Nurturing Collaboration to Find New Sea Level Rise Solutions

Wetlands Watch and Virginia Sea Grant join forces

Flooding in Virginia's Hampton Roads. Courtesy of Wetlands Watch.
Flooding in Norfolk, a city in Virginia’s Hampton Roads. Courtesy of Wetlands Watch.

by Chris Patrick, science writer

What do you call a laboratory focused on fostering collaboration?

A collaboratory!

And that’s what Wetlands Watch in partnership with Virginia Sea Grant plan to create, as together they work to combat the tangible threats of sea level rise in coastal Virginia.

In Hampton Roads, a region of coastal Virginia with the highest rate of sea level rise on the Atlantic Coast, local governments must adapt their communities to increasingly more severe and frequent flooding. To support this effort, the Aduivans Family Foundation awarded Wetlands Watch a four-year grant to explore eco-friendly sea level rise solutions with Virginia’s colleges and universities through a new initiative called the “Resilience Research and Design Collaborative Laboratory,” a.k.a. the Collaboratory.

“This is a unique investment in the capability of Virginia’s academic institutions to help solve our state’s flooding and sea level rise challenges,” says Skip Stiles, executive director of Wetlands Watch, a non-profit organization working at the grassroots level to protect wetlands and adapt to sea level rise. “We will use this funding to craft partnerships with Virginia Sea Grant, academia, and the private sector, leveraging funding and expertise to help move Virginia ahead in its race with the tides.”

The Collaboratory is modeled after the Chesterfield Heights project, which took place during the 2014-2015 academic year. This Virginia Sea Grant-funded project paired engineering and architecture students and faculty from Old Dominion University and Hampton University, creating a cross-institution, cross-discipline team. With advice from members of the Hampton Roads Green Building Council, the student-faculty partnerships developed nature-based sea level rise adaptation designs for Chesterfield Heights, a historic neighborhood in Norfolk, Virginia burdened by recurrent flooding. Community input was a key part of the design process. Starting in 2017, components from the designs will be implemented in Chesterfield Heights through a $120 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Like the Chesterfield Heights project, the Collaboratory will foster student-faculty partnerships focused on resiliency design, offering practicum, studio, and capstone experiences central to many professional degrees. The Collaboratory will match these academic partnerships to local governments and communities with compatible sea level rise adaptation needs. To meet community needs with innovative, implementable sea level rise designs solutions, the Collaboratory will nurture relationships across disciplines and between universities, non-governmental organizations, local communities and government, and the private sector. The Collaboratory will also cultivate the next generation of entrepreneurs and businesses poised to grow the economy with their water management designs.

“Flooding and other impacts from climate change produce multifaceted problems that demand innovative, integrated solutions,” says Troy Hartley, director of Virginia Sea Grant. “The Collaboratory, and our partnership between Wetlands Watch and VASG, is the perfect enabling mechanism to leverage capacity across Virginia’s amazing universities, spur creative and feasible solutions, grow tomorrow’s workforce and jobs, and position Hampton Roads to be a global leader in adaptation solutions.”

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