Studying Hydrogeology at KU: Course Options

Water's work, field trip stop

​A variety of courses related to hydrogeology and environmental research are offered in the Department of Geology. Students are generally expected to take courses in physical hydrogeology, contaminant transport, aqueous geochemistry and geomicrobiology their first year, and then choose from among several elective courses (not necessarily offered every year) as schedules permit. The M.S. degree requires a total of 30 credit hours for graduation, of which about 6 hours are expected to be thesis hours. Students admitted without all the required courses in chemistry (Chem I & II) or mathematics (Calculus I & II, differential equations), should expect to make these up either before starting their studies at KU (preferred) or simultaneously as they complete their degrees. Listed below is a typical course sequence and courses that have been offered recently.

Typical sequence of courses for graduates.

Year of Degree
Fall term
Spring term
Summer term
Physical and transport hydrogeology, elective
Chemical and microbial hydrogeology, elective, thesis
2 and up
Elective(s), thesis
Elective(s), thesis

M.S. students complete 24 course hours and 6 thesis hours over 2 years of study. Ph.D. students complete courses selected to support the research (student specific) and non-FLORS requirement (9 hours) over 4 years. Electives are not required in terms following the achievement of the minimum credit hours mentioned above. 

Courses available to graduates in the Department of Geology
(all courses are electives except those marked with *) 

Karst lifeforms, field trip stop
Iron sides are not created equal
(granular iron for groundwater remediation)
'Above ground' penetrating radar for mapping microbes in sand
3D with the right glasses
A moment later the guys too were instructed on the concept of 'hands-on'
Drill baby drill

Offered in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Offered in the Department of Geography

  1. Physical and transport hydrogeology *
  2. Chemical and microbial hydrogeology *
  3. Introduction to Visual MODFLOW
  4. Surface analysis of granular iron for groundwater remediation
  5. Organics in groundwater
  6. Analytical Methods in Geochemical Analysis
  7. Geochemical Modeling
  8. Water-Rock Interaction
  9. Numerical methods
  10. Environmental geophysics
  11. Biogeochemistry
  12. Geophysics
  13. Ground penetrating radar
  14. Wetlands hydrology
  15. Biological principles of evironmental engineering
  16. Introduction to soil geography
  17. Intermediate geographical information systems (GIS)

Description of Courses

Physical and transport hydrogeology (with labs and field training)

This 6 credit hour course includes a lab. It assumes students have taken introductory hydrogeology beforehand. The first half of the course covers water resource evaluation and the physics of groundwater flow in porous media. The lab component consists of practical exercises, including training on field equipment and in field methods. The second half of the course is an overview of transport processes and their mathematical descriptions. The laboratory component consists of a series of spreadsheet modeling exercises covering numerical, analytical and stochastic methods.

Chemical and microbial hydrogeology (with labs)

Chemical and microbial hydrogeology (With Labs) This 6 credit hour course includes two one-credit hour labs. It is typically taken by students in the second term of their degree program. The course covers chemical equilibria of solutions, including speciation, solubility, sorption and ion exchange, and redox; kinetics of reactions; introduction to the chemistry of groundwater contaminants; and introductory geomicrobiology. Labs introduce students to field methods for measuring unstable water parameters, and microbiological techniques applicable to groundwater investigations.

Introduction to Visual MODFLOW

This is an elective 3 credit hour course in which students are taught the operation of the software through a series of self-guided exercises and selected lectures. It is expected that students enrolling in this course will either be acquainted with groundwater models or be concurrently enrolled in the 'physical and transport hydrogeology' course. A modeling project culminating in a presentation are required by the end of the term.

Surface analysis of granular iron for groundwater remediation

This is an elective 3 credit hour course. It is team taught and covers topics related to the macroscopic chemical behavior of granular iron in reactive barriers, and microscopic methods of surface analysis. Students are trained on the use of RAMAN spectroscopy for the purposes of characterizing iron samples taken from solutions of various compositions and ages. A goal of the course is to produce a dataset suitable for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Organics in groundwater

This is an elective 3 credit hour course that introduces the basics of organic chemistry as it relates to groundwater contamination. Nomenclature, physical properties, environmental fate, transformations, and energetics of organics in aquifers is presented in lectures and reviewed in papers. Partitioning calculations are performed using spreadsheet and database platforms, making use of the visual basic capabilities of Excel and Access.

Analytical Methods in Geochemical Analysis

This is an elective 3-4 credit hour course that may include theory and application of ICP-OES, solution ICP-MS, and/or laser ablation ICP-MS. Topics vary; course may be repeated if topics change. Student will gain hands-on experience with running the instruments and processing the data collected by the instrument, as well as learn how the instruments work.

Geochemical Modeling

This is an elective 3-hour course covering use of and mathematics behind the USGS geochemical speciation program, "PHREEQC". Besides learning how the program calculates results, students will learn the fundamentals of performing speciation calculations, reaction progress simulations, ion exchange reactions, as well as other important aqueous geochemical reactions.

Water-Rock Interaction

This elective 3-hour course addresses water-rock interactions in shallow to deep aquifers, including chemical evolution of groundwater along flow paths and diagenesis in deep sedimentary basins. This course will be useful to hydrogeologists seeking to understand natural geochemical reactions in order to differentiate reactions associated with contaminants, and to petroleum geologists seeking to understand processes behind maintenance, enhancement or occlusion of oil or gas reservoir porosity.

Numerical methods

This is an elective 3 credit hour course that reviews the various groundwater modeling techniques based on the numerical solutions to differential equations. Students are acquainted with several methods, but work extensively both writing and modifying finite difference codes.


This elective 3 credit hour course addresses the realization that much, if not most, of the chemistry of the subsurface is controlled by microorganisms. The course reviews the chemical microbial principles that drive bacteria to catalyze various reactions and create chemically distinct environments in the subsurface. The global impact of these organism is explored in a series of lectures and readings.


This is an elective 3 credit hour course required for students planning to take more advanced geophysics courses, such as 'ground penetrating radar', which has a strong environmental application. The course is an introductory study of gravitational, magnetic, seismic, electrical, and thermal properties of the earth. Measurements, interpretation, and applications to exploration, earth structure, and global tectonics.

Ground penetrating radar

This is an elective 3 credit hour course for students who have completed an introductory geophysics course. Topics covered in the course may vary according to the interests of the students. They may include heat flow, wave propagation, synthetic seismograms, groundwater exploration, geothermal exploration, electrical methods in exploration, rock mechanics-tectonophysics, rock magnetism, geomagnetism, paleomagnetism, geophysical inverse theory, and others.

Wetlands hydrology

This elective 3 credit hour course is an introduction of design concepts in creating and restoring wetland systems. Wetland hydrology and hydraulics are reviewed. Interactions of wetland hydrology, soils, and vegetation providing environmental benefits are examined in lectures and readings. Consideration is given to project planning, site selection and preparation, construction operation, and maintenance of artificial wetlands. Use of state and local legal and management tools to protect and restore wetlands, as well as emerging concepts of mitigation and banking are examined.

Biological principles of environmental engineering

This elective 3 credit hour course is a basic study of the microorganisms of importance in environmental engineering. Emphasis is placed on the microbiology of dilute nutrient solutions. Microbial physiology, microbial ecology, and biochemistry will be discussed as they pertain to environmental engineering and science. Both biodegradation and public health aspects are included.

Introduction to soil geography

This elective 3 credit hour course focuses on the physical and chemical properties of soils. Students are introduced to the effects of clay minerals and organic content on soil properties, use, and variability. The course is offered with a laboratory and field trips.

Intermediate geographical information systems (GIS)

This elective 4 credit hour course teaches intermediate to advanced uses of GIS. Emphasis is placed on the application of spatial analytical techniques to geographical problem solving. Topics include spatial data structures, interpolation techniques, terrain analysis, and database management.

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