Coastal flooding in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Anamaria Bukvic.

VA - Virginia Tech launches the Center for Coastal Studies to address complex issues in the coastal zone

Ensuring a vibrant and thriving coastal zone is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Today, 60 percent of Virginia’s 8 million people live in the coastal zone. By 2045, the commonwealth’s population is projected to exceed 10 million people, with about 80 percent of Virginians living at the coast.

Accelerating sea-level rise, coastal hazards, and ocean acidification threaten livelihoods, health, and fish and wildlife species throughout the commonwealth and the world. At the same time, rapid economic development presents an opportunity in the face of these challenges.

“The cascading impacts of these stressors represent a formidable problem that can only be addressed by coordinated investment in research, teaching, outreach, and creating a community of action," said Robert Weiss, director of the newly formed Center for Coastal Studies and professor of natural hazards in the Department of Geosciences in the College of Science. "This coordination is part of the Center for Coastal Studies’ mission to nurture coastal-zone related research and education and to create a better understanding of the processes that govern complex issues regarding sustainable solutions in the coastal zone.”

Globally, the coastal zone hosts nearly half of the human population, large ports vital to the global economy, and military installations important to national and global security.  

“The problems of sea-level rise and other coastal threats are complicated and multifaceted,” said Sally C. Morton, interim director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute and dean of the College of Science. “Virginia Tech’s Center for Coastal Studies will coalesce the expertise of our renowned researchers to provide viable solutions to communities here in Virginia and around the world.”

The Center for Coastal Studies, housed under the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech, will engage with a diverse set of stakeholders, create a collaborative space for difficult conversations with the public around coastal-zone issues, and establish a Coastal Zone Observatory.

This observatory will be a clearinghouse for data that is collected in the commonwealth and in collaboration with other researchers throughout the state, nation, and world. The data will be made available to local, state, federal governments and collaborators in the private sector.

“The formalized center will continue to raise our visibility and create opportunities for strategic and transdisciplinary partnerships to concentrate on coastal resilience and prosperity with the private sector, public sector, and academia,” said Jennifer Irish, a professor of coastal engineering in the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech and leadership team member of the Center for Coastal Studies.

Anamaria Bukvic, assistant professor of geography from the College of Natural Resources and Environment, and Marie Paretti, professor of engineering education in the College of Engineering, round out the leadership team for the Center for Coastal Studies.

The center comprises 40 junior and senior faculty participants from six different colleges and various scientific disciplines at Virginia Tech. They bring a diverse range of expertise to coastal-zone research, including, but not limited to, geoscience, engineering, geography, urban planning, public health, governance and public policy, fish and wildlife conservation, business information technology, and applied economics. The Center for Coastal Studies faculty are applying innovative and holistic approaches and utilizing skills and technology to interpret data and solve problems.

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