Terrascopers learn about application of renewable energy solutions in visit to Abu Dhabi

By Debra Aczel, Terrascope Program Administrator

Terrsacope Students in Abu DhabiA group of 58 Terrascope students, alumni mentors, and staff spent spring break in Abu Dhabi learning first hand about the oil-rich country’s ambitious plans to develop renewable energy. This visit was part of students’ year long study of ways to combat the global rise in CO2 and other greenhouse gas levels that contribute to global warming.

Abu Dhabi was chosen as the site for the annual field trip because of the ambitious goals of country’s Masdar Initiative with its strong focus on sustainability and the development of renewable energy technologies. As carbon management is a key component of the Masdar Initiative, Terrascope students traveled to the United Arab Emirates to see first-hand the work being done there to develop relevant new technologies.

The group was hosted for much of the visit by the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a graduate educational institution dedicated to researching alternative energy, environmental technologies and sustainability. They attended presentations by faculty on topics related to carbon management and renewable resource development. Terrascopers also learned about ambitious plans to develop Masdar City as a zero-carbon, zero-waste city powered by renewable energy. A tour of the construction site provided a chance to learn more about plans for development of the area and to see current testing of new technologies.

Sabkha salt flatsStudents also visited The Petroleum Institute, dedicated to engineering education and research in areas related to oil and gas energy industries, and attended talks by executives of the government-owned Mubadala Development Company to hear about Abu Dhabi’s plans for diversification and growth of its economy.

Other highlights of the packed 5-day visit included a field trip to the Sabkha or coastal salt flats. Guided by a geologist from The Petroleum Institute, students examined the different layers of deposits in the flats and learned how microbial mats along with other layers will eventually form petroleum deposits.

In Terrascope’s fall subject, “Solving Complex Problems,” freshmen work in teams, assisted by alumni mentors and undergraduate teaching fellows, to propose solutions to a complex, real world problem. This year, they were asked to develop a comprehensive plan to capture and sequester atmospheric carbon. The students researched the problem and presented their solution in a website and public presentation at the end of the semester. In spring, they could choose to continued work on some aspect of the problem by enrolling in either of two subjects. Some students chose both. In “Communicating Complex Environmental Issues: Building Solutions and Communicating Ideas” they designed, built and implemented a solution to the problem, and in Terrascope Radio they developed and recorded a radio segment using sound collected in Abu Dhabi. The purpose of each year’s field trip is to allow students to couple on-campus work with a chance to investigate the problem more fully in a relevant location.

Sam Bowring, Professor of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences and Director of Terrascope, led the group. This year’s Massiah Foundation-Terrascope Field Trip was generously funded by the Massiah Foundation.