By Chris Patrick, science writer
Tal Ezer, a professor of Ocean Earth & Atmospheric Sciences at Old Dominion University (ODU), regularly runs along the Hague, a horseshoe-shaped body of water in Norfolk, Virginia.
Before he leaves, he checks the tide gauge data from nearby Sewells Point, and can usually predict which streets may have tidal flooding. When he expects it, he takes his phone along to capture pictures of roadways turned quasi-waterways. On July 29, Ezer shared these photos of flooded Norfolk streets with about 80 scientists, planners, engineers, and emergency managers attending the 13th Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum.
The forum, held at the ODU Peninsula Higher Education Center in Hampton, Virginia, sought to deliver the latest sea level rise science with relevant end users. Along with his photos, Ezer shared new data on how the Gulf Stream affects sea level rise.
“This was the 13th forum of the series,” says Larry Atkinson, professor of Ocean, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences at ODU. “We started several years ago, and it’s amazing how successful it’s been.” Atkinson helped coordinate July’s adaptation forum with lead organizer Michelle Covi, Virginia Sea Grant extension staff at Old Dominion University. “For this forum, we were trying to provide information to stakeholders and decision makers about what they need to know about sea level rise. I was impressed by the wide variety of people that came, from civic engineers to city planners, academics to military personnel,” he added.
Sea level is rising everywhere, but not at the same rate. Many factors control regional variations, like whether land is sinking or uprising. In Hampton Roads, where the land is sinking, sea level is rising faster than average—about 5.83 millimeters per year—making it a hotspot of accelerated sea level rise.
At the forum, Ezer spoke of a lesser researched contributor of local sea level rise rates: oceanic and atmospheric dynamics. “This part is still not very well understood,” Ezer said. But he’s working to change that. Comparing past data on Gulf Stream flow and sea level rise, he saw that when the strength of the Gulf Stream decreases, sea level is higher. And when the Gulf Stream strength increases, sea level is lower. Looking at this same relationship with a computer model of ocean dynamics, Ezer confirmed that fluctuations in Gulf Steam strength generate significant sea level variations.
Ezer’s finding can be used to improve projections of future sea level rise and associated increase in flooding. Other speakers at the forum also provided end users with science to inform sea level rise and recurrent flooding forecasts. Don Resio, a professor from the University of North Florida, explained the statistics behind risk of extreme events in Hampton Roads, which can be used in planning. Ben Hamlington from ODU talked about how satellites can monitor land subsidence.
You can check out all of the speakers’ PowerPoint presentations at the Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum’s website.
The Hampton Roads Sea Level Rise/Flooding Adaptation Forum started in 2012 with support from Virginia Sea Grant as a way to connect up-to-date research on flooding and sea level rise with those making public policy decisions in southeastern Virginia. The event is hosted in partnership with Virginia Sea Grant, Old Dominion University, and the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.