The Rwanda-MIT Climate Observatory Project

Several years ago, MIT began working with the government of Rwanda to develop a world-class climate research program in the country, comprising an observatory to measure climate change and atmospheric agents that cause it; climate education in schools and universities; and capacity building in Rwanda in climate, air pollution and meteorology.

A climate observatory, which is run by Rwanda, is now operational on Rwanda’s Mt. Mugogo. It is the latest addition to a global network of observatories, known as the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment, and the first such observatory in Africa. It will collect atmospheric data around the clock on meteorology, climate, and approximately 50 greenhouse gases. It will significantly improve our understanding of regional emissions of greenhouse gases, especially those coming from agricultural activities, wildfires, large urban areas, and deforestation.

The observatory will improve regional climate predictions and support regional and global strategies for adapting to and mitigating climate change. It will also help to build a publicly accessible data center on weather, climate, air pollution, agriculture and water resources to serve the needs of government, ministries, the private sector and education. Finally, a key element for education is the new University of Rwanda master’s degree in Atmospheric and Climate Science developed in collaboration with MIT. The high frequency measurements generated from the climate observatory, along with Rwandan meteorological, agricultural, air pollution and other data, will support master’s thesis projects. 

Planning is underway to assess the viability of moving the current observatory to a new site atop Mt. Karisimbi, at an elevation of 4.5 kilometers, compared to the 2.5-kilometer elevation of Mt. Mugogo. This higher elevation would allow the observatory to collect data over a significantly larger proportion of Africa and surrounding regions. However, easy access for researchers to the Mt. Karisimbi site would require construction of a cable car through the habitat of the endangered mountain gorillas.

The government of Rwanda, which would be responsible for the Mt. Karisimbi observatory and the cable car, commissioned an environmental impact assessment of the project. Conservation organizations have expressed concerns about the quality of this assessment. MIT’s participation in the move to Mt. Karisimbi — as a provider of scientific instrumentation and scientific advice — is contingent on Rwanda performing an environmental impact assessment that meets international standards and that has been vetted by key conservation organizations.