Spring Field Trips

Northern and Central California spring 2015
In March 2015, the Terrascope Field Experience focused on power generation in northern and central California. The trip was designed to extend students’ year of work on issues related to energy production, study that began in fall when Mission 2018 students were charged with devising an energy portfolio for the next 50 years. Their spring break field week began with a top-to-bottom tour of one of Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) hydropower systems. The visit started at Lake Spaulding, where water is stored behind a dam for release into the system and ended at Drum Power Houses, where energy from the water’s flow is converted to electrical potential and fed into the grid. The group also visited PG&E headquarters in San Francisco to learn about the company’s structure and operations, power generation systems, transmission/distribution, renewable energy sources, regulation and pricing among other topics. PG&E staff guided them around their Vaca-Dixon Solar Station to learn about commercial solar-energy production. Toward the end of the week, the group toured the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Aside from tours of energy production facilities, highlights of the week included a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to tour the workshops and submersible-testing pool, as well as an afternoon at the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium. Participants also explored the tide pools and coastal environment of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

South Africa spring 2014
Terrascope students visited South Africa in spring 2014 for a first-hand look at problems related to clean-water access in regions of the Eastern Cape. In the preceding fall’s Mission 2017 project, freshmen researched the complex problem of ensuring global access to clean water and proposed a series of possible solutions. The trip to South Africa was a collaborative effort between Terrascope and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in South Africa. Terrascope students and NMMU spent the field week in discussion and debate that will hopefully lead to new ideas about how to deal with clean-water issues in southern Africa and globally. Additionally, the trip aimed to give the MIT students a deeper appreciation of different cultures and recent historical events, especially the apartheid legacy of South Africa and the role of Nelson Mandela in that country’s development. The group saw first hand how issues of water affect a particular environment, including the changing sea level of the South African coastline where they learned about climate change predictions and their potential effects. They also visited townships and spoke with residents who have no reliable access to clean water. One visit that made a particular impact was a visit to a school where the principal who talked about how her school had no water and what she did to improve the school and education for her community.
For more details about this trip, a news article or blog, both written by student participants.

Southwestern United States spring 2013
Terrascope students, faculty and staff visited active mines in California and Nevada in spring 2013 to expand their understanding of sustainable extraction and use of strategic minerals—a topic that was introduced to entering freshmen in fall and were asked to propose a way to ensure equitable global access to strategic resources (Mission 2016). During the week-long trip, the group visited a variety of active mines in the American southwest to learn about extraction and use of strategic minerals, including the Rockwood lithium mining operation in Clayton Valley, Nevada, and Searles Valley Minerals, Trona, California, where brine solutions are used to process boric acid, sodium carbonate, forms of borax and other products; Rio Tinto and Simplot (silica) operations in California, both open pit mines; and Oceanview gem mine near San Diego. During a brief stop at an overlook, the group also viewed Mountain Pass from a distance, a rare earth mine. The group visited Owen’s lake and Hoover Dam to learn about water issues affecting the arid regions of the southwest, as well as water treatment facilities in Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada, to understand the cycle of water use and conservation. During visit two MIT alumni who had worked with freshmen as mentors during the fall semester subject joined Terrascope for this trip. Read about their perspective on the experience below.
Read also students’ perspectives:

Costa Rica, spring 2012
In fall 2011 Terrascope freshmen tackled the complex problem of what to do about disappearing global biodiversity. To learn more about the problem—and potential solutions—students went to Costa Rica in partnership with the Earthwatch Institute. The first stop was La Selva, a biological reserve in Costa Rica’s lowlands. Here, the group collected caterpillar species under the direction of a scientist whose research focuses on the diversity of caterpillars as a way to understand their impact on the rain forest’s ecosystem. They also participated in guided walks through the rainforest, including a morning birdwatching tour, and nighttime tour to view—and hear—nocturnal species. Scientists presented information on topics including bats and their place in the ecosystem. To learn about ecotourism, Terrascope visited a farm that now welcomes ecotourists and has returned much of its formerly cultivated land to rain forest as part of a plan to restore the region’s biodiversity. Other highlights included a tour of an organic coffee plantation, visits with women who have started a small organic chocolate-production enterprise, a large corporation-owned banana plantation and a hydroelectric facility.

India, spring 2011
In fall 2011 Terrascope students developed a plan to ensure global food security for the next century. Then in spring, the group flew to southern India to learn about the problems India faces in feeding its growing population. The week’s visit was centered in Sirsi, location of the educational center of Earthwatch Institute, Terrascope’s partner for this field visit. The focus of the first part of the trip was the tiny agricultural village of Hallusarige, where the group, under direction of Earthwatch’s scientific staff, conducted household interviews of inhabitants and surveyed farmers’ fields as well as an agriforest overseen by villagers. A number of experts provided insights on a variety of topics related to agriculture and food security in a series of daily lectures and visits to nearby sites, including the local farmer’s cooperative, a milk distribution facility, Sirsi market, araca processing plant as well as a local school, where children receive lunch each day. Visits to a hindu temple in Sirsi and a cultural night in the hotel helped the group learn about the culture of the region. Students wrote a blog describing their experiences. (

Abu Dhabi, spring 2010
In 2009-10 Terrascope freshmen worked on a comprehensive global solution to combat the rapid rise in atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gas levels that contribute to global warming. The group then traveled to Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) to learn about the oil-rich country's ambitious plans to develop renewable energy. The group was hosted for much of the visit by the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. Presentations by their faculty addressed topics related to carbon management and renewable resource development, as well as ambitious plans to develop Masdar City as a zero-carbon, zero-waste city powered by renewable energy. A tour of the construction site showcased plans for development of the area and testing of new technologies, including solar installations. They also visited the Petroleum Institute, dedicated to engineering education and oil and gas energy research, and met executives of the government-owned Mubadala Development Company who spoke about plans for economic diversification and growth. A Petroleum Institute geologist guided a visit to the sabkha or coastal flats where students examined the different layers of deposits and learned how microbial mats along with other layers will eventually form petroleum deposits. To learn more, check out their blog.

Arizona, spring 2009
Terrascope students turned their attention to the impending water crisis in the arid regions of western North America at the start of the 2008-9 academic year. In spring, they augmented their theoretical work with a week-long trip to southern Arizona—an arid region with conflicting demands on its water supply. The group began the trip with a visit to the Salt River, source of much of the fresh water that serves the Phoenix area, Arizona’s largest population center.  They also visited Roosevelt Dam and Roosevelt Lake to learn about large scale projects that manage the water supply. In Tucson they saw how CAP water is being stored in thick aquifers to reduce dependence on groundwater and how treated sewage effluent is being used to rebuild indigenous riparian habitat. At the Gila River Indian Community they learned the perspective of the native people who were irrigating the land for hundreds of years before the explosive growth of Phoenix.  A stop in Yuma, near Arizona’s borders with California and Mexico, helped the group better understand the issues of the Colorado River and how the U.S. and Mexico must share it. The group also toured a desalinization plant and took a boat trip up the Colorado. Visits to the All-American canal, and the Imperial diversion dam, allowed the group to better understand how water is carried to California’s Imperial Valley to irrigate the rich agricultural land. See photos here

Iceland, spring 2008
The Terrascope class of 2007-8 focused its year's work on investigating the dire state of global fisheries, and proposed better management strategies for improved sustainability. During MIT's spring break, students visited the North Atlantic nation of Iceland to see first hand how fisheries management policies that are often hailed as a model of effectiveness work in this country. They also were able to reevaluate their own ideas developed in the preceding fall on how to manage best fisheries. The group met with fishermen, fish processors, government officials, university researchers, and others, including individuals involved in the controversial whaling industry (legal in Iceland). They also visited sites associated with Iceland's program in sustainable energy development, and explored Iceland's geologically volatile landscape. See photos here

New Orleans 2007
Terrascope students in fall 2006 were asked to propose a plan for the future of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Then in spring, students tested their ideas by visiting New Orleans. They heard accounts of residents' experiences during Katrina and their views on proposed plans for redevelopment. They also met with local and federal government officials, academic specialists, industry representatives, disaster-recovery volunteers, and naturalists to learn about the Gulf coast’s unique social, political, and geological environment—important considerations in redevelopment efforts.  As part of their visit, they experienced the Mississippi River by boat, and explored some of the bayous and wetlands of southern Lousiana. See photos here

Chile spring 2006
Terrascope students entering in fall 2005 were tasked with developing a comprehensive plan for tsunami preparedness in a Pacific location facing a future threat. After presenting their proposal for an early warning system at the end of the fall semester, students followed up their study with a visit to regions of coastal Chile to test their ideas. Students visited Chilean coastal areas near Valdivia to see first hand signs of devastation from the 1960 earthquake and resulting tsunami, as well as to examine the early warning system put in place by the Chilean government. Students met with survivors of the tsunami to hear about their experience of 50 years ago, and also participated in discussions with engineers, scientists, researchers, and others during a week long visit. The trip also included visits to cultural and historical sites, a river rafting trip, and a climb to the top of Villarica Volcano. See photos here

Galapagos, Equador, spring 2005
Many are concerned that increases in tourism, fishing, and development are destroying the pristine environment of Ecuador’s Galapagos archipelago. In 2004-5, Terrascope students were asked to identify the dangers facing the Galapagos ecosystem, and propose a plan for protecting its future. During spring break, students visited the Galapagos to see first hand the region they had studied during the previous semester. Students met with local residents and learned about their ties to the region and their economic needs. Their week included a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station to hear about ongoing scientific work on the ecology of the Galapagos Archipelago. They also experienced first hand the unique physical environment of the area from both land and sea perspectives. See photos here

Alaska, spring 2004
In 2003-4, Terrascope students focused their attention on the controversial plan to develop the hydrocarbon resources in the potentially rich regions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). They were asked to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine if the extracted oil and gas would be worth the economic, social, and environmental costs. In spring, students traveled to Alaska during MIT’s spring to learn more about the topic and the viability of their proposal. Their experience, centered mostly in the northern city of Fairbanks, included morning lectures given by speakers from around the state and representing a variety of points of view on ANWR, followed by afternoon activities designed to acquaint them with the environment and culture of Alaska. The week included an appearance before the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce in which they were able to discuss their project in detail. Highlights of the week included evening visits to local families and a trip to Denali National Park. See photos here

Brazil, spring 2003
Terrascope's initial year (2002-3) focused on the ecological system of the Amazon rain forest and ways to combat its destruction. As the highlight of their year's work, students traveled to the Brazilian Amazon to see first hand the problem they had studied in the classroom and for which they had proposed a management plan as the culmination of their fall work. During their week in the region, participants stayed in a research station in the heart of the rain forest to learn more about scientific work being done, explored the region around Manaus (the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas), and met with local experts to acquire a greater understanding of the Amazon rain forest and the social, economic, and political issues involved in protecting and managing the forest. See photos here

The Terrascope program’s field experience component has received generous support over the years. We particularly would like to acknowledge the support of the Massiah Foundation for the 2010 field trip and the Henry Luce Foundation for trips from 2005 to 2009.