The University of Virginia and Norfolk State University have been awarded a $5 million grant as part of the National Science Foundation’s Coastlines and People Hubs for Research and Broadening Participation, or CoPe. A central aim of the NSF-funded program is to build collaboration between researchers and coastal area residents in tackling effects of climate change.

Under the grant, researchers will create a UVA-led coastal futures hub to support urban areas in and around Norfolk, Va. Last year, UVA was tapped under the same NSF program to create a coastal futures hub that supports rural areas on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

These two UVA-led CoPe hubs provide a powerful research opportunity to explore issues across the rural/urban divide in coastal communities. Jon Goodall, a civil engineering professor and associate director of the Link Lab, is the principal investigator on the project. He is teamed up with faculty from a variety of disciplines across UVA and Norfolk State University, a historically Black university located in downtown Norfolk. The project was initiated through seed funding from UVA’s Environmental Resilience Institute allowing the team to obtain preliminary data that led to the larger CoPe project.

In addition to Goodall, the research team includes the following faculty members:
Sharon Alston: assistant professor at Norfolk State University in the Ethelyn R. Strong School of Social Work
Phoebe Crisman: professor of architecture in UVA’s School of Architecture
Renny Fernandez: assistant professor of engineering at Norfolk State University
Kimberly Fields: assistant professor at the UVA Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies
Ashley Haines: professor of biology at Norfolk State University
Andrew Kahrl: professor in UVA’s Corcoran Department of History and UVA’s Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies
Matthew Reidenbach: professor in UVA’s Department of Environmental Sciences
Jenny Roe: Mary Irene Deshong Professor of Design and Health, Urban and  Environmental Planning in UVA’s School of Architecture

The project will advance technical research on hydrodynamic modeling and cyber-physical systems for flood mitigation alongside social science research in community engagement, wellbeing, environmental justice, design and policy toward the goal of creating ways to increase environmental and social resilience in coastal communities.

Research collaborations like this are urgent for regions like Hampton Roads, which includes Norfolk, because this coastal area is experiencing the highest rates of relative sea level rise along the entire East Coast.

The project includes Norfolk community members from across socioeconomic and racial demographics in envisioning the future of coastal urban communities. Toward this aim, the research team includes Kim Sudderth, a Norfolk resident who is a practitioner in residence at the UVA Repair Lab. Sudderth is a trusted community partner with long-standing connections in the Norfolk community. The team also includes the non-profit Elizabeth River Project and will lean on Norfolk State University’s strong institutional ties with the community to establish avenues of community engagement.

“The research is not just about how we design next generation infrastructure for flooding resilience but also finding ways to engage residents in envisioning what coastal areas like Norfolk might become in the future,” Goodall said. “For communities to feel ownership in that future and the infrastructure investments that play a role in their envisioned future, they must be co-participants in the design process."

The five-year initiative will explore the co-development not only of “built capital” like infrastructure but what the researchers have termed “human capital.” This means the connections, resources, and technology tools that empower leaders and citizens to work together in tackling climate change challenges in their own environment over the long term.

The grant also provides funding for postdoctoral scholars and graduate students to be trained in an interdisciplinary research collaboration needed for engaging in complicated societal challenges like coastal resilience.

Read NSF’s announcement here.

UVA-Led Team of Researchers

Andrew Kahrl, Sharon Alston, Phoebe Crisman, Kimberly Fields, Matthew Reidenbach, Ashley Haines, Jenny Roe, Renny Fernandez, and 
Jon Goodall.