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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Community Is Hearing the CCSLRI Message

Old Dominion University's two-year-old Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI) has identified issues and begun research that the communities of Hampton Roads are finding more and more interesting, says Larry Atkinson, the university's Slover Professor of Oceanography, who directs the initiative.

Hardly a week goes by these days without a civic, government or business organization inviting Atkinson and other ODU faculty members affiliated with CCSLRI to meet with them to explain the initiative and the science behind sea level rise in Hampton Roads.

On Tuesday, Atkinson was the guest speaker at a meeting of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) of Hampton Roads. And on the same day he was recruited by a local television station to comment on a report from the Institute of Environmental Negotiation at the University of Virginia contending that the city of Virginia Beach alone could lose up to 45,000 acres of land due to sea level rise this century. (The total land area today of Virginia Beach is about 160,000 acres. By comparison, the land area of Norfolk totals about 35,000 acres.)

The members of CREW, which includes commercial real estate professionals as well as others in law, engineering, finance, economic development and other related areas, seemed eager to learn about CCSLRI's mission, and to contribute their observations and opinions, Atkinson said.

"Presenting the factual information about sea level rise to a group of commercial real estate professionals is exactly what ODU should be doing as part of its outreach and education role," he added. "The group was very interested in the science behind the increased flooding we are all seeing, and they had many personal stories to tell."

As often happens in these presentations, Atkinson said, the CREW members were especially interested in the impact that sea level rise could have on property insurance rates.

CCSLRI has sought to engage the university's experts and the region's leaders in a broad study of how global warming could affect our economy, housing, ports and infrastructure.

While no one knows whether sea level rise this century in Hampton Roads will reach the upper range of the estimates, Atkinson pointed out in the television news report this week that rising insurance rates could make the issue resonate with the local population in the near future. Local cities, he added, are already beginning infrastructure upgrades, such as elevating pumping stations and electrical sub stations, to avoid flood waters.

CCSLRI has assembled a roster of 60 faculty members at ODU with expertise that can be put to use in formulating a response to this challenge. Many of them come from oceanography, marine science, environmental health, botany and coastal engineering, fields in which ODU has a rich history of fundamental research related to climate change. Over the past two years the university has sought to expand that research to other fields, and to establish ODU as a leader in coastal urban adaptation to sea level rise and climate change.

The ODU Office of Research has provided seed money for research projects that support CCSLRI and ODU's six colleges are backing the initiative with special seminars, curriculum revisions and faculty-hiring decisions.

The research projects include one designed to generate a social marketing model that will help inform the public about climate science and engage a broad segment of the population in environmental-resiliency policymaking. Another is looking at how governments should prioritize cleanups of contaminated coastal land sites before rising waters can spread the pollution, and a third aims to help local leaders with decision making by simulating the impact over time of rising sea levels. Issues addressed are in the areas of transportation, agriculture, public utilities, health care and emergency preparedness.

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