NOAA: Building A Better Future

Did you know that The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) does more than forecast the weather? NOAA is a scientific agency that observes and predicts conditions in our ocean and atmosphere. From daily weather forecasts to long-term climate monitoring and from fisheries management to marine commerce, NOAA provides communities, decision-makers, and people across the country with the information they need when they need it. NOAA also understands that the agency must do more than study the ocean and atmosphere; they need to take what they learn and educate individuals, so that citizens are empowered to support their own economies by building resilient communities and healthy ecosystems. An informed society has access to, interest in, and understanding of NOAA-related sciences and their implications for current and future events.

NOAA Marine Debris Program Outreach and Communications Specialist, Asma Mahdi, shows curious zoo-visitor microplastics and explains how animals can easily mistake it for food at the Smithsonian National Zoo’s World Ocean Day event. (NOAA)

The saying that “it takes a village” is definitely true with this initiative. NOAA’s Education Department relies on passionate volunteers (full-time educators, scientists, resource managers, and many other!) to reach everyone from preschoolers to retirees. in 2018, over 61 million people visited informal education institutions hosting NOAA-supported exhibitors or programs. 38,000 educators participated in NOAA-supported professional development programs. 3,310 post-secondary students were trained through NOAA-funded higher education programs, and 2.6 million youth and adults participated in NOAA-supported informal education programs.

Summer campers investigate marine life with the help of NOAA staff. (J Schull/NOAA)

Emergency management depends on effective partnerships, and as a Weather Ready Nation Ambassador, we want to recognize and applaud their success. In the coming months, we will take to highlight some of the initiatives that have come from NOAA Education. Louisa Koch, Director of NOAA Education, noted that “This year, we focused on the places and faces of NOAA Education. Our programs extended their reach to new communities, connecting across languages, cultures, and regions. I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish as an agency.” Here at Shade Tree Meteorology, we are also proud of everyone involved in a successful year at NOAA Education.

A student working with the Wild Center reviews a climate action plan as part of a program supported by an Environmental Literacy Program grant. (Erin Griffin/The Wild Center)

This week we want to highlight Ashley Montgomery, an architecture student at Hampton University, a student leader in the Coastal Community Design Collaborative (CCDC; an interdisciplinary group of student architects, engineers, and marine biologists), and the inaugural Future Resilience Leader with the Virginia Sea Grant. Virginia Sea Grant’s Future Resilience Leader Award goes to a graduate student at Hampton University in a resilience-related field — in Montgomery’s case, a concentration in adaptation to sea level rise.

Ashley Montgomery. (Aileen Devlin/ Virginia Sea Grant)

In the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, which deals with one of the highest rates of sea level rise along the East Coast, residents worry constantly about recurrent flooding — especially after heavy storms or during high tide. As a Future Resilience Leader Award recipient, Montgomery has been able to work with the program’s faculty leaders to further develop the CCDC program. This partnership has allowed the group develop innovative designs that help Hampton Roads neighborhoods deal with flooding. The CCDC also partnered with the neighborhood of Huntersville to brainstorm new solutions for the recurrent flooding. This kind of community collaboration is key becuase it provided the researches with information about where flooding typically happens within their neighborhood — information not usually available at that fine of a scale — and brought up other planning-related concerns. The interdisciplinary CCDC team members then used their complementary skill sets to develop ways to address these issues.

Montgomery works on plans to help Virginia’s Hampton Roads neighborhoods deal with flooding. (Aileen Devlin/Virginia Sea Grant)

Mason Andrews, an associate professor of architecture at Hampton University and faculty co-leader of the CCDC understands that relying on friends and colleagues with different skill sets and backgrounds is critical in developing the best possible solution to a problem. For Huntersville, the result was a suite of proposed solutions, each one tailored to a specific location and its needs. “We developed different innovations for handling water storage within each and every block,” says Montgomery. Their strategies included converting vacant lots into greenways that could absorb floodwater in one area. In another, they developed the blueprints for an urban farm building that collects rainwater to irrigate the crops it houses, which in turn provide the neighborhood with fresh produce.

In an area where residents expressed concern about high-speed traffic, the CCDC worked that problem into their flood adaptation design. “We developed a really nifty idea of an inverse speed bump,” Montgomery explains. “Instead of going over, it goes under, so it can store water at the same time that it helps to slow down traffic.” Huntersville is the fifth neighborhood the CCDC has worked with since the collaborative’s inception in 2012. Even though not all proposed designs have been constructed, the collaborative sparks out-of-the-box ideas that might not otherwise come up in discussions with city officials. With support from Virginia Sea Grant, CCDC students and professionals work alongside coastal communities to increase resilience to flooding.

Note: Parts of this blog have been adapted from a story originally posted in the Fiscal Year 2018 NOAA Education Accomplishments Report.

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