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Robert Johnston

Welcome to the Marsh Institute

The George Perkins Marsh Institute (GPMI) at Clark University is dedicated to research on one of the most fundamental questions confronting humankind:

How Can We Sustain Natural and Human Systems Amidst Profound Global Change? 

Among the most pressing challenges facing human society are those involving relationships between humans and natural systems. Human actions are causing profound transformations of global systems at unprecedented speeds and scales.  These changes pose direct threats to the sustainability of natural and human systems, and lead to deep uncertainties for decision-making.

Grounded in nearly a century of applied research at Clark University, the George Perkins Marsh Institute studies the socioecological, institutional, and other systems through which humans interact with their environments. The institute coordinates resources from Clark University and elsewhere to study human transformation of the environment and responses to these changes.

Work at the Institute is oriented around an understanding of global environmental change and how we can safeguard the natural and social systems upon which we all depend. Our primary research themes include (1) Socioecological Systems and Sustainability Science, (2) Earth System Science, and (3) Institutions and Human Development. Topics that cut across these themes include Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation, Local and Global Food Security, Sustainable Communities, and Natural Resource Extraction. The study of risk, vulnerability and adaptation is another important focus, based in the pioneering work at the original Center for Technology, Environment, and Development (CENTED).

The institute is one of the most productive hubs for research activity and funding at Clark University, regularly generating approximately half of all external research funds received by the University. Grants to institute researchers support work in such topics as forests and climate change, coastal resilience, arctic sea ice, ecosystem service values, resource extraction, urban youth violence, and relationships between climate, land use, agriculture and human development. Recently funded projects have addressed topics such as shellfish aquaculture, marine plastics, natural climate solutions, climate monitoring for agriculture, and pollinator conservation, among many others. The institute is also dedicated to the provision of research opportunities for Clark graduate and undergraduate students. Dozens of students participate in the institute’s externally funded research projects each year. Other programs for student research include the Human-Environment Regional Observatory (HERO) research program and the Albert, Norma and Howard ’77 Geller Student Research Grants.

The George Perkins Marsh Institute makes a difference through advancements in basic and applied science, engagement with decision-makers, provision of research opportunities for students, and communication with the public. We coordinate workshops, conferences, and seminars that bring together scientists, students, stakeholders, and policy makers. We also host visiting scientists to promote cross-institutional collaborations. Institute researchers play important roles in national and international science and policy advisory bodies such the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Global Land Program, North American Carbon Program, and International Arctic Science Committee. The Institute also represents Clark University in its role as a recognized non-governmental observer organization with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In past years, the institute played a leading role in developing the Core Project on Global Land-Use/Cover Change (LUCC) for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and the International Human Dimensions Programme, and assisted the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in developing the analytical capacities to address environmental changes in general. Books resulting from Marsh Institute activities include The Earth as Transformed by Human Action (1990), Regions at Risk: Comparisons of Threatened Environments (1995), Economic Analysis for Ecosystem Based Management: Applications to Marine and Coastal Environments (2010), Innovations in Sustainable Consumption: New Economics, Socio-technical Transitions and Social Practices (2014), Benefit Transfer of Environmental and Resource Values: A Guide for Researchers and Practitioners (2015), and Governing Extractive Industries: Politics, History, Ideas (2018).

Among the facilities, offices, and centers that comprise the institute is the Jeanne X. Kasperson Research Library, whose holdings include one of the most extensive research collections in North America on risks, hazards, and global environmental change. We are also home to the Humanitarian Response and Development Lab (HURDL) and the Center for the Study of Natural Resource Extraction and Society. We work closely with numerous departments and schools across Clark University, including the Graduate School of Geography, the Department of Department of Sustainability and Social Justice, and the Department of Economics.

This website provides information regarding the many programs and initiatives supported by the institute, as well as announcements of seminars and other events. We welcome any input or comments.


Robert J. Johnston, Director

Contact Information

George Perkins Marsh Institute

Office Location
  • Mailing Address:
    950 Main Street
    Worcester, MA 01610-1477

  • Visiting address:
    New location –
    Sackler Sciences Center
    Rooms 342 – 350

  • 1-508-751-4622
  • 1-508-751-4600 FAX