The Department of Environmental Sciences was established by President Edgar Shannon in 1969 by amalgamation of the University of Virginia departments of geography and geology. This new academic program, created after one year of intense research and evaluation, was to focus on earth surface processes, or cross-discipline subjects, such as geomorphology, geohydrology, soils, shallow-water oceanography, climatology, and ecology. Initially, emphasis was to be placed on Virginia and the middle Atlantic coast environments, including the Chesapeake Bay and the coastal barrier islands.
When the department was established in 1969 it was the first in the nation to offer degrees from the BA through to the Ph.D. level in the environmental sciences, and although the program has diversified over the past 30 years, the current teaching and research underway in the department still reflects these early plans and goals. Today, the Department has four defined areas of interdisciplinary specialization, surface geology and geomorphology, atmospheric processes, hydrology, and ecology, in addition to a strong research focus in biogeochemistry. The faculty has grown from 12 in 1969 to over 40 today.