Team HRPDC took home first place in the inaugural Hampton Roads Datathon hosted by CivicLab Norfolk, an agency that promotes data-informed decision making by city staff and transparency for the community. The event, which was modeled after the Virginia Datathon, brought together 17 teams from local government agencies, non-profit organizations, universities, and others to create and share projects relating to the theme of “Analyzing, Promoting, and Protecting Biodiversity in Hampton Roads.” During the week of September 9-16, teams decided on a project idea, evaluated the data, and put together a presentation and display. The projects were judged on the use of data, adherance to the theme, and the usefulness of the project in the greater community.
Team HRPDC Presenting Their Project to the Judges
Team HRPDC’s project was entitled “Drowning Nature: How Sea Level Rise Will Impact Hampton Roads Biodiverity.” This project addressed biodiversity as it relates to sea level rise (SLR) impacts to conserved lands (parks, etc.), conservation easements, tree canopy, and public water access sites in Hampton Roads. Conservation practices are crucial for maintaining diverse habitats that improve the health of our watersheds. Three buffer distances were chosen to compare the potential SLR impact: 100, 300, and 500 feet from the shoreline. Each buffer was evaluated based on the three regional SLR planning scenarios of 1.5 feet, 3 feet, and 4.5 feet. The predicted amount of land that will be inundated by SLR will vary across the region based on elevation, hydrology, and other factors so the buffer distances helped to estimate a range of possible impacts.
Through a poster, summary document, and interactive map, Team HRPDC presented their findings on this topic. The results showed that with an increase in SLR there in an increased loss in tree canopy, conserved land, and conservation easements in inundated areas . At most risk from any SLR scenario are conservation easements, followed by conserved lands, and tree canopy. Much of the acreage in these buffer zones consists of tree canopy and conserved lands. The biggest impacts to biodiversity from SLR will occur on these lands because they are on or near the shoreline. This suggests that increasing the acreage of conservation easements near the shore could be a tool to preserve the biodiversity in the region as more land become inundated.
Percent of Tree Canopy, Conserved Lands, and Conservation Easement Acreage Potentially Inundated by Sea Level Rise
There are over 200 sites in Hampton Roads that provide public access to the water. By their very nature, these assets must be on or near the water. However, the same location that makes them so valuable to communities also makes them vulnerable to sea level rise. Impacts from sea level rise on public access will be substantial, even under the lowest SLR scenario (1.5 feet).
This work prompted a variety of ideas for future study including analyzing the impact of SLR on wetlands, tree and buffer biodiversity, and identifying unprotected adjacent or nearby opportunities to allow existing conservation resources to migrate upland in response to sea level rise.
The culmination of this effort was the final day of the competition that was held at Norfolk’s Slover Library where teams were asked to present their work in a five-minute overview. Judges deliberated while teams networked and learned about the other projects. Several projects received Honorable Mentions, the City of Virginia Beach team won second place, and the Old Dominion Team earned third place. HRPDC’s team, consisting of Sara Kidd, John Harbin, Ben McFarlane, Jill Sunderland, Grace Hansen, and KC Filippino were thrilled to take home the top award – the Hampton Roads Datathon Championship Belt – now displayed proudly in the HRPDC lobby.
|Team PDC KC Filippino, Sara Kidd, John Harbin, Grace Hansen Jill Sunderland and Ben McFarlane (behind the camera).|
The Datathon Trophy Belt