ODU to Lead Nation in Climate Change Research

The complex nature of our society makes it challenging to adapt to sweeping changes in the environment. From New York City to Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, and even Norfolk, what we know is that major coastal cities in the U.S. are faced with rapidly rising sea levels. The issue is tied to our changing climate and we still haven’t begun developing the sort of practice-relevant knowledge that is necessary to be prepared, until now.

Following the announcement of the established Mitigation and Adaptation Research Institute (MARI) on June 3, 2014, Old Dominion University will now be home to the site in which all stakeholders of society will be working together to conduct research that will allow for major coastal cities in the U.S. to adapt to sea level rise.

Editor-in-chief of AltDaily News, Jesse Scaccia, recently wondered whether Norfolk would be seen “as the first American city to gracefully handle our new environmental reality, or as the first city America full-scale punted on, sacrificing it to the sea as greater efforts were made to save New York, Baltimore, and Washington DC.”

It seems as though ODU has decided to go all in on climate change and sea level rise to save itself, and just might be able to help save some other cities as well.

“There is no institute existing in the United States that is comprehensively looking at adaptation science. We are the first institute to do that,” said director of MARI and ODU professor, Hans-Peter Plag

This may allow for ODU to become one of the first major schools in the U.S. for studying climate change and sea level rise holistically. After all, a comprehensive approach to climate change will be necessary to be successful in dealing with the issue.

The initiative will bring together prominent entities including the White House, the Department of Defense, state and local government, the private sector, academia, and citizens.

Academically, MARI will be open to participation for faculty of all different departments and will serve as an interdisciplinary communication platform between them. Academic colleges from other universities will also be encouraged to participate. MARI has already developed relations with colleges such as William & Mary’s legal department and University of Virginia’s architecture department, and is working to encourage other universities to participate.

National publications ranging from the New York Times, the Huffington Post, Washington Post, USA Today, and others have called Norfolk the poster child for climate change. Moreover, the 2014 National Climate Assessment—released by the U.S. federal government—named Norfolk as the second most vulnerable city to climate change in the United States.

This is largely due to the high rate of sea level rise, exposure to extreme weather events, complex socio-economic structure, and dense population. And it is for this reason that ODU is the ideal location to conduct research of such caliber.

“Hampton Roads is a natural laboratory for climate change and sea level rise. And we want to develop it into a natural laboratory for the nation,” said Plag.

For students, the establishment of MARI means that ODU will begin offering new courses, certificates, and even degrees related to climate change and sea level rise mitigation and adaptation studies.

Plag stressed the disconnect between academia, science, and public policy, and noted that MARI is also strongly focusing on developing a graduate course that will allow students to learn ways to better integrate science into policy-making. It is this sort of interdisciplinary will that serves as a prerequisite to create a workforce specialized in solving very complicated issues.

“Coastal resilience and urban sustainability is a big issue for the future. ODU is in a great position to give students a very good and comprehensive education, where the student would also have a lot of options for the kind of work they want to do related to climate change and sea level rise,” said Plag.

Indeed, urban studies and sustainability is carrying more weight, as society becomes more urbanized. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “The nation’s urban population increased by 12.1 percent from 2000 to 2010.” Cities are growing much faster than suburban or rural areas, and many of the United States’ prominent cities are located in coastal areas that are vulnerable to rising seas.

“More than 50% of the gross domestic product in the U.S. is produced in coastal communities and coastal counties. So if something happens to coastal areas, it really happens to the entire country,” stressed Plag, “Our purpose is to really look at what a changing climate means for society and the way we have to live, so that we can continue to live close to the ocean. And our purpose is also to really understand what the options are for cities that will allow them to adapt to climate change.”


By Jugal Patel

Staff Writer



Dr. Hans Peter-Plag













  • Bob

    Sounds like an interesting program, but who will hire your graduates? It may be similar to folks getting degrees starting with Environmental. Most graduates with those degrees are poorly equipped to come into an industrial setting and understand applicability of major programs much less how to navigate compliance, permitting and the like. I’ve hired a number over the past 20 years based on my assessment of their being able to learn enough to be useful in 12 months.
    What would I expect from someone with a degree or extensive training in sea level rise mitigation that I couldn’t get from a Civil Engineer?

  • Andy

    Sounds nice, but ODU does not have the resources to compete with the established university- and NOAA-affiliated Regional Climate Centers (Cornell, UNC, LSU, etc). We are late to the issue and not bringing the academic bona fides provided by the other schools competing for scarce research dollars.