Water is an indispensable resource, not only for MIT, but also for the global community. Our campus’ health and activities are dependent on a consistent water supply for restrooms, drinking water faucets, showers, cafeterias, laboratories, and landscaping.
Growing a climate resilient MIT involves understanding what risks and disruptions may impact the campus in order to prepare the campus community for the impacts of climate change. These potential impacts include:
Flooding from more frequent and extreme rains
Flooding from storm surges and rising sea-levels
Extreme heat events
A climate resilient MIT (explore MIT's climate resiliency work to date in the 2019 Climate Action Plan Update) is an Institute that continues to fulfill its mission in the face of these impacts. Recent disruptive weather events — both localized and regional — have helped to raise the awareness of and vulnerability to flooding in the region. To build a climate resilient MIT, we seek to understand and prepare for the flood risk to campus as well as extreme heat events.
The MIT Climate Resiliency Committee, managed by the Office of Sustainability is tasked with assessing, planning, and operationalizing a climate resilient MIT. The Committee is a collaboration among faculty; engineering and facility staff; risk, insurance, and climate science experts; emergency management; and students individually and collectively driving efforts that grow a climate resilient campus.
MITOS is also convening operational, research scientists, and municipal planning experts who are best positioned to identify campus climate challenges and opportunities for enhancing resiliency and preparedness at the campus and city scale:
The MIT Climate Resiliency Committee: The MIT Climate Resiliency Committee, managed by the Office of Sustainability is tasked with assessing, planning, and operationalizing a climate resilient MIT. The Committee is a collaboration among faculty; engineering and facility staff; risk, insurance, and climate science experts; emergency management; and students individually and collectively driving efforts that grow a climate resilient campus
Department of Facilities Subcommittee on Operationalizing Climate Resiliency: This small subcommittee is focused on identifying campus priorities for climate resiliency planning, design review and near-term investments across building, district and campus scales.
MIT/City Flood Risk Collaboration: A joint effort between MIT and the City of Cambridge to harmonize data, research activities and modeling tools that can enable climate resilient planning across campus and city shared boundaries.
Climate Resiliency Partners:
MITOS Vision for Climate Resiliency
To enable an MIT community that fulfills the mission of the Institute and thrives in the face of disruptions from intensifying climate risks, including more frequent and extreme flooding and heat.
From a semi-industrial landscape to a densely populated center of innovation, our campus landscape has undergone dramatic evolution since MIT moved across the Charles River to Cambridge in 1916. Currently, approximately 64 percent of MIT’s campus is composed of impervious surfaces, such as roofing and paving. Green spaces provide areas for recreation and habitats for local wildlife.
Air quality is a measure of the concentration of pollution in the surrounding air over a period of time. There are many sources of air pollutants and factors that can effect air quality: emissions from energy production, vehicle exhaust, solvent fumes, methane from waste, smoke, organic matter like pollen, and changes in the weather.
Data-Driven Flood Risk Planning
MITOS, along with fellows and researcher scientists, engages climate modelers, scientists, and engineers at MIT and in Cambridge and Boston to help inform data-driven flood risk planning for the campus and region.
(Climate Resiliency Dashboard – Beta version launching for MIT community December 2020)
The MIT Climate Resiliency Dashboard is an informational tool enabling the MIT community to understand risk to the Cambridge campus from flooding and heat (heat coming 2021) under both today's climate a future, changed climate. This dashboard seeks to translate the science of these climate risks into visual maps for use in operational and strategic decision-making about campus-wide planning, capital renewal, new capital projects, and community preparedness. This Dashboard has been created using the latest climate impact models (in partnership with the MIT Center for Global Change Science) and is harmonized and regularly updated with the City of Cambridge's climate change flood model.
MIT Campus Flood Risk Model:
Informed by both the MIT Flood Vulnerability Study and Sustainability Stormwater and Landscape Ecology Plan, MIT is preparing a campus-based flood risk model that will integrate campus risk modelling with the City of Cambridge Flood Risk Model. This combined model will provide a comprehensive understanding of current and future risks to a range of flood scenarios including precipitation, riverine, sea level rise and storm surge events. Since MIT is also undergoing a significant capital renewal, this dynamic two-dimensional model will also serve as an adaptive planning tool for informing current and future flood risk based on new campus growth.
MIT Flood Vulnerability Study Phase - 1A Report: This report served as a key scientific justification for development of the MIT campus flood risk model. This report summarizes findings from the initial research study to understand the general scope and extent of flood risks facing the MIT campus in both the current and future climate. This paper was prepared jointly between MITOS and the Joint Program on the Science and Policy. Read the paper here.
MIT Stormwater and Landscape Ecology Plan: MIT completed the Phase 1 Draft Stormwater and Landscape Ecology Master Plan (2017) that provides an overview of stormwater management challenges at both a campus and city-scale context, recommends benchmarks for landscape performance and identifies potential strategies for enhancing campus management of stormwater and landscape ecology. Read the plan here.
The impact of climate change on the campus
MIT is working collaboratively to address the risks of climate change and its anticipated impacts on the campus and community. These impacts include: more frequent flooding, extreme precipitation, rising sea levels, and heat events.
Coastal and River Flood Risks
Inland Flood Risks
City of Cambridge Climate Vulnerability Assessment 2015
Climate Resiliency Education
Resiliency Stress Test
The Resiliency Stress Test is an activity designed to evaluate for a sample of campus to: 1) Identify the range of potential impacts from climate events and 2) Explore potential solutions that can reduce climate risks to campus.
Step 1: The building, infrastructure, and site systems sub-groups are each describing potential impacts to their respective systems from the same scenarios for both an extreme rain and an extreme heat event. Once these impacts are described and synthesized from the building, infrastructure, and site systems sub-groups, the community systems sub-group will then identify ways that the impacts affect the MIT community.
Step 2: This baseline understanding of impacts identified (Step 1) will enable each sub-group to explore strategies for reducing the risks of climate impacts. By understanding potential risk reduction strategies for a small scale portion of campus, MIT can become familiar with the breadth and depth of technical, financial, and social adaptations required for campus-wide resiliency.
Early findings from Step 1 show that there is considerable interdependency among building, infrastructure, and site systems such that a failure in one system can cause a failure in other systems. This recognition is requiring extensive collaboration among the sub-groups as they describe both the impacts as well as potential solutions.
Growing a resilient MIT requires a community-wide understanding of climate risks and adaptation opportunities. Collaboration with key partners has furthered our education and awareness-raising.
Terrascope, one of MIT’s freshman learning communities, connected with MITOS to integrate the campus efforts on climate resiliency into their 2017 environmental theme: Preparing the world for climate change.
Also, take a look at the student web page that explains in detail their project: Mission 2021 - Preparing Coastal Communities for the Effects of Climate Change.
MITOS and the MIT Office of Emergency Management collaborated with the Cambridge Compact for a Sustainable Future to host a Climate Resiliency Tabletop Exercise . The purpose of the tabletop event was to engage Cambridge businesses, the City and institutions in identifying business continuity and coordination challenges and opportunities following a climate-based incident that causes business and research interruptions. The event revealed a significant number of interdependencies among Cambridge stakeholders including vendors, utilities and transportation and information sharing while also identifying the opportunity for teaming together to address these challenges.
The Climate Changed Ideas Competition is the first in a series of 2018 events at MIT exploring the agency of models in climate-responsive design. The aim of the competition is two fold: first, to explore how design can inform the communication of scientific modeling and natural phenomena; and second, to explore how scientific models inform the development of design solutions. This competition is meant as an opportunity for scientists, researchers, students and others to consider the ways in which models can effectively communicate scientific principles, in addition to leading to design solutions.
The PKG Center taps and expands MIT students’ unique skills and interests to prepare them to explore and address complex social and environmental challenges. We educate students to collaborate ethically and effectively with community partners to engage in meaningful public service, today and in their lives beyond MIT.
PKG Spring Break matches teams of MIT students with community organizations where students learn firsthand about complex social issues impacting communities and the work that is being done to address those challenges. Teams consist of undergraduate and graduate students, and typically include 8-15 people. Student leaders facilitate this experience for their assigned cohort, and utilize the support of staff mentors to create a fun, community-embedded, and thought-provoking experience.
MIT partnered with the City of Cambridge to present the joint case of campus/city climate resiliency planning at the Forging University-Municipality Partnerships Toward Urban Sustainability Conference. The conference was co-convened by Yale Hixon Center for Urban Ecology, Yale Office of Sustainability, and the City of New Haven. The goal of the conference was to inspire progress by sharing successful examples of university-municipality collaboration on sustainability efforts. Three sessions were organized around individual thematic panels, each of which included four cities with paired speakers representing universities and municipalities describing a collaborative project. The event attracted an audience of students, faculty, community members, and sustainability professionals.
Case study of MIT’s emerging approach to educating the campus and community about climate resiliency is captured in this 2018 ISCN Best Practices Guide.
Advancing resilient ecosystems
Healthy, resilient ecosystems provide food and water, enrich the cultural environment, and help regulate systems like climate and disease control. All are vital to human health, wildlife habitats, watershed resources, carbon storage, scenic landscapes, and other factors that ensure quality of life on Earth. Climate projections indicate, however, that the planet will experience increasingly intense and frequent storms as well as rising temperatures, drought, and flooding—putting our ecosystems at serious risk.
At the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS), we are working with staff, scientists and thought leaders across MIT to develop strategies that promote resilient ecosystems, human health and well-being in our community. We aim to develop systems and practices in the urban, built environment of our campus that mimic the natural hydrological cycle, build healthy soils, and support biodiversity. Cambridge and Boston have performed important climate studies that provide the context for MIT’s own Campus Climate Vulnerability Assessment—foundational research that is essential to the work of understanding and solution development.
Water is an indispensable resource, not only for MIT, but also for the global community. Our campus’ health and activities are dependent on a consistent water supply for restrooms, drinking water faucets, showers, cafeterias, laboratories, and landscaping. Also, MIT’s Central Utilities Plant (CUP) provides the campus with electricity and thermal power through cogeneration, a process dependent on water. Learn more about managing water for a sustainable future.
Air quality is a measure of the concentration of pollution in the surrounding air over a period of time. There are many sources of air pollutants and factors that can effect air quality: emissions from energy production, vehicle exhaust, solvent fumes, methane from waste, smoke, organic matter like pollen, and changes in the weather. The quality of the air, both indoors and out, can have a significant impact on the health of the MIT community and that of the surrounding natural environment.
Air pollution and climate change are also inextricably linked. Heat waves and flooding can lead to mold growth, for example. Climate change also fosters greater pollen production, increasing the concentration of allergens in the air. Learn more about achieving and maintaining healthy air quality.
From a semi-industrial landscape to a densely populated center of innovation, our campus landscape has undergone dramatic evolution since MIT moved across the Charles River to Cambridge in 1916. Currently, approximately 64 percent of MIT’s campus is composed of impervious surfaces, such as roofing and paving. Green spaces provide areas for recreation and habitats for local wildlife. They also clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and provide natural water management, actively mitigating the effects of climate change. Learn more about designing a resilient, urban campus.