The University of Maine was founded in 1865 for the purpose of training students in Agriculture and Mechanical Arts.  It graduated its first class in 1872.

Since this beginning, subjects in Earth Science, for example general geology, soil chemistry and mineralogy, were taught by various professors.  In addition, a rock and mineral collection  was established in the chemistry laboratory.  It was maintained and enlarged over many years.

During World War II, courses in physical and economic geography were added to the modest geology curriculum and taught until the 1960’s.  Following World War II, the University changed considerably as the modern American research university model emerged to meet the demands of the post-war world; at that time the underpinnings of the current School of Earth and Climate Sciences were set in place.

A structural geologist, Dr. Joseph M. Trefethen, was hired in 1938 in the Department of Civil Engineering within the College of Technology primarily to teach geology for engineers, and subsequently geology for foresters.  He also served as State Geologist from 1942 to 1956 and the survey was housed on campus.  Slowly additional faculty members were added and the geology group expanded to four representing the subfields of structural geology, paleontology, economic geology and glacial geology.  Thereafter for many years faculty members came and went, but the subject areas and numbers of faculty remained constant.

This geology group, while within the Department of Civil Engineering, developed a geology major for students in the College of Arts and Sciences and graduated many students with a Bachelor of Arts degree in geology and a few with the Master of Science degree.

In about 1968, the geology group left the Department of Civil Engineering to form the Department of Geological Sciences, with a teaching and research mission, within the College of Arts and Sciences under the chairmanship of Dr. Philip H. Osberg.  With that change the new department realized that it would, for the near future at least, remain small and therefore decided that it should develop a single research specialization which would be both unique in subject and viable for attracting both graduate students at the MS level and external research funds.  The staff then researched their respective fields as possibilities and chose to specialize in glacial and Quaternary geology.  This led into a multi-disciplinary focus on the broad areas of paleo-climatology, paleo-ecology and prehistoric archaeology.

From this beginning came the Climate Changes Institute (formerly, The Institute for Quaternary Studies), which was formed by members of the Department of Geological Sciences as a separate administrative research/teaching unit with joint appointments initially with faculty in Geology, Anthropology, History and Botany. The School and the Institute have a long track record of close cooperation that has strengthened both and led to signature research and teaching programs at the University of Maine and beyond. Half of the School’s current faculty have joint appointments in the Institute, with several others holding cooperating appointments.

Through the late 1980’s and 1990’s the Department of Geological Sciences expand it’s faculty to broaden its base of subdisciplines and initiate a doctoral program and moved into a large new building (the Bryand Global Sciences Center).  The college structure of the university also changed with geology re-assigned to the new College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture as the Department of Earth Sciences.  In 2012, recognizing the breadth and impact of the teaching and research within this academic unit, the department became the School of Earth and Climate Sciences and began offering concentration in both Earth Systems and Climate Systems.