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Ron Lopez taking measurements at CBSSC site at Rice Rivers Center

Turning the Tide on sea-level rise

October 28, 2020

(Photo: Ron Lopez takes measurements at the CBSSC site at Rice Rivers Center. Photo by Ed Crawford)

VCU Rice Rivers Center is part of the Chesapeake Bay Sentinel Site Cooperative (CBSSC), a regional collaborative network based around the Bay that evaluates the impacts of sea level rise on coastal wetlands and communities. CBSSC is part of the NOAA Sentinel Site Program (SSP), one of five sentinel site networks nationwide.  Rice Rivers Center is the only primary site added to the CBSSC, and the only primary site added since the original launch of the CBSSC program. 

Researchers at each sentinel site measure the same parameters around the Bay.  Meteorological, water quality, large-scale vertical land motion, surface elevation change, tidal (water level) and vegetation data are all collected at these sites, each with different geographic, geomorphic, and ecological characteristics.  Rice Rivers Center provides a unique fit to the CBSSC; in addition to being located on the southernmost tributary to the Bay, the James River Estuary, the center provides data from tidal freshwater-forested wetlands.

Ron Lopez, a member of Rice Rivers Center’s faculty and a graduate from VCU Center for Environmental Studies (M.S.’17/LS), wrote and produced a short film, “Turning the Tide,” which showcases several of the CBSSC sentinel sites contributing to the project. Lopez says his favorite part of making this film was seeing the different sites, meeting the people and hearing their stories. “The landowner at the beginning of the film, Allen Cunningham, drove me around Nanticoke Acres for a couple of hours, showing me firsthand how sea level rise was impacting his community,” Lopez recalls.  “Even as a scientist studying coastal response to sea-level rise, nothing I’ve seen or read has been more impactful to me than that time spent with Allen.”

Ultimately, the information collected at the data-rich sites will be used to model and forecast the dynamics of coastal response to sea level rise at less data-rich sites around the Bay. In the future, coastal managers, policy makers and landowners, like Allen, could use this type of information.  The cooperative is currently developing data products to disseminate our findings to end users.

Lopez’ film combines educational and outreach components for the public on a subject of interest to him not only as a filmmaker, but as a researcher working on a sentinel site at Rice Rivers Center.  “As coastal communities like Allen’s in Nanticoke Acres are becoming ghost towns in one or two generations, and critical habitat is being lost around the Chesapeake Bay at an alarming rate, the scientists and partners of the Chesapeake Bay Sentinel Site Cooperative are working hard to further our understanding of the dynamics of climate disruption around the Bay, and put useable data and information in the hands of stakeholders and policy makers,” explains Lopez.  “My hope is that this film helps spark interest in the cooperative and what we do, and helps inform the public about critical issues facing our coastal communities, habitats and economies.”

“Turning the Tide” was the first-place winner at the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative (NERRA) 2020 Facebook Film Festival.


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