Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Earth Lab’s Data Analytics Graduate Certificate Kicks Off Second Year

Apply now to start or accelerate your career in Earth data science


Earlier this year, students in CU Boulder’s Earth Data Analytics program huddled around their computers—some in a classroom on campus, some tuning in virtually—using scientific programming and data science techniques to look at Earth systems data in new ways. With guidance from their instructors, the cohort processed and analyzed datasets to learn about topics such as air pollution, glaciers, flood detection and more, gaining the skills needed to succeed in today’s world of big data.

Dr. Shelley Petroy, a hiring manager at Ball Aerospace, and Earth Lab students discuss career options in earth data science. Photo: Earth Lab

The Earth Data Analytics - Foundations professional graduate certificate, offered by Earth Lab at CIRES, is one of just a few programs in the nation to focus specifically on applying data science techniques to the Earth and environmental sciences. The ten-month, three-course certificate integrates Earth science, data analytics, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Students can complete the program fully online or in person.

“There is a deluge of freely available data available now that will help us solve our most pressing environmental challenges. It comes from satellites, drones, ground and aquatic instrumentation, human-made measurements and even social media sources,” said Leah Wasser, director of Earth Analytics Education at Earth Lab.“There’s a real need for people with both science and data science skills who can work with this flood of information. This is who our program targets.”

By teaching students how to efficiently use this massive flow of data, the certificate program provides them with the tools they need to start or advance careers in data science, geospatial analysis, GIS technology, remote sensing, and other specialty fields. The instructors identify all skills taught in the program through market research—in demand for careers at organizations including Google, DigitalGlobe, USGS, Lockheed Martin, NOAA, and more.

Earth Lab scientist Megan Cattau uses data analytics to study distribution of trees in a forest. Photo: Earth Lab

The program, geared toward recent college graduates as well as working professionals, graduated its first cohort of students this spring. In the first part of the program, students learned the fundamentals of programming using Python to process and visualize different data types. To gain applied experience on a real world project, they also worked on self-selected projects ranging from integrating global datasets to investigate retreating glaciers around the world to using machine learning to detect floods to classifying thermal images of power lines captured from drones.

“I didn’t like computers when I started. I like them now,” said Shannon White, a 2015 CU Boulder graduate who earned the Earth Data Analytics certificate this year. “I had zero coding experience. This course, and the coding that I learned in it, has given me a whole new career direction. It has carved out a path for me.”

A destructive volcanic eruption in 2018 on the East RIft Zone of Hawaii Island. Photo: USGS

White integrated satellite imagery and air pollution data to learn more about air quality after a volcanic eruption in her home state of Hawaii. She found the greatest impact of the eruption was on human health: the volcano emitted dangerous amounts of particulate matter and carbon dioxide.

“We’ve seen our students grow tremendously throughout this first year of the certificate program,” said Jenny Palomino, curriculum developer and instructor for Earth Lab. “I have no doubt they will use their new skills to take on exciting new projects and advance their careers.”

The program is currently recruiting its next cohort of professional students—Earth Lab will continue accepting applications on a rolling basis through August 12.


CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.