D-Lab: Water, Climate Change, and Health

D-Lab: Water and Climate Change 2017!


Left: clmatechoices.org   Right: Richard Primack, Arnold Arboretum, 3/26/16

Susan Murcott


Julie Simpson



In the spirit of D-Lab pedagogy, “D-Lab: Water and Climate Change” is a project-based, experiential and transdisciplinary course. Highlights include:

  • Local and global focus;
  • Taking action and building capacity with partners and communities; 
  • Lunch-time film series;
  • Field Trips including Boston Harbor boat trip, restored wetlands, flood protection areas, zero carbon homes, water and wastewater treatment facilities;
  • Seminars & guest lectures, such as Ken Strzepek, MIT Center for Global Policy and Climate Change; Priyanka Chatterjee, Fossil Free MIT; Judith Nies, Author; Jeff Deyette, Climate and Energy Program, Union of Concerned Scientists; Bruno Marino¸ CEO, Planetary Emissions Management. 

Learning Objectives

Structure: (i) Building a foundation in the science of water and climate change (ii) water and climate change problems and solutions. The course will have five learning objectives: 

1.Water, climate change and Earth as a complex system. Develop a solid understanding of interrelationships of water and climate change in the context of the Earth as a complex system to provide the foundation for the “action learning” to follow. Lectures, discussions and text book reading assignments cover water and climate change in four time scales: tectonic climate change (last 300 million years), orbital climate change (last 3 million years), glacial/deglacial climate change (last 50,000 years) and historical and future climate change (last 1000 years).

2.Investigate the Transdisciplinary Problem: Focus on the current state of Earth’s climate change challenge through a transdisciplinary synthesis of core resources, drawing from science, engineering, governance, economic, the humanities and ethical perspectives. We will keep present and future human generations and the protection and preservation of all life at the center.  

3.Identify One or Several “Solutions:” We will apply knowledge of “the problem” to a wide range of mitigation and/or adaptation solutions involving complex systems, sustainable development and climate justice ethics. Each student will select a topical area and/or teammate(s) and will develop a proposal outlining their innovative solution. 

4.“Observing Water and Climate Change in your Backyard:” Experiential Learning and Field Trips: Local field trips will be a centerpiece of the experiential learning part of this course.  Since climate change is affecting many coastal communities in the Boston area, we will take field trips to investigate fresh-water and marine sites that have been or potentially will be impacted by climate change. Field trips will include glacial, coastal flood and erosion sites, wetlands, native habitat sites, plus various water supply, wastewater treatment, zero carbon and/or carbon farming sites. Please note that some field trips may take place on a weekend day or over Spring Break, in order to have sufficient time.    

5.Propose an Innovative Water/Climate Change Solution: Write a proposal and submit it to MIT Climate Co-Lab http://climatecolab.org/  or other relevant competition of your choice. The expression of your solution can be in one or several forms: If it is a proposal, then it should be written according to the template of the chosen Climate CoLab or other competition. The “Alternate Term Project Options” include a visual (create a video) or oral (teach a class) format, instead of the competition proposal option.   

It is our intention that the class will be interactive, hard, deep, fun and hopefully, life-changing. We look forward to your engagement, as we take this journey together!  

D-Lab: Water and Climate Change is a 12 unit, undergraduate (EC.719 U) and graduate (EC.789) course that meets on Tuesday and Thursdays from 1:00 – 2:30 pm at D-Lab, MIT N51-350. For more info, contact: Susan Murcott or Julie Simpson.

D-Lab: Water & Climate Change Film Series

In conjunction with Susan Murcott's new class D-Lab: Water and Climate Change, she is presenting a related film series open to all!

Feb 4: Thin Ice: The Inside Story of Climate Change. 56 mins. 2015. 

Feb. 9: Chasing Ice: National Geographic Channel. 2013.  

Feb 23: The Truth about Climate Change – Part 1: Are We Changing the Planet?. David Attenborough. BBC/Discovery Channel/Open University. 59 mins. 2006.

March 1: The Truth about Climate Change – Part 2: Can We Save Planet Earth? David Attenborough. BBC/Discovery Channel/Open University. 59 mins. 2006.

March 8: Watermark. Jennifer Baichwal & Edward Burtynsky. Alliance Films. 92 mis. 2013. 

March 15: Mulholland’s Dream: Cadillac Desert -- Water and the Transformation of Nature. Public Broadcasting Service. 1997.

March 29: Cool It – by Bjorn Lomborg. 2014.

April 5: Global Warming: The Signs and the Science. Hosted and Narrated by Alanis Morissette. PBS Home Video. 60 mins. 2005

April 12: Merchants of Doubt. Sony Pictures Classics. 93 mins. 2014

April 19: Gasland.  International WOW Company Production. 106 mins. 2010. (may be replaced by another option)

April 26: T.B.D.  – The Day after Tomorrow (maybe replaced by another option)

May 3: T.B.D.: Ferocious Floods 45 minutes. Andrew Solt Productions, Canada. 1999 (may be replaced by another option)

New course from Susan Murcott: D-Lab Water and Climate Change!

By D-Lab instructor Susan Murcott

Pawtucket Gatehouse, site of the first Francis turbine.

Francis “runner” at site of the 3 Gorges Dam.


In the spirit of D-Lab pedagogy, this new spring term 2016 class D-Lab: Water and Climate Change is a hands-on, experiential, action-learning course. Together with peers and experts, we will learn about the vitally important interface between water and climate change. 

There will be four components of the course:

First, we will diagnose the global challenge of water and climate change through researching, discussing and synthesizing information from on-line resources, films, satellite data, maps and readings.

Second, we will apply this research to a wide range of behavioral, technological, infrastructural, economic/financial and adaptive solutions to the water/climate change challenge. Systems thinking, sustainably development, equity, ethics and co-benefits of climate action will be key themes throughout the course.

By mid-term, each person in the class will select a topical area and will be responsible for a portion of a master “solutions database,” not invented from scratch, but built on the foundation of the work of the International Panel on Climate Change (1990 – present), to which we will add our own innovations and those of others.

Third, because climate change is affecting or expected to affect many coastal communities, including Boston, we will undertake field trips around greater Boston to investigate water/climate impacted sites. Field trips will include selected locations along the Massachusetts coastline including glacial and coastal flood and erosion sites, plus various museums, water supply, water power and dam sites around Boston.  

The final course component will entail the development of an innovative solution to a selected water/climate problem area, and the expression of that solution in written, visual and oral formats.   

I have had the opportunity and privilege to instruct students at MIT for the past several decades, both through Masters of Engineering research supervisions and through teaching several water engineering courses. One of my undergraduate courses offered through the Department of Urban Studies and Planning was “the Global Freshwater Crisis.” Among the highpoints of that class, apart from the wonderful students in it, were our field trips, which included a tour of the new Charles River Dam by the Director of Flood Control Management. This dam provides flood protection for the cities of Boston and Cambridge. 

We also visited the water power system at Lowell National Historical Park, getting special access to tour the original Francis turbine, invented by James B. Francis in 1848, who was self-taught, and who become the head engineer of the Locks and Canals Company in the water-powered textile mill in Lowell, Massachusetts. Francis turbines are the most common water turbines in use today including at many of the big dams in the West, as well as at the largest dam in the world, the 3 Gorges Dam.

Drawing from the experience from these prior field trips, local field trip outings will be a centerpiece of the experiential learning in this course. I look forward greatly to the opportunity for sharing these learning experiences through this engagement!  

Email Susan Murcott.

D-Lab: Water and Climate Change EC.S08, EC.S12 (G)

Top photo: Ocean waves crash over a seawall and into houses along the coast in Scituate, Mass., Thursday, March 7, 2013. Reference: http://www.gazettenet.com/home/4968871-95/storm-thursday-snow-areas

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