M.S. in Earth and Environmental Engineering (M.S.-EEE)

The M.S.-EEE program is 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 complete the M.S.-EEE requirements while being employed.

M.S.-EEE graduates are specially qualified to work for engineering, financial, and operating companies engaged in mineral processing ventures, the environmental industry, environmental groups 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 of more than $150 billion. Sustainable development and environmental quality has become a top priority of government and industry in the United States and many other nations.

This M.S. program is offered in collaboration with the Departments of Civil Engineering and Earth and Environmental Sciences. Many of the teaching faculty are affiliated with Columbia’s Earth Engineering Center.

For students with a B.S. in engineering, at least 30 points (ten courses) are required. For students with a nonengineering B.S. or a B.A., preferably with a science major, up to 48 points (total of sixteen courses) may be required for makeup courses. Students may carry out a research project and write a thesis worth 3–6 points. A number of areas of study are available for the M.S.-EEE, and students may choose courses that match their interest and career plans. The areas of study include:

  • Alternative energy and carbon management
  • Climate risk assessment and management
  • Environmental health engineering
  • Sustainable waste management
  • Natural and mineral resource development and management
  • Novel technologies: surfacial and colloidal chemistry and nanotechnology
  • Urban environments and spatial analysis

Additionally, there are three optional concentrations in the program, in each of which there are a number of required specific core courses and electives. The concentrations are described briefly below; details and the lists of specific courses for each track are available from the department.

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; (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

Sustainable Energy

Building and shaping the energy infrastructure of the twenty-first 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. 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 10 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 minimal resources: water, food, housing, and transportation.

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, and 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.

Sustainable Waste Management

Humanity generates nearly 2 billion tons of municipal solid wastes (MSW) annually. Traditionally, these wastes have been
discarded in landfills that have a finite lifetime and then must be replaced by converting more greenfields to landfills. This method is not sustainable because it wastes land and valuable resources. Also, it is a major source of greenhouse gases and of various contaminants of air and water. In addition to MSW, the U.S. alone generates billions of tons of industrial and extraction wastes. Also, the by-product of water purification is a sludge or cake that must be disposed in some way. The IWM concentration prepares engineers to deal with the major problem of waste generation by exposing them to environmentally better means for dealing with wastes: waste reduction, recycling, composting, and waste-to-energy via combustion, anaerobic digestion, or gasification. Students are exposed not only to the technical aspects of integrated waste
management but also to the associated economic, policy, and urban planning issues.

Since the initiation of the Earth and environmental engineering program in 1996, there have been several graduate research projects and theses that exemplify the engineering problems that will be encompassed in this concentration:

  • Design of an automated materials recovery facility
  • Analysis of the bioreactor landfill
  • Generation of methane by anaerobic digestion of organic materials
  • Design of corrosion inhibitors
  • Flocculation modeling
  • Analysis of formation of dioxins in high-temperature processes
  • Combination of waste-to-energy and anaerobic digestion
  • Application of GIS in siting new WTE facilities
  • Corrosion phenomena in WTE
  • Combustion chambers
  • Mathematical modeling of transport phenomena in a combustion chamber
  • Effect of oxygen enrichment on combustion of paper and other types of solid wastes
  • Feasibility study and design of WTE facilities

Doctoral Programs

EEE offers two doctoral degrees: (1) the Eng.Sc.D. degree, administered by Columbia Engineering; and (2) the Ph.D. degree, administered by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Doctoral Qualifying Examination and Research Proposal

Before the end of the first semester in the doctoral program, the student and her/his adviser will set up an advisory committee of two or three faculty members. This committee will meet at least once a semester to assess academic and research progress of the student and to recommend corrective action in case of emerging or existing deficiencies.

Doctoral students are required to pass a qualifying exam soon after the completion of their first year into the program (spring or fall). They will submit and defend their research proposal approximately one year after successful completion of the qualifying exam. Submission of the dissertation and thesis defense will follow general University rules.

The qualifying examination will be an oral exam administered by three faculty members. The adviser of the student will be a member of the exam committee but may not be the chair. The students will be examined in their understanding of fundamentals as they apply in the four general areas of research of the department: water resources, materials processing, energy, and chemical and biochemical processes. It is expected that each question period will last about 20 minutes, of which 15 minutes will be led by the faculty member from the area and the remaining 5 minutes will be open for questions by all faculty present at the exam. There will be a final period of 20 minutes for general questions.

All graduate students are expected to have a background equivalent to the required core of our undergraduate program. They have, of course, an opportunity to make up for any deficiency in their master’s program. In order to be prepared for the exam, students can take at least one course in each core area during their first two semesters at Columbia (see website for up-to-date course listing). In case the student declares an explicit minor in another department, the qualifying exam requirements will be modified in consultation with the graduate committee. The minor has to be approved by both departments.

The engineering objectives of EEE research and education include:

  • Provision and disposal of materials: environmentally sustainable extraction and processing of primary materials; manufacturing of derivative products; recycling of used materials; management of industrial residues and used products; materials-related application of industrial ecology.
  • Management of water resources: understanding, prediction, and management of the processes that govern the quantity and quality of water resources, including the role of climate; development/operation of water resource facilities; management of water-related hazards.
  • Energy resources and carbon management: mitigation of environmental impacts of energy production; energy recovery from waste materials; advancement of energy efficient systems; new energy sources; development of carbon sequestration strategies.
  • Sensing and remediation: understanding of transport processes at different scales and in different media; containment systems; modeling flow and transport in surface and subsurface systems; soil/water decontamination and bioremediation.