Ocean Community News

Two Virginia Scientists Selected for Prestigious Federal Role

ODU, Science Museum of Virginia Experts Serving as Chapter Leads for National Climate Assessment

Highlighting the state’s role as a leader in science, technology, engineering and math, Virginia experts will be well represented in a forthcoming federal climate report. Science Museum of Virginia David and Jane Cohn Scientist Jeremy Hoffman, Ph.D., and the Joan P. Brock Endowed Executive Director for Old Dominion University’s Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience Jessica Whitehead, Ph.D., will both serve as lead authors for the Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5).

Whitehead was selected to coordinate the development of the Northeast chapter of the report produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and Hoffman will oversee the drafting of the section focused on the impacts of climate change on the Southeast region. Whitehead’s expertise lies in coastal issues, while Hoffman studies heat. With the selection of two Virginia representatives tasked with compiling and editing regional sections, the assessment will place a fresh focus on the effects of our changing climate on the Mid-Atlantic.

“Being selected for this opportunity says something about the impact of the work we’ve been doing at the Science Museum of Virginia, as well as the positive industry position of science museums and science centers in climate change education,” said Hoffman. “This project has the same tenants as the hyperlocal research I’ve been focused on for the past five years: opportunities for local community involvement, cross-disciplinary collaboration, communicating with a variety of audiences and a final product that will help inform data-driven decisions. This assessment is critical for making decisions around what a climate resilient Southeast region will really look like.”

In 1990, Congress established the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which is comprised of 13 agencies that work together to understand forces shaping the environment and their impacts on society. Similar to the recent climate assessment released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the program is tasked with producing a periodic National Climate Assessment, a report that summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States now and in the future. The first assessment was released in 2000. The newly selected team of experts will synthesize climate science research that has been published since the Fourth Assessment in 2018. The NCA5 is expected to be released in late 2023. 

After being evaluated and selected by a steering committee, each chapter lead works with experts from various sectors, including nonprofit organizations, private corporations and research institutions, to review materials pertinent to climate science. Each of the 31 chapters has a specific topic area or regional focus. The Southeast chapter Hoffman is leading covers Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Whitehead’s region stretches from the Chesapeake Bay watershed up the East Coast to Maine, and across to Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

In their respective narratives, Hoffman’s and Whitehead’s groups will assess the impacts of a changing climate that are specific and perhaps unique to the region. They are not conducting new research, instead drawing on the expertise of numerous professionals working in the field who have published recent studies related to climate science. The team will review and condense the massive body of research into a high-level overview that summarizes the data in an easy-to-understand format. The final assessment will serve as a resource for policy makers, business leaders, community organizations and citizens to inform decision making around topics such as infrastructure, agriculture, human health, tourism and much more.

Over the next few months, both will recruit authors for their regional teams, with a special focus on ensuring they’re including diverse perspectives. Beginning in early 2022, they will host public meetings to solicit feedback. In previous assessments, the public engagement opportunities have helped shape the key messages and emphasis of the report. Once a draft is completed, a public comment period will begin and revisions will be made before the assessment is released.  

“We can be those coordinators who are able to take really complex information and help it be more useful and engaging,” Whitehead said. “Five years may not seem like very long since the last assessment was released, but there has been rapid advancement in both our understanding of the human fingerprint on extreme weather events and in how people are responding to prepare for the future. Having different and diverse teams continuously reviewing the most recent research sharpens the level of detail we have about who and what is most impacted by climate change first and worst. We need this information to envision more resilient paths forward.” 

About Dr. Jessica Whitehead

Whitehead built a unique career bridging science, education, and policy with the practice of helping local communities become more resilient to climate change. Her areas of expertise include coastal climate change impacts, climate adaptation, coastal resilience planning, and disaster recovery. She joined ODU’s Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience in February 2021, after her position as the first Chief Resilience Officer for the State of North Carolina based in the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency. As Chief Resilience Officer, she led an innovative team that continues to build out North Carolina’s initiatives to help storm-impacted communities rebuild smarter and stronger in the face of future natural disasters and long-term climate change. Before her position with NCORR, she was the coastal communities hazards adaptation specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant and the coastal climate extension specialist with NC Sea Grant, South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, and the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program. She assisted coastal users for more than a decade with integrating information about resilience to coastal weather and climate hazards into their decision-making processes, including as a co-creator of the Vulnerability, Consequences, and Adaptation Planning Scenarios (VCAPS) process, which has helped over 25 communities throughout the United States develop and implement adaptation options to increase community resilience. 

Whitehead serves on the American Meteorological Society's Board of Outreach and Pre-College Education. She was an adjunct lecturer with the Georgetown University emergency and disaster management professional masters' program, where she developed and taught the climate change in emergency and disaster management course. Until June 2020, Whitehead co-chaired the science and technical advisory committee of the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership. She was a member of the Independent Advisory Committee on Applied Climate and the Sustained National Climate Assessment federal advisory committee. She earned her Doctor of Philosophy in geography and Master of Science degree in meteorology from The Pennsylvania State University. She also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics with a concentration in meteorology from the College of Charleston.

About Dr. Jeremy Hoffman

Hoffman is a nationally recognized research scientist and science communicator on the broad impacts of climate change. His areas of expertise include health and environmental inequity, paleoclimatology, urban microclimatology, climate resilience and phenology. In 2017, he led a community science heat-mapping project to record temperatures in neighborhoods across Richmond during a heat wave. The research, which showed discrepancies of up to 16 degrees Fahrenheit, prompted heat-mapping campaigns across the country in the following years. In 2020, Hoffman published a widely cited study of the disparity in extreme heat between formerly redlined and non-redlined neighborhoods. 

Hoffman’s climate-related work has led to speaking invitations that have included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Democratic House Caucus, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the Medical Consortium for Climate and Health. Hoffman has served as a member of numerous scientific advisory committees and local boards and has won several awards. Hoffman joined the Museum’s team in 2016 after earning his Ph.D. from Oregon State University. In addition to inspiring the next generation of critical thinkers through Museum programs and content, Hoffman is also an affiliate faculty member in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs and the Center for Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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