MARI Activity Reports


April 14, 2021

The Sustainability and Conservation Leadership (SCL) Program

MARI has been leading the development and implementation of the Sustainability and Conservation Leadership program. This program offers a Minor and a graduate Certificate. In the three mandatory courses, the students go through a triple loop in which they cary out three case studies of real-world wicked problems under different settings. In the first loop, each student individually addresses a real-world wicked problem based on literature studies. In the second loop, the cohort works together on a service learning project, and in this loop, the students engage with stakeholders engaged in the problem addresses. In the third loop, the student cary out an internship, and as a part of this internship, they tackle a wicked problem relevant to the host institution. For all case studies, the MARI Case Study Template is used.

The courses provide a learning by experience environment with reflections on the learning experience playing an important role. The students develop systems thinking and utilize a transdisciplinary approach to the tackling the wicked problems. The research integrated into the course work introduces the students to research on societal relevant problems.

Two of the mandatory courses are established as an Impact Learning Community (ILC). This ILC also collaborates with ethics courses.

The mandatory course bring extensive research activities into the class room. Thec courses also contribute to ODU's LeADERS program.

Extending the SCL program to Studies Abroad

MARI is exploring options to extend the SCL Program into collaborations with other universities and agencies in other countries.

Citizen Scientists Program

MARI has started a dialog at ODU concerning a program that would give students in non-science programs the opportunity to add a minor or graduate certificate in citizen science to their education. The goal of this program will be to increase the capability of the public to engage in the increasing number of citizen science projects and to have more members of the public who are capable of initiating citizen science projects related to their own neighborhood.

Virtual Community Center

MARI leads a pilot project focusing on the development of a Virtual Community Center (VCC). The pilot project focuses on Hampton Roads as a location. The Pilot Project has participation of First landing State Park, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, False Cape State Park, and Lynnhaven River Now. A concept paper is available on the VCC entry page.

Earth Viability Center

MARI collaborates with the Earth Viability Center> (EVC). The EVC Center supports the integration and dissemination of the best available scientific knowledge on the Earth’s Life Support System (ELSS). The Center supports development of the best means of informing the general public about the long-term viability of the ELSS and the (mainly) human activities threatening the long-term viability of the ELSS. Earth Viability’s initial research program is focused on Viability Indices, i.e., key indicators which show how the actual state of the ELSS compares to a healthy state and the viability of the ELSS. To the extent possible this will be done for scales ranging from the global to the local.

Sustainability Literacy

MARI collaborates with iCREST of the ICES Foundation in developing a pilot project for sustainability literacy at high schools. From iCREST's perspective, the foundational knowledge for coping with the challenges facing society and the Earth's life-support system revolves around four major skill sets: environmental and sustainability literacy skills; skills in modeling, simulation and visualization from large data sets; storytelling with narrative skills; and community advocacy skills. To test the viability of this concept as a framework for engaging and empowering youth, MARI is engaging with local high schools to cary out a proof-of-concept projejct.

Sustainable Development Goals

MARI is supporting efforts to make progress towards the SDGs in the Caribbean. Among others, MARI organized in January 2018 a NASA-funded Workshop in St. Vincent on Implementing the SDGs in the Carribean. MARI is also leading the development of a concept for public energy services that would facilitate progress to all of the SDGs, not just SGD 7. This concept is being developed in collaboration with several governments in the Caribbean.

Marine Debris and Ocean Plastic

MARI is supporting the IEEE OES Plastics in the Ocean Initiative. Among other, MARI has sponsored two workshops held in 2018 and 2019 in Brest, France. MARI is leading a case study on the life cycle of plastic, and two graduate students are carying out research for this case study.

A particular focus of MARI is on the marine debris that might come in the future out of the urban coast. Developing the urban coast in the face of future sea level rise and a changing spectrum of hydrometeorological hazards poses a growing risk for future generations, and MARI addresses the ethical challenges this poses to us.

Anthropocene Risks and Global Catastropic Risks

One of the emerging Anthropocene risk is the multifaceted risk of major state changes in the global ocean resulting from human impacts on the ocean. The combined effect of increasing heat, carbon, nutrients and marine litter including plastic is changing the marine biosphere rapidly and might lead to a state shift. The rapid growth of sargasum and the increasing degradation of coral reef are indications that this state shift could happen in the near future.

Modern climate change is a symptom of the much larger syndrome of modern global change (SMGC). This syndrome can be traced back to a mainstream economic model that has the official purpose of creating human wealth, and the broad consensus that growing human wealth requires a growing economy. There is a mounting recognition that the risks associated with the SMGC are increasing and are global catastrophic risks. Governing and reducing these risk may require a reevaluation of the purpose of economy. MARI is supporting Economy for Humanity in efforts to identify the purpose of an economy

2014 - 2017

March 3, 2018


MARI was set up in 2014 based on deliberations of about 20 faculty over a period of several months. There was an agreement that the hazards of climate change, sea level rise, and unsustainability were sufficiently understood and there was a need to focus on mitigation and adaptation. Several publications identified the need to develop adaptation and sustainability science. A survey showed that there was no institution at US universities focusing broadly on adaptation science.

This led to the decision to establish MARI. Realizing that adaptation and sustainability science are inherently transdisciplinary, MARI was set up outside the colleges as an Enterprise center. Originally, MARI reported to the Vice president for Research. As MARI's focus increasingly included curriculum development, MARI was moved under the provost.

Collaborative Efforts

MARI's main efforts are on sustainability science and sustainability education. Adaptation science is an integral part of sustainability science and contributes to the field of transformation science, which links system knowledge to goal knowledge.

Modern climate change is a symptom, not the cause. As such, it can only be understood and addressed as part of the broader syndrome of modern global change. This syndrome appears to be linked to the mainstream economic model that determines the flows between the Earth's life-support system and humanity. The growth addiction inherent in the mainstream economic model has accelerated these flows extremely and significantly changed the planetary energy balance.

Many of the threats modern society is exposed are a result of human activities. The risks associate with these threats are denoted as Anthropocene risk. Governance of these risks and mitigation of the threats require a focus on the cause, that is, the current mainstream economic model that requires continuously accelerated flows.

Adaptation has to be based on foresight, i.e., the full spectrum of possible futures. Adaptation also has to focus on the transition to agreed-upon goals. The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the goal set MARI focuses on.

Societal problems aiming at transformations that could lead to a desirable future tend to be wicked problems. Tackling wicked problems requires transdisciplinary approaches specific to each problem. Participatory modeling (PM) is an approach to bring stakeholders in a wicked problem together in efforts to tackle these problems. MARI has engaged in a number of PM efforts.

MARI has a strong focus on the implementation of the SDGs in the Caribbean Small Island Developing States as well as low income developing states in Africa.

Educational efforts

  • Conservation leadership: A Minor has been developed and fully implemented. A graduate Certificate has been accepted and implementation is starting. A continuum education certificate is being considered.
  • Concept: the program has annual cohorts of student in the transdisciplinary curses. This concept has proven to be very successful.
  • Personalized Virtual Learning Space: The students are required in each class to submit a 2+2 form, on which they specify two things they learned in class and two things they did not understand. The instructors comment on these forms individually for each student. This establishes a personalized learning space in which the instructor and communicates individually with each student. These forms have greatly improved the dialog between instructor and each students.
  • Blue economy program under discussion: A dialog has started to discuss an educational interdisciplinary program focusing on blue economy. This program would bring together oceanography and economy.