Mexico, and the U.K. Over the years, WTERT research at Columbia has engaged many M.S. and Ph.D. students on all aspects of waste management (see, Publications, Theses). EEC conducts a biannual survey of waste management in the 50 states of the Union.

Environmental Tracer Group (ETG). The Environmental Tracer Group uses natural and anthropogenic (frequently transient) tracers, as well as deliberately released tracers, to investigate the physics and chemistry of transport in environmental systems. The tracers include natural or anthropogenically produced isotopes (e.g., tritium or radioactive hydrogen, helium and oxygen isotopes, or radiocarbon), as well as noble gases and chemical compounds (e.g., CFCs and SF6). The ETG analytical facilities include four mass spectrometric systems that can be used in the analysis of tritium and noble gases in water, sediments, and rocks. In addition to the mass spectrometric systems, there are several gas chromatographic systems equipped with electron capture detectors that are used for measurements of SF6 in continental waters and CFCs and SF6 in the atmosphere. GC/MS capability is being added to the spectrum of analytical capabilities.

Industry/University Cooperative Research Center for Particulate and Surfactant Systems (CPaSS). CPaSS was established in 1998 by the Henry Krumb School of Mines, Department of Chemical Engineering, and Department of Chemistry at Columbia University. The Center encompasses detailed structure-property assessment of several classes of surface-active molecules, including oligomeric, polymeric, and bio-molecules. The aim of CPaSS is to develop and characterize novel surfactants for industrial applications such as coatings, dispersions, deposition, gas hydrate control, personal care products, soil decontamination, waste treatment, corrosion prevention, flotation, and controlled chemical reactions. The proposed research thus focuses on the design and development of specialty surfactants, characterization of their solution and interfacial behavior, and identification of suitable industrial application for these materials.

The goals of CPaSS are to perform industrially relevant research to address the technological needs in commercial surfactant and polymer systems, develop new and more efficient surface-active reagents for specific applications in the industry and methodologies for optimizing their performance, promote the use of environmentally benign surfactants in a wide array of technological processes, and build a resource center to perform and provide state-of-the-art facilities for characterization of surface-active reagents.

International Research Institute for Climate Prediction (IRI). The IRI is the world’s leading institute for the development and application of seasonal to interannual climate forecasts. The mission of the IRI is to enhance society’s capability to understand, anticipate, and manage the impacts of seasonal climate fluctuations, in order to improve human welfare and the environment, especially in developing countries. This mission is to be conducted through strategic and applied research, education and capacity building, and provision of forecast and information products, with an emphasis on practical and verifiable utility and partnerships.

Langmuir Center for Colloids and Interfaces (LCCI). This Center brings together experts from mineral engineering, applied chemistry, chemical engineering, biological sciences, and chemistry to probe complex interactions of colloids and interfaces with surfactants and macromolecules. LCCI activities involve significant interaction with industrial sponsors and adopt an interdisciplinary approach toward state-of-the-art research on interfacial phenomena. Major areas of research at LCCI are thin films, surfactant and polymer adsorption, environmental problems, enhanced oil recovery, computer tomography, corrosion and catalysis mechanisms, membrane technology, novel separations of minerals, biocolloids, microbial surfaces, and interfacial spectroscopy.

Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy. The mission of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy is to develop technologies and institutions to ensure a sufficient supply of environmentally sustainable energy for all humanity. To meet this goal, the Center supports research programs in energy science, engineering, and policy across Columbia University to develop technical and policy solutions that will satisfy the world’s future energy needs without threatening to destabilize Earth’s natural systems.

The mission of the Lenfest Center is shaped by two global challenges. First, the Center seeks to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and to forestall a disruption of global climate systems that would impose negative consequences for human welfare. Second, the Center seeks to create energy options that will meet the legitimate energy demands of a larger and increasingly wealthy world population. In order to meet these two challenges, the Center seeks to develop new sources, technologies, and infrastructures.

The Lenfest Center focuses primarily on the technological and institutional development of the three energy resources sufficient to support the world’s projected population in 2100 without increased carbon emissions: solar, nuclear, and fossil fuels combined with carbon capture and storage. Although each of these options can, in theory, be developed on a scale to satisfy global demand, they each face a combination of technological and institutional obstacles that demand research and development before they can be deployed.

The Center’s main activities are based within the range of natural science and engineering disciplines. At the same time, it integrates technological research with analysis of the institutional, economic, and political context within which energy technologies are commercialized and deployed. For more information: Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy


The department arranges for undergraduate summer internships after the sophomore and junior years. Undergraduates can also participate in graduate research projects under the work-study program. Graduate research and teaching assistantships, as well as fellowships funded by the Department, are available to qualified graduate students. GRE scores are required of all applicants for graduate studies.