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

European Connection for CCSLRI Inundation Threat Research

The reporter who came to the Old Dominion University campus last week to interview oceanography professor Larry Atkinson about sea level rise in southeastern Virginia was from the London-based Reuters News Agency, and this came just a few days after Atkinson had been in Washington, D.C., discussing climate change-related inundation threats with experts at the Netherlands and Italian embassies.

"It's clear that increased flooding and higher storm surges are an international issue," said Atkinson, who is the director of ODU's Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI). "People from other countries are interested in what's happening here and we're interested in what's happening there, both in regard to climate and to ways that we can mitigate damages from sea level rise."

ODU will host a high-profile conference in October promoting international collaboration on the topic. The Access EU Project at ODU, which promotes a trans-Atlantic community linking Hampton Roads and the European Union, will work with the CCSLRI in presenting "European-American Conference: Rising Sea Levels - Moving Beyond the Threat, Trans-Atlantic Regional Initiatives and Best Practices."

Atkinson said that because the Norfolk region has been identified by the federal government and independent scientists as particularly vulnerable to sea level rise - both because of rising waters and land subsidence - the Hampton Roads metropolis "is seen as prototypical" by anyone interested in the challenges that climate change poses for an urban coastal area. "For writers trying to explain the issues, our area is a good place to visit. Also it has been helpful that Norfolk officials have been open to discussing the threats."

Hampton Roads' particular vulnerability to sea level rise was cited by ODU President John Broderick when he created CCSLRI in 2010 and appointed Atkinson, ODU's Slover Professor of Oceanography, to lead it. The initiative's mission from the start has been to tap expertise in all six of ODU's colleges to assess the climate-related threats that an urban coastal region will face this century and propose ways to mitigate the damages. Broderick has challenged ODU faculty members to work together with other scientists, engineers, economists and environmentalists in the state to study effects on the local economy, housing, ports and infrastructure.

CCSLRI has sponsored several regional forums, some of which were strictly local and others that brought in outside speakers. The university has invested more than $200,000 in seed grants to promote multidisciplinary research projects pertinent to the CCSLRI mission. Close to 60 faculty members with expertise useful to CCSLRI have been identified, and faculty hiring in some departments has emphasized teaching and research experience that supports the initiative. Also, Elizabeth Smith, a researcher who has been associated with the ODU Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, was recruited a year ago to coordinate day-to-day operations of CCSLRI.

"We've made progress, but much is left to be done," Atkinson said, adding that he believes the European connections can only bolster CCSLRI's efforts to push sea level rise higher on the public policy agenda. Here is more about those connections:

In mid-January, Atkinson was at the Netherlands Embassy to attend a forum, "Climate Adaptation Planning: Local-Level Strategies for U.S. Communities," organized by the Northern Virginia Regional Planning Commission. The Netherlands, of course, has the kind of experience with inundation that many U.S. localities hope to learn from in sea level rise mitigation. Norfolk has contracted with the Dutch company, Fugro, to provide consulting services regarding inundation adaptation. Fugro is a highly diversified company that, among other things, helps the public sector deal with natural hazards and emergency planning.

Immediately after the conference at the Netherlands Embassy, Atkinson met with Giulio Busulini, a scientific attaché at the Italian Embassy. Busulini will coordinate the participation of European scientists attending the Access EU conference at ODU this fall. Atkinson said Italy seems most concerned about sea level rise vulnerability around Venice and to the north along the Adriatic Sea. In the proximity of the Netherlands, Europe has inundation hot spots in England along the North Sea north of London, interestingly including the county of Norfolk, and along the North Sea coast of northern Germany.

The Access EU "Rising Sea Levels" conference at ODU Oct. 30-31 will bring together European and U.S. experts to discuss the technical, economic, social and political issues associated with sea level rise adaptation. EU experts who have long dealt with inundation mitigation will present their best practices, and conferees will try to develop trans-Atlantic approaches to the problem. An online conference report will be published and made available to the public. Access EU is led by Regina Karp, the associate professor of political science who directs the graduate program in international studies, and Larry Filer, the associate professor of economics who directs the M.B.A. program in the College of Business and Public Administration. The Access EU Project was made possible by a $157,000 grant from the United Nations' 2011-12 "Getting to Know Europe Grants Competition."

Diane Horn, professor with the Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies at the University of London's Birkbeck College, will be a visiting scholar at ODU from May 1 to June 15 this spring, sharing her expertise on the impact of planning policy on coastal vulnerability and insurance risk. Her visit is being coordinated by the CCSLRI and specifically by Michael McShane, ODU assistant professor of finance and co-director of the university's Emergent Risk Initiative. McShane said Horn will be an ideal collaborator in investigating the important, but under-researched relation between insurance and climate change. "London is the insurance capital of the world, and she has made contacts and gotten funding from some of the world's largest insurance and reinsurance firms, insurance brokers and catastrophe modeling companies," McShane added. "These firms have an intense interest in climate change research and other emerging risks."