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ODU Hosting Conference for National Pilot Project on Sea Level Rise

this is a head and shoulders photo of ODU faculty member Ray TollRay Toll head and shoulders photo of ODU's David ArchitzelDavid Architzel

A first-of-its-kind conference on the resiliency of coastal areas to the threats of climate change will bring an expected 250 planners from all levels of government and industry to Old Dominion University on June 3-4. The meeting is designed to launch a comprehensive local response to increased flooding that could be a model for the rest of the nation.

"TechSurge - Technical Support for Coastal Resiliency" will be presented by the Marine Technology Society and ODU at the Ted Constant Convention Center. Impetus for the meeting, which is expected to result in a pilot project seeking mitigation/adaptability solutions to climate change, comes from stakeholders ranging from the White House and the Navy to Norfolk city government and Newport News Shipbuilding.

"Our university has for the past four years had a very active Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI) engaging more than 100 of our faculty and student researchers," said ODU President John R. Broderick. "We are well positioned to host this TechSurge meeting, and we have high expectations for what it can accomplish."

Broderick pointed out that this conference will be unique in that it will bring together every level of government, plus industry, to work toward a common coastal-resiliency regional planning format. That road map will be developed specifically for Hampton Roads, but the conference organizers intend for it to be a template for similar initiatives in other urbanized coastal regions.

Conference promotional materials cite the sea level rise that is causing increased coastal flooding and add, "To adapt to this, engineers and decision makers need many types of information. This conference focuses on the technical capabilities required to produce the needed information."

The conference-goers will include technical experts in observation techniques for measuring coastal flooding and coastal resiliency, as well as planners dependent upon those observations to help formulate a strategy for addressing the impacts of sea level rise.

Among the prominent contingent of speakers expected are Eric Letvin of the White House National Security Staff; Cmdr. John Marburger of Navy Task Force Climate Change; Col. Paul Olsen of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Bob Fallon, director, Facilities and Waterfront Support, Newport News Shipbuilding; Russell Callender, deputy director, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Ocean Service (NOS); Rich Spinrad, vice president for research at Oregon State University and prospective chief scientist for NOAA; and Gerhard Kuska, executive director, Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System.

A signature event of this conference will occur the morning of June 3 when David Architzel, the retired vice admiral who is ODU's director of military affairs, will moderate a panel comprised of representatives from each echelon of government and industry in the Hampton Roads region. It is envisioned that this panel will form the basis of Hampton Roads' efforts to support this pilot project.

The panel will include Olsen and Fallon, as well as Evan Fienman, deputy secretary of natural resources for Virginia; Dwight Farmer, executive director, Hampton Roads Planning District Commission; Jim Redick, director of emergency preparedness and response, city of Norfolk.

Ray Toll, a faculty member associated with ODU's Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, has led the effort to organize this broad-based TechSurge conference on the university's campus.

"The White House and Pentagon have expressed interest in creating a sea level rise pilot in the Hampton Roads region," said Toll, a retired Navy captain who served as an oceanographer in the military. "This is in furtherance of the White House National Security Staff's and Council for Environmental Quality's desire to develop a 'whole of government' approach to tackling the multi-echelon preparation for sea level rise."

Toll said ODU will take a lead-integrator role in a unity-of-effort approach that includes federal, state and local governments, and industry in the Hampton Roads area to collectively address sea level rise vulnerability, and measures for adaptation and mitigation.

At the conference, ODU will introduce its new Mitigation and Adaptation Research Institute (MARI), which has evolved from the CCSLRI. MARI is designed to be a think tank to develop and support coastal resiliency strategies.

Hans Peter Plag, a professor of oceanography who joined ODU last year and is co-director of MARI, will share the stage with Toll at the conference's opening-session to present the goals of the meeting.

This TechSurge conference is an outgrowth of a two-year project, "Sea Grant Climate Adaptation 2012: Hampton Roads, Va.-Innovation and Adoption of Adaptation Best Practices," spearheaded by CCSLRI and Virginia Sea Grant. Larry Atkinson, the ODU Slover Professor of Oceanography who was the founding director of CCSLRI and is co-director of MARI, brought together regional experts in engineering, oceanography and planning to lay the groundwork for a coordinated response to increased flooding in the region.

Toll, who serves as ODU's liaison with the Navy and NOAA, said the TechSurge conference launches a pilot project that he envisions as a two- or three-year effort "with the first year focused on baselining our approach and developing the regional template."

He added: "The succeeding years would then focus on developing the tools and other things such as tabletop exercises and creating a document to address specific mitigation and adaptation measures. This document will identify certain cost, schedule and performance metrics for these measures." The ODU organizers believe modeling and simulation expertise of the university and its Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center will be very useful in elaborating the mitigation and adaptation measures.

The template is expected to include a Hampton Roads Pilot Project Team with representatives from the various levels of government, the Navy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and industry.