Josh West

Professor of Earth Sciences and Environmental Studies
Email Office ZHS 325B Office Phone (213) 740-6736

Research & Practice Areas

Hydrology, Geomorphology, Tectonics, Geochemistry, Climate Change, Science for Conservation


I am a Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Southern California (USC), and I am affiliated with the USC Environmental Studies Program, an undergraduate program emphasizing education in the interdisciplinary nature of environmental problems. I am also a Faculty in Residence in Cowlings and Ilium Residential College at USC.

I teach and lead a research group that includes diverse graduate and undergraduate students. I work to foster an inclusive culture and promote opportunities that increase equity, including by promoting open discussion within my research group. 

In my research, I work at the intersection of Earth’s landscapes, water & soil resources, and the carbon cycle & climate.

I focus especially on mountains and their interaction with surrounding floodplains, addressing questions about how topography forms and evolves; how mountains control fluxes of water, sediment, and nutrients; how they interact with global biogeochemical cycles to regulate the long-term evolution of Earth’s life-sustaining environment; and how they contribute to generating natural hazards, particularly landslides and debris flows. I am equally drawn to understand the evolution of Earth’s environment in the past, and specifically how global climate has changed over  geologic time, even as it has remained stable enough to maintain a habitable planet. These interests intersect in understanding how erosion controls the exchanges of carbon between rocks, the biosphere, and the atmosphere, and how life has co-evolved with the carbon cycle.

I am broadly interested in natural resources, and in ways that our basic understanding of the Earth as a planet helps us in their sustainable use and management. These interests guide my research and lead me to teach subjects that include energy and hydrology. 


  • Ph.D. Earth Sciences (Geochemistry), University of Cambridge (UK), 2007
  • M.Phil. Geography (Environment & Development), University of Cambridge (UK), 1999
  • B.S. Geology & Geophysics / International Studies, Yale University, 1998
    • NERC Research Fellow, University of Oxford (UK), 2005-2009
  • Visiting and Temporary Appointments

    • Visiting Research Associate, University of Oxford (UK), 06/2010-08/2010
    • Visiting Research Professor, National Cheng-Kung University (Taiwan), 08/2009-12/2009
    • USC Endowed Chair, Wilford and Daris Zinsmeyer Early Career Chair in Marine Studies , 2016/05/15-2021/08/16