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Researchers Want to Keep Keen Eye on Flooding from Irene

Old Dominion University's Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI) wants to keep a keen eye on flooding and storm surges in Hampton Roads, and the region's upcoming encounter with Hurricane Irene is expected to present lots of data for the researchers to study.

In fact, CCSLRI director Larry Atkinson sent an email Wednesday to faculty and students involved with the initiative, asking that they document flooding in the region when the worst of Irene is expected to hit on Saturday. "I'm gathering photos or videos of flooding. Send with time and location," he wrote.

"We'll take documentation of flooding from anyone who is interested in helping us," Atkinson added in an interview. In coming years, scientists and engineers should be able to glean information about sea level rise by comparing photos of flooding from various storms.

In recent decades, measurements in Hampton Roads show that sea levels are going up at a rate of almost 1.5 feet a century. But scientists predict the rate will increase in coming decades, and that the 21st century could see a rise of 2-6 feet. Land subsidence is part of the equation when it comes to measuring sea level rise in Hampton Roads. This means the land is sinking as the waters are rising, compounding the problem.

Atkinson said the storm surge forecast for Sewells Point at the Norfolk Naval Base can be followed at this National Weather Service (NWS) site: http://www.weather.gov/mdl/etsurge/index.php?page=stn®ion=me&type=both&stn=vahamp.

On Friday, the NWS forecast was for a storm surge reaching 7 feet during the early evening on Saturday. That means a storm surge that is 7 feet higher than mean lower low water (MLLW).

For reference, here are the surge levels reached during previous storms: Hurricane of 1933, 9.03 feet; Hurricane Isabel in 2003, 7.9 feet; Thanksgiving nor'easter in 2006, 6.7 feet; Hurricane Floyd in 1999, 5.97 feet.

Atkinson said flooding is noticeable in streets around the ODU campus when water levels reach 3.9 feet above MLLW. A little farther away near the d'Egg West restaurant and Taste Unlimited along Hampton Boulevard, street flooding starts at 4.5 feet.

The CCSLRI was formally launched in December 2010 at the direction of ODU President John Broderick. The initiative is taking a multidisciplinary look at sea level rise, especially as it threatens an urban area such as Hampton Roads. (See http://www.odu.edu/ao/research/ccslri/.) Atkinson is the Samuel and Fay Slover Professor of Oceanography at ODU. He can be reached at latkinso@odu.edu.

This article was posted on: August 25, 2011

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