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VMASC Researchers Developing 100-Year Sea Level Rise Decision Model

According to scientific projections, global seas are projected to rise noticeably in the next 100 years as the climate warms and polar ice caps melt.

Hampton Roads will be one of the urban areas in the United States most affected by rising seas. But what does that mean for agriculture? How will this impact the energy grid? And where should we build hospitals to serve a population that's likely to migrate throughout the region as areas are affected by high water?

Researchers at Old Dominion University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) are looking at these issues from a multidisciplinary perspective. With the aid of a $45,000 seed grant from ODU's Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI), the researchers and students have designed a continuously running simulation of the next 100 years, which decision-making authorities can use to help guide urban planning, health care and emergency preparedness decisions.

"The main idea is we're trying to construct a parallel universe," said Saikou Diallo research assistant professor at VMASC and a co-PI of the project. "You model an area, and anything that you can see you try to model, including people."

The result is CoRSE, the Continuously Running Simulation Environment sea level rise decision model. The model takes publicly accessible data in 17 domains - from agriculture and food, to energy, to emergency services, to water - and models the interconnections among those interests on a map of Hampton Roads, over a 100-year time period.

CoRSE isn't meant to be a crystal ball, but rather a tool for local and national leaders to make sure decision-makers are mindful of potential impacts that choices might have, even on completely different areas of interest.

Jose Padilla, project co-PI and a research assistant professor at VMASC, said the simulation also represents a paradigm shift in the way human behavior is modeled. CoRSE makes no assumptions that people are going to follow the "right" course of action in the face of rising seas, and that uncertainty is built into the model.

The model builds upon the infrastructure data taxonomy created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). But Padilla said CoRSE takes that as a starting point, and uses it to create a simulation-based tool for studying human dynamics - people, their interactions and their dynamics with the region where they live and work.

Most of the design work for CoRSE has been tackled by graduate students Jeffrey Brelsford, Christopher Lynch, Olcay Sahin and Hamdi Kavak in ODU's Modeling, Simulation and Visualization Engineering program. Mike Robinson, research assistant professor at VMASC, is also part of the team. The simulation currently uses off-the-shelf technology. The hope is for the final simulation to include a custom application designed at VMASC, one that's still user-friendly (Web-based) and mines data from public sources.

In the meantime, VMASC researchers say CoRSE can serve three purposes for local decision-makers: as a tool to decide on resource allocations, as a decision-support tool and as a training test bed.

The U.S. Department of Defense has already expressed interest in CoRSE and plans to visit VMASC later this year to look at what the team has designed.