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Seed Grants Awarded to Four Research Teams in Climate Change Initiative

Four teams of researchers representing 10 different disciplines have been awarded $165,000 in seed grants by the Old Dominion University Office of Research for projects that support the university's Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative.

Funds for these seed grants come from the Perry Fund for the Study of Critical Issues and the Office of Research. The Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative was launched last year by ODU President John R. Broderick, with a primary goal being to encourage the university's faculty and students to undertake research and education projects that could be helpful to an urban coastal area where waters are rising.

Two of the funded projects will create models to help southeastern Virginia decision makers prioritize work that needs to be done to keep people safe and the economy stable in the wake of rising seas. Another will explore the creation of young-audience theatrical programs that would be designed to promote scientific awareness about climate change. Still another will use local flooding incidents to gauge - and ultimately to influence - public response to broader climate change issues.

Mohammad Karim, the vice president for research who created this first-time seed-grant offering in February, announced the winners.

"Facilitating faculty engagement in these research areas is a priority of Old Dominion University," Karim said. "Our goal is to make ODU a recognized leader in the fields of climate change and sea level rise in order to address the challenges that will significantly affect not only the Hampton Roads region, but also the country and the world. To achieve this goal, we seek to strengthen relationships among faculty, colleges, our centers, and departments working in and across disciplines that address the impacts of climate change and sea level rise."

Larry Atkinson, the ODU Slover Professor of Oceanography who has been coordinating the Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative, said he welcomes the seed grants. In recent months he has documented opportunities for research primarily related to sea level rise issues faced by urban areas, and he believes the university has experts in numerous fields who can do this work.

"We already have several million dollars in climate change-related research, mostly in the sciences," Atkinson said. "A goal will be to increase interdisciplinary research funding areas, and these seed grants should help us do just that."

Seed projects are intended to produce a coherent, substantive result that will advance ODU's initiative by building strong research collaborations. The projects that won grants, Karim said, have a sustainable structure that should give rise to further development or tangible outcomes after the funding period, which extends from May 15 through the end of 2011. Outcomes of the seed grants are expected to be external grants, major conferences, or other measurable academic or related products that position ODU for large-scale collaborations, greater influence and stature, or provide significant impact.

Here are the awards:

• "The Disparate Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Hampton Roads' Underserved Populations Residing in the Chesapeake Bay's Coastal Zone: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Understanding the Impact of Various Remediation Policy Options to Address Contaminated Environments." $37,800 awarded to Rafael Diaz, Research Assistant Professor, Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC); Hua Liu, Assistant Professor, Political Science and Geography; Michael Finewood, Visiting Instructor, Political Science and Geography; Joshua Behr, Associate Professor, VMASC; and Paula Jasinski, Analyst, Chesapeake Environmental Communications.

Rising waters could spread the pollution in soils along the Chesapeake Bay that are contaminated with hazardous waste. Remediation projects are likely to be funded to clean up these sites ahead of the rising waters. Yet low-income and minority communities will be least able to influence the prioritization of remediation funds despite being the most vulnerable to regional environmental change related to sea level rise, thus the rise in the bay may be expected to have a disparate impact upon communities of interest. The central objectives of this project are to 1) identify the hazardous sites around the bay and attach to each site an index of health-related contamination risk and 2) model the sensitivity of vulnerable populations to the various remediation policy options intended to address these contaminated environments.

• "Human Dimensions in Public Engagement and Support for Environmental Resiliency Policies." $37,456 awarded to Maura Hametz, Associate Professor, History; Poornima Madhavan, Assistant Professor, Psychology; Leona Tam, Assistant Professor, Marketing; and Cynthia Tomovic, Professor, STEM Education and Professional Studies.

The purpose of this study is to construct and test a social science-driven process model of communicating information about climate change and sea level rise in order to promote public engagement and broaden support for environmental resiliency policies. To measure public engagement and attention, the study will focus on local flooding, an issue of significant community concern, as a lens though which to examine public response to the broader impacts of climate change and sea level rise. Local findings will then be utilized to generate a social marketing model incorporating human dimensions and scientific knowledge for the use of other communities in Hampton Roads and beyond that are interested in engaging the public to address climate change and sea level rise.

• "A Decision-Support Model Addressing Issues Related to Sea Level Rise in Hampton Roads." $45,000 awarded to Michael Robinson, Research Assistant Professor, VMASC; Saikou Diallo, Research Assistant Professor, VMASC; Jose Padilla, Research Scientist, VMASC; and Peter Foytik, Senior Project Scientist, VMASC.

Scientific evidence points to significant sea level rise in Hampton Roads during this century. This study will be the first to objectively identify a comprehensive list of factors, such as relocation of threatened houses and businesses or improvement of current infrastructure, that must be considered by decision makers. The researchers propose to create a conceptual model that can assist decision makers in making choices that help them minimize the negative impact of rising sea levels on the Hampton Roads region. This model would consist of specific factors and how these factors relate to one another so the decision maker is aware of tradeoffs between possible choices. Criteria could include economic stability and growth, social vulnerability, social equity and transportation efficacy.

• "Scientific Awareness Through Theatre: Inspiring Young People to Value Scientific Practice as We Adapt to Sea Level Rise and Climate Change." $44,631 awarded to Jenifer Alonzo, Assistant Professor, Communication and Theatre Arts; and Victoria Hill, Research Assistant Professor, Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

This is a proof-of-concept project through which the investigators will create two 15-minute segments of plays about climate change research. A promotional video will be produced to show how ODU scientists, educators and theater artists worked together to communicate climate change research to young people. Information presented in the plays will be supported by Internet games that young people may play at any time.

This article was posted on: April 11, 2011

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