InsideODU: News for Faculty and Staff
Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kathryn Sullivan and President John Broderick
Federal Official Praises Range of Expertise in Climate Initiative

Kathryn Sullivan, an assistant secretary of commerce and deputy administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told an Old Dominion forum audience on June 7 that she is "tremendously impressed by the fusion of expertise" brought together by the university's Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI).

The multidisciplinary initiative, which was launched 18 months ago, has recruited researchers from all six of the university's academic colleges to explore means to help coastal metropolises build consensus and take action to mitigate economic and social damage expected from sea level rise. Because southeastern Virginia is being hit by the double whammy of rising waters and sinking land, the Norfolk area has been identified by the federal government as especially vulnerable to serious flooding during the century.

In introductory remarks, ODU President John Broderick said he started the initiative because of concerns about the effect sea level rise is predicted to have on the local region, and, notably, on the ODU campus, which sits between two rivers.

Sullivan said she was aware that ODU had begun the initiative by promoting research projects in areas such as theater arts, STEM education, social sciences and human factors psychology. This has been in addition to more conventional contributions from oceanographers and engineers. "To bring all of this together at the beginning, this has tremendous promise to bring fresh insight. I am impressed by your array of talents," she said.

Well known as a former astronaut, Sullivan was appointed a year ago by President Obama as assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and deputy administrator for NOAA. An oceanographer, she also serves as NOAA's acting chief scientist.

As assistant secretary, Sullivan plays a central role in directing work in the areas of weather and water services, climate science and services, integrated mapping services and Earth-observing capabilities. She provides agency-wide direction with regard to satellites, space weather, water and ocean observations, and forecasts to best serve American communities and businesses.

Her appearance at the ODU forum was in conjunction with a public lecture the evening of June 7 at a Blue Planet Forum at Nauticus in downtown Norfolk (

The morning forum and a luncheon on the ODU campus were designed to allow discussions amongst Sullivan and ODU faculty members and students who are conducting research pertaining to the CCSLRI.

Larry Atkinson, the ODU Slover Professor of Oceanography who leads the CCSLRI, directed the forum discussion, in which Sullivan was an active participant. She took notes during the presentations of ODU researchers and had questions, insights and suggestions for each presenter. She said the federal agencies responsible for reacting to climate change and sea level rise are interested in a multidisciplinary approach to the challenge similar to the one chosen by ODU.

Sullivan's visit to Norfolk also included an afternoon tour of sites prone to flooding, led by Skip Stiles, executive director of the environmental organization Wetlands Watch.

ODU presentations at the campus forum were:

"Human Dimensions in Public Engagement and Support for Environmental Resiliency Policies" by Poornima Madhavan (psychology), Maura Hametz (history), Leona Tam (marketing) and Cynthia Tomovic (STEM education)

"Scientific Awareness Through Theatre: Inspiring Young People to Value Scientific Practice as We Adapt to Sea Level Rise and Climate Change" by Jenifer Alonzo (communication and theatre arts), Victoria Hill and Fred Dobbs (ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences) and Amy Adcock (STEM education)

"College of Engineering Outreach" by David Pezza (civil and environmental engineering)

"Quantifying Risk and Resilience to Prioritize Flooding Mitigation Projects in Urban Coastal Environments" by David Basco (coastal engineering).

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