Collaboration Takes on Sea Level Rise & Dynamic Technology Environments

December 20, 2023

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Sea-level rise and its impact on global coastal communities is a familiar conversation among GIS professionals. We have to face the challenges of more water in the oceans impacting our coastal communities with zeal. Many scientists, politicians, activists, and community leaders have risen in support of education and strategic planning for our future with less land and changing conditions. Notably, Norfolk, Virginia is using innovative technology and strategic planning to deal with yearly flooding as well as protecting and enhancing its green infrastructure to keep residents, military bases and businesses safe.


Flooding in Norfolk from Esri

Norfolk is at the heart of a larger metropolitan region that has more than 1.7 million residents, 15 military bases, an average of 15-19 days of flooding per year, and is one of four cities that are part of the Esri Growing Green Cities Program. Norfolk is implementing a “Coastal Storm Risk Management (CRSM) Project” which utilizes Esri’s mapping and GIS technology to identify future vulnerabilities and areas most at risk. With this accessible data and easy to follow mapping for future projections, Norfolk can manage coastal adaptation and deploy protection efforts. The Center for Geospatial Science, Education and Analytics (GeoSEA), the City of Norfolk, and the Esri Ocean team have been collaborating to push understanding and solutions forward.


Map of Norfolk from Esri

For 20 years, Dr. George McLeod, Director of GeoSEA at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, and Keith VanGraafeiland, Principle Engineer - Ocean Lead at Esri, synergized their work to empower research and inform how technology solutions can best serve researchers in this field. Dr. McLeod and the GeoSEA team help to continue the work started by Dr. Larry Atkinson, former Oceanography faculty at ODU. Dr. Atkinson pulled together interested and motivated community partners in an effort to nail down the potential impacts of sea level rise. Collaboration with these partners has been critical in defining how the GeoSEA team applies geospatial solutions to the problem of coastal flooding. George shared, “Modeling sea level rise and forecasting various scenarios for a range of time periods provides a platform for others to build on.” Building solutions and sharing those with others is important to the future of the community.

 How does the GeoSEA Center work with the community?

 The GeoSEA Center helps the community and local governments as part of their research efforts. They are taking the best science from NASA, NOAA and others, applying non-spatial sea level projections and scenarios to develop spatial models, inundation risk maps, and geovisualizations. They regularly model high-water scenarios for approaching coastal storms. and develop visualizations of water depth around critical infrastructure in 3D environments. Data collection, spatial analysis and visualization development lean into the GeoSEA’s primary directives: “to provide high level research support, enable academic use of geospatial technologies, and to plan and manage the University's enterprise GIS and distributed GIS applications.”


Using 3D to model and educate on flood impacts from Esri

“Learning is part of what we do, so we can refine techniques for new technologies and shorten learning curves. Helping integrate the stack of technologies is where Esri helps. Collaboration is critical to skip past the white paper.” shared Dr. McLeod. The Center is an interdisciplinary shop. Half of the work is building understanding and visualizations. They lean into the team approach as regular collaborators on data and analysis. Their team has a collection of experts: Enterprise GIS Manager, Andrew Mounsey; GIS Analyst, Chris Davis; Geospatial Data Scientist, Yin-Hsuen Chen; and Geospatial Developer , Blake Steiner. McLeod stressed the importance of a team and the diversity of skill sets to be successful. No one does this alone.

Collaboration Matters

Norfolk, the GeoSEA Center, and Esri are modeling meaningful collaboration in an extremely dynamic technology environment. Dr. McLeod says, “The exact methods that we employ can’t be planned more than 18 months in advance because of the fast changing nature of geospatial technology. We have conceptual targets because we can’t predict exactly what about the technology will change.” According to Keith VanGraafeiland, “George represents a section of the community to help them decide on what to develop next or best meets practical needs.”

Don’t think the relationship is extra special between George and Keith. Keith made it very clear that people don’t take advantage of him and his colleagues enough. “Don’t hesitate to ask for help directly from Esri folks. More of these interactions need to happen,” said VanGraafeiland. They both agree that the collaboration is classic networking where Esri and ODU refine technology and techniques that in turn get shared at workshops and conference events (You might be able to catch up with their work at the Esri FedGIS Conference.). The outcomes are expanding networks, shared knowledge, like the Sea Level Rise hub, and improved communities.


Sea Level Rise Hub 

How can you have more problem solving collaboration with your organization?

  1.  Reach out to fellow colleagues and form a team.
  2. Find the Esri team that supports your area of research or interest.
  3. Communicate often and well with each other.
  4. Celebrate success, because problem solving comes with many unsuccessful attempts.
  5. Keep asking hard questions. We learn and grow from imagining the possibilities.


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