On April 13, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland, it was announced that Morgan State University (MSU) had been awarded a $5-million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to establish an integrated field laboratory (IFL) to study climate impacts and adaptations in urban environments.
The newly formed IFL, operating as the Baltimore Social-Environmental Collaborative (BSEC), is a collaborative effort among seven partner universities, government entities and nonprofit affiliates.
The BSEC consortium will actively investigate the diverse effects of climate and weather events on Baltimore’s infrastructure, with particular interest in gathering localized data and insights to help cities better address vulnerabilities, devise mitigation strategies and develop improved resiliencies.
The funding comes as part of an overall five-year, $25-million initiative.
“The far-reaching impacts of climate change and how it intersects with our need to embrace sustainability present challenges that require the work and ingenuity of not just one — but many,” said David K. Wilson, president of Morgan State University.
“Morgan welcomes the opportunity to partner with this region’s leading institutions and coalesce our intellect to deliver responsible solutions to our generation’s greatest challenge,” he added.
Dr. Hunter and Dr. McCalla gives campus tourThe BSEC will serve as a solutions-oriented field laboratory producing urban climate science needed to inform community-guided “potential equitable pathways” for climate action. The research team will study atmospheric, climatic and environmental factors in Baltimore and develop adaptation strategies to make the city climate-change resilient and equitable. In addition to MSU researchers, the BSEC brings together teams of scientists and researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Penn State University, University of Maryland Baltimore County, University of Virginia, Drexel University and City University of New York.
“Having a diverse perspective and voice from an HBCU, like Morgan, in DOE-funded research and the formation of an urban integrated field laboratory is critical. Diverse representation in efforts like this matter when addressing climate change and its impact on vulnerable communities,” said Oscar Barton, Jr., Ph.D., dean of the Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., School of Engineering.
“Morgan’s partnership in this very meaningful and effectual research exemplifies how HBCUs can lead the charge in forming equitable solutions that benefit communities the world over,” he continued.
Led by James Hunter, Ph.D., associate professor of Civil Engineering, Morgan’s research team will study and develop Earth and environmental systems models.
The project is expected to enable officials to adopt equitable energy and climate solutions needed to reimagine cities to withstand pressures from climate change while prioritizing investments in historically underserved communities.
“I am honored to lead the Morgan team on this ambitious project alongside university partners who are equally committed,” said Dr. Hunter.
“With a focus on community and city priorities, this project has the potential to create a new paradigm for urban planning — bringing to market new thinking and new benchmarks for civil engineering that enhance resilience to climate change and embrace sustainability,” he explained.
Morgan’s team spans three schools including the School of Architecture and Planning, the School of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, and the Mitchell School of Engineering. Eight faculty members will couple observation networks and models to deliver climate science capable of supporting those priorities.
BSEC will document urban microclimate hydrology and air quality, indoor and outdoor, with unparalleled resolution. The observational data and integrated modeling within this community-centered urban climate observatory aims to advance climate solutions in Baltimore with a particular focus on underserved neighborhoods
Baltimore was included in the program because of its multifaceted, interlinked challenges such as urban sprawl, the large number of heat-trapping surfaces and structures, elevated risks from flood and heat, and disproportionate burdens of air and water pollution, similar to other mid-sized cities in the eastern and central United States.
The BSEC integrated field laboratory research will place significant emphasis on the priorities that affect communities (human health and safety, affordable energy, transportation equity, etc.) and policy makers in city government (clean waterways, decarbonization, functioning infrastructure), and will advance the development of sustainable models and infrastructure innovations that address these challenges.
Morgan State University, founded in 1867, is a Carnegie-classified high research (R2) institution offering more than 140 academic programs leading to degrees from the baccalaureate to the doctorate.
As Maryland’s Preeminent Public Urban Research University, and the only university to have its entire campus designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Morgan serves a multiethnic and multiracial student body and seeks to ensure that the doors of higher education are opened as wide as possible to as many as possible.
All photos courtesy of Morgan State University.