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Mitigation and Adaptation Studies

Course: BIOL/OEAS 466; BIOL/OEAS 595 (three credits)
Course title: Introduction to Mitigation and Adaptation Studies
Instructors: Dr. Hans-Peter Plag and Dr. Tatyana Lobova
Graduate Teaching Assistant: Ms. Harmony Hancock
Term: Spring 2017
Time: Mondays and Wednesday, 3:00-4:14 PM
Location: NEW ED BUILDING 1104


The projects should be addressed from an adaptation science point of view. Thus, it will be important to address the hazards and vulnerability, to discuss the foresight for future developments, describe the relevant decision making processes and stakeholders engaged in decision making, and to consider options to address the problems through adaptation and/or mitigation.

For more details on how to carry out the project, see the Student Project Page. Only one student can work on a specific topic. Please, select a topic and inform the instructors by e-mail. Topics are assigned based on who communicate the selection of a topic first to the instructors. You are invited to propose your own topic to the instructors.

Topics marked by (*) have already been taken by a student.

  1. Landfills and Sea Level Rise: Future sea level rise may inundate the coastal zone over the next centuries. To what extent do the landfills in Hampton Roads (e.g., Mount Trashmore, Lambert's Point) pose a threat already today to the environment and people, and even more so to future generations and ecosystems, and what options should be considered to govern the risk? See as a starting point the Pilot article.
  2. Limiting Energy Usage: A key issue in unsustainability is humanity's exceeding energy usage. It is not only the source of energy that is a problem but even more so the amount of energy used. What are the drivers of energy usage? Is there a need to reduce energy and what are the options for that? What can local stakeholders, such as ODU, do to reduce energy usage?
  3. Preparing the Economy for Climate Change and Sea Level Rise: Climate change is expected to come with more extreme weather-related events are they are expected (and are already today) to interupt supply chains and impact businesses. How can a region like Hampton Roads, where sea level rise will exacerbate this impact, prepare for these trends and ensure the continuity of businesses?
  4. (*) Tourism and Sea Level Rise: Virginia Beach and other communities in Hampton Roads depend economically on tourism. Is sea level rise an issue for this and how could the region prepare for a future with potentially significantly higher sea levels?
  5. (*) Extinction of Species: One of the global boundaries discussed in the course is the extinction rate, which has been crossed significantly. The decline of Eastern songbirds is one aspect of this challenge, which involves forest fragmentation, feral cats, nest parasites, and loss of winter habitat in the tropics as major causes. What could local communities do to address this problem?
  6. (*) Extinction and Food Security: A recent UN report (see e.g. article as a starting point) finds that extinction risk for pollinators is high (40% of food pollinators are at risk) and could threaten food security. Can we expect that the extinction risk is increasing under climate change? What could local communities do to address this problem?
  7. (*) Pollution: The amount of pollution that the Earth's life-support system can tollerate is one of the global boundaries that is hard to quantify. Therefore, it is important to keep pollution at as low a level as possible. Taking the example of the Elizabeth River, which is contaminated with industrial pollution that today is primarily confined to sediments, how is sea level rise and climate change impacting the long-term perspective? What restoration options (e.g., buffer zones, wetlands) should be considered, if any?
  8. (*) (*) Invasive species: The threats from invasive species is on the rise (see e.g. Invasive species add to the stress ecosystems experience under climate change and sea level rise. Conservation projects will have to consider this challenge. Discuss the example of (a) purple loosestrife, (b) kudzu, (c) veined rapa whelk, and (d) mute swans.
  9. (*) Chesapeake Bay under climate change and sea level rise: The Chesapeake Bay is facing today a number of issues, for example, the “dead zone” (nutrient pollution); a decline of submerged aquatic vegetation/seagrass due to sedimentation, loss of water clarity (caused partly byoyster decline); changes in aquatic vegetation as important nursery habitat; and the status of of blue crabs (facing overharvesting and loss of quality habitat). How are these challenges developing under climate change and sea level rise and what adaptation is required to govern the risk?
  10. (*) Industrial waste and sea level rise: At the Dominion Virginia Power’s coal-ash storage facility at the Chesapeake Energy Center, a now-closed coal-burning power plant in Chesapeake, Va., about 3 million tons of arsenic-laden coal ash have been deposited for about 60 years ending in late 2014 on a narrow, low-lying peninsula adjacent to the tidal Elizabeth River. The site is partly below sea level and with sea level rise the risk of inundation rapidly increases. What are the potential hazards for acquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and the population? Who are the stakeholders engaged in deciding the future of these deposits? What are the perspectives and what mitigation and adaptation would you propose to stakeholders?
  11. (*) Food-Water-Energy Nexus: Growing and competing demands for food, water, and energy are increasingly causing serious crises regionally often resulting in large involuntary migration, social unrest or wars. The loss of water and food security are among the major risk considered by the World Economic Forum. What are the nexus-related risk and where are the main vulnerabilities at regional and global level? Who is making decisions and who is being affected by them? How is the nexus impacting our politics and economy and how is the global economy affecting the risks? How can this nexus be addressed?
  12. (*) Degradation of Mangroves: Mangroves ecosystems, which are among the world’s most biologically diverse and productive ecosystems, have been destroyed and degraded in most parts of their native range. What are the main reasons for the mangroves loss? What kind of ecosystem services are unique to mangrove forests? What kind of impacts does the loss of this habitat and the species have on local and regional economy? Is it possible to restore mangroves ecosystems?
  13. (*) Loss of Ecosystem Services of Wetlands: Wetlands in a broad sense were traditionally seen by people as an inconvenience, waste of land, or even danger. What is the extent of wetlands loss on global to local scales and what are the main hazards causing this loss? What is the significance of wetland ecosystems both within the earth's life-support system and for human communities? Use examples of wetlands in Hampton Roads to address the five areas of Adaptation Science.
  14. (*) Ocean Acidification/Warming and Coral Reefs: Ocean acidification and warming has a visible and rapidly increasing impact on the health of coral reefs. How are ocean acidification and warming threatening developing in space and time? Are there other hazards impacting coral reefs? What are the vulnerabilities of the coral reefs in terms of acidity and warming? What is the likely development over the coming decades? Who is involved in decision making related to coral reef degradation and protection? Are there options the reduce the degradation of coral reefs?
  15. Sustainable Cities: Humanity is developing into an urban species, and global sustainability depends on the sustainability of cities. The current increase in urban population requires an enormous building activity and the development of new concepts for sustaimable urban living. Cities are exposed to many internal and external environmental, social and economic hazards, and have specific vulnerabilities. Based on the targets of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #11 "Sustainable Cities and Communities" (see SDG 11 Targets) discuss the decision making structures and options for sustainable cities.
  16. (*) Soil Degradation and Sustainable Farming: There is a rapid loss of soil at the same time as the need for more arible land is increasing due to population growth. On human time scales, soil is a non-renewable resources, and the current trends indicate that in a few decades, most of the arable land will have lost the top soil with dire consequences for food security. At the same time, the industrialized farming has a severe impact on biodiversity. Discuss the hazards and vulnerabilities that lead to soil loss and degradation and to a reduction in biodiversity. Develop options for sustainable farming that protects soil and supports biodiversity.
  17. (*) Urban Agriculture: Food security is and important variable coupled to social stability. Wirld food price variations have been linked to social unrest and wars. Urban agriculture could provide a important source for food with a number of other advantages. Discuss the major threats for food security and develop options how urban agriculture could contribute to more food security and to more sustainable cities and communities.
  18. (*) Wildfires: There is a rapid change in wildfire risk in many regions globally and also in many parts of the U.S. from Alaska to California. What are the hazards that increase the probability of wildfires and the risk associated with them? What are the main vulnerabilities of ecosystems and human communities to wildfires and how did exposure change over time? What can we expect in the future? Who is involved in managing the wildfire risk and what options are there to manage and reduce the risk?
  19. (*) Climate Change and Agriculture: Climate change is expected to have a significant impact on agriculture due to shifting climate zones, which will have an impact on the phenology of both agriculture plants and crops, weeds and the neigbouring ecosystems. Looking at the phenology in agricultural regions already impacted by changes in droughts, heat waves, floods or the wind field, what are the agriculture hazards resulting from the potential shift of climate zones and the vulnerabilities of the agricultural plants? What changes can be expected in the coming decades? Who is involved managing the risk of climate change for agriculture? Based on phenological considerations, what options could help to reduce the climate change risk in agriculture?
  20. (*) Population growth and sustainability: Population growth and increased resource usage per person (in terms of energy, land use, dwellings, public services, use of products, food products) are at the core of the rapid changes in the earth surface layers (land use, soil, hydrosphere, atmosphere), which are unsustainable. To what extent is the way population growths and increased resource usage is sanctioned consistent with the ethical principles our society is based on and what changes in systems that provide sanctions for population growth and resource usage would increase the consistency between the normative and descriptive ethics in our society?