Mission 2013 Offers Unique Challenges to Terrascope Freshmen

By Margaret “Maggie” Lloyd, '12, Mission 2012 and 2013 (UTF)

This year, the Terrascope program offered a unique challenge to a group of more than 50 freshmen in Mission 2013, or 12.000. Their task, which was to propose a global solution to the rapid rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide using Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), was by no means an easy one. In the past, Terrascope has asked freshmen to study a variety of complex problems including the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, reconstruction of post-Katrina New Orleans, collapse of the global fishery, and the lack of fresh water in western North America.

Unlike most classes for MIT freshmen, 12.000 does not assign psets or tests to evaluate performance. The students are in control of the class and organize themselves into work groups that lead to their final website and presentation. This semester started with eight groups, which looked into specific aspects of CCS, such as geological sequestration, ocean sequestration, international case studies, and risk assessment. The freshmen work by themselves and as teams, but as the presentation approaches, the entire class merges into one group in one last frantic effort to work together. An important aspect of the class is the participation of a group of UTF’s or undergraduate teaching assistants. The UTF’s are selected from previous 12.000 classes and they work with each group to help conceptualize their solutions. The students also had the opportunity to interact with MIT professors, librarians, and sixteen alumni mentors, who helped the class by suggesting new ideas and offering their advice throughout the semester.

The concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has steadily increased since the Industrial Revolution and now stands at 386 ppm. The Mission 2013 class designed an ambitious multi-trillion dollar three-phase solution that is meant to stabilize global emissions of carbon dioxide by 2025, zero emissions by 2060, and then decrease concentrations of CO2 to 350ppm by 2110. The plan’s first phase calls for policy changes, increased efficiency and use of alternative energies, and implementation of new forestry practices, such as reforestation in areas that have lost natural vegetation. Next, the class proposed point source capture and carbon sequestration in saline aquifers to prevent concentrations of CO2 from surpassing 450 ppm. In their final and most controversial phase, air capture technologies, including absorption by an alkaline solution and electrodialysis concentration, would be used to decrease total CO2 concentrations back to 350 ppm.

On November 25, the Mission 2013 freshmen launched their class website, which outlined their solution and detailed their coupled economic-policy-science model. One week later, they presented their final solution to a panel of four climate experts as well as an audience of students and faculty. The final website and presentation are both outcomes of a semester’s worth of research, programming, and writing by the MIT freshmen.

This issue of CCS is especially pertinent at this time, as international representatives meet in Denmark for the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. A U.S. declaration that greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are threatening to human health, has been met with much agreement. Officials believe that the results of this summit strongly depend on the actions of the two biggest carbon dioxide emitters, China and the US, two of the countries that the Mission 2013 freshmen examined in their case studies.

The website is a valuable resource for information on this topic—see it at: http://web.mit.edu/12.000/www/m2013/finalwebsite