Nepal Summer Abroad | Field School | Himalaya | Geology | Earth Science

Nepal: Geoscience in the Himalaya (Summer)

Conduct Earth science fieldwork in the spectacular setting of the Nepal Himalaya.

The program focuses on field geoscience, geohazards, and environmental sci­ence in the context of human interactions and sustain­able development in Nepal. Through extended mountain treks, you will engage in classic field geologic skill development and innovative inquiry of human-Earth systems. You will learn to “read” the rocks and use maps and remote sensing images to better understand past and present Earth processes and study aspects of hazards assessment and engineering geology.

Major topics of study include:

  • Geoscience field research and observational methods
  • Identifying a broad range of Earth processes and rock types
  • How mountain ranges form and continually transform
  • The hazards and benefits of living in a dynamic natural environment
  • Steps for risk reduction that align with sustainable development practices
  • The ways in which societal decisions affect the geohaz­ard risks faced by human populations

Meet the program’s academic director.

Rock folds in NepalExamine Himalayan geologic history. Consider the benefits and challenges of living in a geologically dynamic region of the world.

Through field experiences, project-based learning, and lectures, the program will incorporate the following topics: 

Earth science field skill development

The orientation in Kathmandu will provide foundational background knowledge, through site visits around the Kathmandu Valley and interactive lectures and discussions in the classroom. 

Along with your program instructors, you will then travel across central Nepal and up the Kali Gandaki valley with structured field lessons designed to develop basic geoscience field skills. You will learn to “read” the rocks and use maps and remote sensing images to better understand past and present Earth processes.

During a grand traverse of the Himalayan range — from the rain-soaked region south of the mountains, through the deepest gorge in the world, between two of the tallest mountains in the world, and to the arid edge of the Tibetan Plateau to the north — you will witness a broad range of Earth processes and rock types, which will allow you to develop experience with a variety of field observational methods: structural geology, map and cross-section construction, and field identification of geologic features such as rock types, sedimentary structures, and river terraces.

Geohazard analysis and societal contexts

On the Kagbeni Gumba

You will study aspects of hazards assessment, engineering geology, hydropower development, and road building — critical topics to understanding interactions between Himalayan societies and Earth systems interactions.

The program also focuses on risk reduction, particularly in relation to landslides and earthquakes. As the recent earthquakes in Nepal and other Himalayan countries have shown, the active tectonics of Asia combined with weak architectural choices lead to extremely high earthquake risk for Himalayan societies. The steep mountain slopes and intense rainfall events make landslides a regular hazard.

Other geohazards considered include flooding and climate change.

Introduction to Earth and human system interactions

The Himalaya are the highest mountain range on Earth and home to diverse cultures that both depend on the mountains and are constantly challenged by their dynamic nature. The same processes that brought ocean sediments to the top of the highest mountains millions of years ago continue today.

You will consider how the Himalaya are undergoing perpetual transformation and how these changes affect and are affected by human settlements that line the valleys, top the ridges, and spread across the mountainsides. 

Field study project on a topic of your choice

You will pursue your own interests within Earth science and geohazards field studies by conducting an original field study project, with support from program faculty and partners in Nepal. Particular emphasis is placed on projects that combine field observations of Earth systems with analysis of their impacts on human society. You may work individually or in pairs. The project may be conducted in the Kathmandu area or in adjacent mountain or hill regions.


At least two upper division (above the 100-level) geoscience, earth science-oriented environmental science, or physical geography courses.

The setting of the Himalaya provides an unparalleled opportunity to study the Earth sciences. Students study classic Earth science field skills and gain the ability to apply geoscience observations to better understand how geohazards impact societies and what can be done to reduce risk.

Coursework — listed below — covers traditional geoscience field skill development (geologic history deduction, structural geology, stratigraphy, and mapping) and geohazard analysis and solutions in the context of Nepali society. Students develop Earth science field skills as applied to understanding both the geological history and ongoing interactions between humans and Earth systems in the Himalaya. When the academic calendar allows, a carefully selected cohort of geology students from Nepal’s premier university — Tribhuvan University — participates in the Field Science Methods course and the Geohazards in the Himalaya course as classmates. This unique opportunity to engage in geoscience studies in the Himalaya with Nepali students deepens program learning on every level.

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Geohazards in the Himalaya – syllabus
(GEOL3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
This course focuses on environmental geohazards as a perspective through which to study the interactions between human and Earth systems in the Himalaya. The rugged terrain of an active mountain range limits habitation and travel but also contributes to diverse and multifaceted societies within a concentrated region. The sediments and soils that come from the mountains provide rich agricultural lands; but settlements are precariously balanced on steep slopes or beside rushing rivers and are subject to geohazards such as landslides, floods, and earthquakes. Furthermore, the climate system is rapidly changing due to practices of industrialized nations, leading to additional challenges. You investigate how Earth systems affect and influence society and how human decisions and actions bear consequences on the environment and determine societal risk in the face of geohazards. Particular emphasis is given to the study of low cost and technologically simple solutions that dovetail with other sustainable development practices.
Earth Science Field Methods – syllabus
(GEOL3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
In this course, you develop geoscience field skills within the setting of Earth’s highest mountain range. Field observations underpin many Earth and environmental science disciplines. In a grand traverse of the Himalayas along the Kali Gandaki gorge, you learn to reconstruct the geologic past and interpret ongoing Earth processes in strict observance of scientific ethics. This course and itinerary incorporate most of the major Himalayan rock formations and climatic zones, giving you broad experience with different types of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks as well as structural and geomorphic features. In this process of constructing and justifying a plausible geologic history through cross sections and maps, you learn how to synthesize a wide range of observations to better understand our planet’s dynamic processes.
Geology Field Study Project – syllabus
(GEOL3060 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Field study allows students to grapple with the complexity of a single topic in more depth. You maintain a journal of interests and research ideas during the first portions of the program. As the field study portion of the program approaches, each student or team of students will meet with an advisor to refine ideas to a focused research question that addresses aspects of either or both of the preceding field courses. After writing a brief proposal that articulates a viable research design, you carry out independent field research for ten days. The final days of the program will be spent reporting on projects and will include final debriefing sessions in Kathmandu.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Trekking in the Himalaya.Following the initial orientation (approximately four days) in Kathmandu, you will spend approximately six weeks — the majority of the program — conducting Earth science fieldwork in the High Himalaya and Middle Hills regions of central and western Nepal.

Himalayan traverse

The program’s major excursion will be a traverse through a cross-section of the Himalaya along the Kali Gandaki River gorge. 

The program will travel overland to the west of Kathmandu, passing through a varied portion of the Middle Hills of Nepal (south of the Himalayan peaks). Along with instructors and fellow students, you will then start the approximately two-and-a-half-week trek in the Kali Gandaki gorge.  

The Kali Gandaki River is an ancient river that dates from before the development of the Himalaya — more than 50 million years ago. It cuts between two of the highest peaks in the world — Annapurna and Dhaulagiri — creating one of the deepest gorges on Earth. 

On the northward journey, up the gorge, you will develop classic geoscience field skills through analysis of the geologic history of the region as “read” in the exposed rocks.

During the southward return, the emphasis will switch to human-Earth interactions and geohazards in the context of that region.

During the time in the Kali Gandaki, you will have opportunities to engage with Nepali residents from ethnically Tibetan cultures.

Middle Hills

After the Kali Gandaki trek, you will spend time in the Middle Hills region of Nepal, including the famous city of Pokhara on the banks of Lake Fewa, where you will conduct detailed geohazard analyses and learn about engineering geology and other risk-reduction solutions. The Middle Hills region is home to a diverse range of ethnic groups and Nepali subcultures, giving you further exposure to the societal diversity within this small Himalayan country.

Kathmandu Valley

The program will return to Kathmandu for a short period prior to the start of the field study project. You will spend 10–12 days conducting individual or small-group field study projects within the Kathmandu Valley and other parts of the Middle Hills region of central Nepal. Final presentations and program wrap-up are held in Kathmandu during the program’s final few days.

Beth Pratt-SitualaBeth Pratt-Sitaula, PhD, Academic Director

Beth Pratt-Sitaula received her PhD in geosciences from the University of California Santa Barbara (2005) and subsequently worked as both a university faculty member and Earth science education specialist. Beth has worked on geoscience and education projects in Nepal since 2000. Her geoscience research has focused on the intersection between plate tectonic movements from below and climate forcing from above to give us the dynamic Earth surface we witness with changing river, hill slope, and glacial processes. Since 2008 she has worked in partnership with Tribhuvan University faculty to install and maintain a global positioning system (GPS) station network in central Nepal to help monitor Earth-surface movements and better understand earthquake hazard for the region. Prior to starting with SIT several years ago, she also led summer programs for MS students and science teachers to study interdisciplinary watershed issues in the Annapurna region of Nepal. One of her particular passions is helping people understand geohazards and how societies can combine sustainable development with risk reduction. She has co-led programs for Pacific Northwest educators to help them better understand earthquake/tsunami hazards and mitigation strategies and has taught about Himalayan geology and earthquake risk reduction in Kathmandu schools. The Cascadia EarthScope Earthquake and Tsunami Education Program, which Beth directs, received the Western States Seismic Policy Council's 2016 National Award in Excellence for Educational Outreach to Schools. Beth lives in Colorado but travels frequently to Nepal for research and to visit family.

In addition to SIT faculty, program lecturers and resources — including field study project advisors — will be drawn from Tribhuvan University, Nepal’s national university, and other in-country institutions such as:

  • National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) 
  • International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) 
  • The Mountain Institute

Ananta Prasad Gajurel, PhD, Academic Advisor

Dr. Gajurel has been a lecturer at Tribhuvan University for more than 20 years and has helped to teach numerous field geoscience courses to Nepali and international students. He has a PhD in sedimentology and geochemistry from Université Joseph Fourier in France and was a Fulbright Scholar at Cornell University in 2012–13. His research interests lie in using sedimentology and geochemistry to better understand climate history and past depositional environments. He is also active in GPS/GNSS research of ground surface movement and geohazards education and mitigation.

Ranjan Kumar DahalRanjan Kumar Dahal, PhD

Ranjan is an engineering geologist who specializes in geohazard reduction. He received his PhD in geotechnical engineering from Kagawa University, Japan, in 2009 and received the best engineering research award the same year. His research has included studies of landslides, debris flows, earthquake hazards, engineering geology, geomorphology, landslide simulation, disaster management, disaster education, foundation analysis, and engineering geology of roads and dams. He is particularly passionate about exploring the use of new technologies and innovation to increase sustainable development and environmental standards in Himalayan countries. Most recently, he authored the most comprehensive available report on the Seti River debris flow disaster that claimed more than 40 lives in the spring of 2012. He has also written the book Geology for Technical Students. He works as a faculty member of the geology department at Tribhuvan University’s Kirtipur campus and lives with his family in Kathmandu. During the 2012–13 academic year, he was a visiting scholar at Kagawa University in Japan.

While on excursions, your accommodations will include guest houses and small hostels (called tea houses) as well as possibly dormitory-style housing. During the time in Kathmandu, you will stay in small tourist hotels near the SIT program office located in the city’s Boudha neighborhood.


Program Dates: Summer 2017

Program Arrival Date:  Jun 18, 2017

Program Departure Date:    Aug 6, 2017

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Apr 1, 2017

SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $7,425

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Earth Science Field Methods
    • Geohazards in the Himalaya
    • All educational excursions associated with the Geohazards in the Himalaya course and the Earth Science Field Methods course
    • Field Study Project (with an appropriate stipend for accommodation and food)
    • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $1,925

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Kathmandu), on all excursions, and during the evaluation period.
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered by SIT Study Abroad, directly or through an appropriate stipend.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $ 140

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $ 50

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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