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ODU Initiative Hosts Coastal Inundation Forum

ACE's Michelle HarmorMichelle Hamor of the Army Corps of Engineers leads a forum session.

Old Dominion University's initiative to help coastal communities in Virginia and elsewhere plan for increased flooding because of sea level rise produced an all-day forum Wednesday, March 13, at ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) in Suffolk.

More than 70 representatives of Hampton Roads cities, state and federal agencies, engineering firms, architectural (landscape) firms, environmental groups and educational institutions came together for a joint meeting of the Hampton Roads Sea Level Rise/Flooding Adaptation Forum and the Central East Coast Chapter of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association.

Leaders of ODU's Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI) helped to plan the forum, which allowed participants to share their research and adaptation plans pertaining to the threat of increased coastal flooding during this century.

"The turnout of officials was amazing," said Larry Atkinson, the ODU Slover Professor of Oceanography who directs CCSLRI. "There is a real interest in these forums hosted by ODU and funded by the Virginia Sea Grant (VSG)."

In addition to the VSG and ODU, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission has joined in presenting a series of forums under the umbrella title of "Increased Flooding Risk Due to Sea Level Rise in Hampton Roads - Concerns, Best Practices and Plans for Adaptation." The March 13 forum was the second in a series of four. The final two will be held later this year.

Forum project leaders include Troy Hartley of the VSG and Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Benjamin McFarlane of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, Ariel Pinto of ODU's engineering faculty and Atkinson.

Atkinson said the project leaders were pleased by how engaged the participants were. "At the end of a meeting people usually quickly head to the exits. This time they all sat there and talked about ideas for the next forum. The participation was amazing. There was a consensus to have the next forum focus on communicating risk, both of immediate crises and of long-term risk."

Attendees included officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NASA, the National Park Service, the National Weather Service, the state of Delaware and southeastern Virginia localities large and small.

"These folks, the 'boots-on-the-ground' workers, will be the ones who actually will have to do something to solve this increasing problem of coastal flooding," said Elizabeth Smith, who serves at ODU as day-to-day coordinator of CCSLRI. "They are eager to talk about it, to get feedback, to share their ideas about what works/doesn't work, and to connect with each other. This forum was very productive and galvanizing for the group."

Forum speaker Regina Karp, ODU associate professor of political science and director of the Graduate Program in International Studies, told the group about a high-profile conference ODU is hosting in October that will feature presentations by coastal inundation experts from Europe. Karp leads the Access EU project at ODU, which has received funding from the European Union. The conference, Oct. 30-31, will be titled "European-American Conference: Rising Sea Levels - Moving Beyond the Threat, Trans-Atlantic Regional Initiatives and Best Practices."

Other presenters at the March 13 forum included Brian Joyner of the local engineering firm of Moffatt and Nichol speaking about the city of Norfolk Coastal Flood Study; two Army Corps of Engineers representatives, Mike Forte of the corps' Duck, N.C., research facility and Michelle Hamor of the corps' Norfolk District speaking about federal analysis of flooding predictions and mitigation possibilities; Molly Mitchell Rogerro of VIMS speaking about the Recurrent Flooding Study for Tidewater, Virginia; and Atkinson, speaking about his recent consultations with the state of Maryland about coastal inundations and Maryland's projections for sea level rise.