As illustrated by recent hurricanes Florence and Michael, it is now more important than ever for the research and stakeholder communities of Virginia to come together to plan and prepare for such hazards as hurricanes, increased precipitation, and accelerated river and coastal flooding.

The coastal zone hosts more than half of the world’s population, large port facilities vital to the global economy, and military installations important to national and global security. Accelerating sea-level rise and other coastal hazards, population growth, and rapid economic development threaten livelihoods, tourism, health, fish and wildlife species, and ecosystem services in Virginia.

“The cascading impacts of these stressors represent a complex and formidable problem that can be addressed only by coordinated investment in research, teaching, outreach, and inclusive engagement efforts,” said Anamaria Bukvic, co-leader of the Coastal@VT group and research assistant professor of geography in the College of Natural Resources and Environment  at Virginia Tech.

The 2018 Rotating Resilience Roundtables, a two-day event hosted by the Coastal@VT group on the Blacksburg campus in October, offered faculty the opportunity to interact with coastal scientists and stakeholders in person and in small group settings. 

The event was co-organized by Anamaria Bukvic from the Coastal@VT initiative and Michelle Covi from Old Dominion University and the Virginia Sea Grant Climate Adaptation and Resilience Program.

“Coastal Virginia is experiencing unprecedented challenges due to sea-level rise and more extreme rainfall events. Being able to connect with VT faculty, create collaborative relationships, and share stakeholder research needs helps to advance the science and scholarship in service to the commonwealth,” said Covi.

The Rotating Resilience Roundtables are designed to respond to the need for cohesive and policy-relevant science that will align and coordinate efforts to benefit Virginia’s resilience and adaptation to changing conditions in the coastal zone.

“The roundtables’ aim was to facilitate knowledge exchange and research collaborations to strengthen the statewide capacity to address coastal resilience issues in an integrated and inclusive manner. Researchers and stakeholders were able to come together and assess the expertise and resources Virginia’s universities currently have and will need in the future to answer pressing research questions and produce policy-relevant science related to the commonwealth resilience to coastal flooding.” said Bukvic, an affiliated faculty member of the Global Change Center, an arm of the Fralin Life Science Institute.

Bukvic’s research explores whether relocation could serve as a workable adaptation strategy and practical solution to sea-level rise in coastal communities, as well as the opportunities that  could emerge from this process. Her other research interests include coastal hazards and disasters, climate change adaptation, and social vulnerability to coastal flooding.

The Rotating Resilience Roundtables event held at Virginia Tech in October was the first in a planned series of roundtables envisioned to be semi-structured and allow for active interactions and knowledge exchange via traditional presentations, strategic networking, and small roundtable discussions.

These roundtables supported active engagement with different coastal themes and challenges, as well as to stimulate problem identification, critical thinking, and alignment between issues and research.

Researchers from Virginia Tech, Old Dominion University, College of William and Mary, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and University of Virginia attended and discussed the state’s needs in research and education for coastal resilience. Attendees included those in disaster preparedness, engineering, technology and socio-ecological systems, as well as expert staff from the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, Wetlands Watch, and the cities of Hampton and Norfolk.

Coastal researchers
Researchers and stakeholders at the Rotating Resilience Roundtables discussed themes of preparedness and response, technology, and sociological systems to plan ways to increase coastal resilience in Virginia.

Ashley Dayer, assistant professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech, found that “the roundtables event was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about coastal resiliency research and application in our own state — in the Hampton Roads area. While many of the themes I heard resonated with research I’m doing or have done elsewhere in the country, I appreciated the chance to connect with researchers and practitioners in Virginia and to learn more about the work of my colleagues at Virginia Tech.” 

Dayer is a conservation social scientist, and her research program focuses on understanding people’s conservation behavior, especially related to bird conservation, private lands habitat conservation, human-wildlife conflict, and beach recreation management. 

“I have already followed up with some of the connections I made at the roundtables event, and I look forward to future collaborations related to the impacts of sea level rise on private landowners and on marshes and the wildlife that inhabit them,” said Dayer, an affiliated faculty member of the Global Change Center and the Coastal@VT group.  

Madeleine Flint, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech appreciated the opportunity to participate in the roundtables.

"As structural engineers consider updating infrastructure design requirements to include more consideration of community resilience, it is essential that we include policymakers and scientists in the conversation. The Rotating Resilience Roundtable event was a unique opportunity to begin this conversation," said Flint, a Coastal@VT faculty member.

Flint's current research falls into the general area of infrastructure sustainability and resiliency. Specific projects include the development of decision support systems for the early design of buildings against multiple natural hazards, assessment of the impact of climate change on the durability of reinforced concrete coastal infrastructure, and further investigation of climate risk to bridges from floods.

The desired outcome of the roundtables will be development of a position paper that will recognize the need to collaborate and synchronize capacities between different entities in Virginia working on coastal resilience.

Coastal@VT is part of the Global Systems Science Destination Area supported by the Fralin Life Science Institute with a mission to foster coastal resilience and prosperity through transdisciplinary research, education, and engagement. Their vision is to be a catalyst for finding innovative solutions to sustain development of coastal built and natural environments through diversity and inclusion in research, education, and engagement. 

"It is particularly gratifying to see that key universities in the commonwealth are coming together for the Rotating Resilience Roundtables organized by the Coastal@VT initiative. There is an opportunity for this consortium to place Virginia at the leading edge of a research area that is critical to the future welfare of citizens not only within our own state but also throughout the world. Our universities can and should continue to work synergistically and collaboratively on such global problems, and I see this group as an exemplar of how this can be achieved," said Dennis Dean, director of the Fralin Life Science Institute.  

Robert Weiss, co-leader of the Coastal@VT iniative said, “It is my hope that these roundtables serve as an impetus to form a collaborative relationship among the different stakeholders within the commonwealth, but especially among Virginia's Institutions of Higher Education, to address coastal-resilience issues. The dramatic changes we can now observe in areas like Hampton Roads or Norfolk will soon impact other parts of coastal Virginia.”

Weiss and Coastal@VT are part of the organizing committee for the 2018 Annual VASEM Summit: Securing Prosperity in the Coastal Zone. While there are initiatives ongoing to address contemporary coastal issues at the community level, the goal of the summit is to move toward a holistic conversation about promoting prosperity in Virginia's coastal zone and its role in the nation's well-being, across geographic and government scales. 

Coastal@VT is led by Robert Weiss, associate professor of geosciences, from the College of Science and Anamaria Bukvic, research assistant professor of geography, from the College of Natural Resources and Environment.