Conservation International joins with Massachusetts Institute of Technology to link technology to nature-based solutions

January 27, 2017

The collaboration will kick off with a “Hackathon for Climate” on the MIT campus. Featuring students, staff and Conservation International scientists, the hackathon will serve as a workshop environment for investigation and creation of nature-based solutions. Three tracks will guide the hackathon: hacking the material world, hacking the digital world and an open track for additional brainstorming of original ideas.

“Conservation International is thrilled to be part of this pioneering collaboration with the world’s premier scientific and engineering institute for research and learning,” says Daniela Raik, Ph.D., Senior Vice President and Managing Director at Conservation International. “Together with Conservation International’s experience in conserving nature through its carbon-storing projects worldwide, we can design and implement nature-based solutions to real-world challenges around the globe.”

The first research project will pair ongoing Conservation International field office work with extensions of studies already underway by MIT researchers. Heidi M. Nepf, Ph.D., the Donald and Martha Harleman Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Emily Pidgeon, Ph.D., senior director of Strategic Marine Initiatives for the Blue Carbon Initiative, will collaborate on natural defense design and carbon sequestration for proposed mangrove restoration projects. Mangroves could serve as a “green infrastructure” to protect coastal communities from flooding and erosion. The joint Conservation International-MIT research could accelerate government investment in these approaches. The research will be tested in the Visayas region of the Central Philippines, which was hit by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

“We are embarking on surprising, novel and untested applications of science and engineering in the field of conservation,” said John E. Fernandez, Ph.D., director of the ESI. “We are optimistic about the technology that can be developed from such research and innovation.”

Other areas joint Conservation International-MIT research projects will explore include:

  • Urban-natural interfacial zones — combining urban metabolism and ecological modeling for learning about the interaction between urban infrastructure and natural systems. Also, the Conservation International-MIT collaboration will establish an approach for tracking how natural ecosystems provide for urban needs.
  • Information interfaces for monitoring land use and leveraging natural systems — research developed could expand on existing ecosystem services analyzed for climate change in the Amazon basin and inform policies to protect areas most sensitive to such conditions elsewhere. Also, land use distribution will be analyzed for its effect on ecosystem services. The Conservation International-MIT collaboration will explore various sensor technologies, systems and models for understanding land use and ecosystem services.
  • Measuring the social, economic and environmental impact of climate change solutions in developing countries — apply impact evaluation techniques for measuring impact of environmental policies, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental methodologies that have been widely performed in international development to educate policymakers over the last 30 years. The Conservation International-MIT collaboration will explore creating a competitive research fund and post-doctoral fellowships to spur a new body of rigorous impact evaluations for mitigating the impact of climate change.

“With this collaboration, we are harnessing the most creative thinkers to address the exponential threats that climate change and ecological deterioration pose to our greater humanity,” said Peter Seligmann, founder and CEO of Conservation International.

The collaboration will also provide educational opportunities for MIT students. Students could conduct field work at Conservation International sites in the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Pacific. Also, a Student Action Corps will provide students with opportunities to engage public audiences on climate issues and solutions through blog posts, op-eds and other digital/print communications.

Programming for the collaboration will include educational and outreach experiences: guest lectures at MIT by Conservation International scientists as well as shared teaching opportunities; postdoctoral fellowships and workshops for researchers in developing countries; and class materials for K-12 students. Meanwhile, the Climate CoLab at MIT platform will power crowdsourcing contests, annual symposia and a joint, web-based public portal on nature-based solutions to climate mitigation and adaptation.

For more information, visit Conservation International and MIT’s Environmental Solutions Initiative.

About Conservation International

Conservation International uses science, policy and partnerships to protect the nature people rely on for food, fresh water and livelihoods. Founded in 1987, Conservation International works in more than 30 countries on six continents to ensure a healthy, prosperous planet that supports us all. Learn more about Conservation International and the “Nature Is Speaking” campaign, and follow Conservation International’s work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

About the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative

The MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) advances science, engineering, policy and social science, design, the humanities, and the arts towards a people-centric and planet-positive future. ESI pursues this mission by mobilizing students, faculty, and staff across MIT in partnerships for interdisciplinary education, research, and convening.