Flooding & the Built Environment

Green Infrastructure, a Different Way of Building

Hampton Roads is on the front lines of climate change in the United States. The region is already experiencing the impacts of sea level rise with frequent nuisance flooding impacting our built environment, particularly the transportation infrastructure. We have opportunities to make changes to the way we design, build, and maintain infrastructure now to prepare us to be more resilient in the future.

Adaptation opportunities exist across every sector of the built environment and may take the form of nature-based or hard infrastructure solutions but as we plan for the future, we need to look for synergistic opportunities to improve our natural environment including quality of air, water, habitat, and be stewards of land resources. If we adapt in this manner, we will also improve human health.


Flooding in Hampton Roads inundates roads and causes transportation delays, which need to be communicated to residents in real time. Additionally, the flooding itself needs to be mitigated, which can be achieved with the implementation of green infrastructure and other natural solutions for the short term. Below are examples of key projects engineering faculty at ODU have participated in.

The Coastal Community Design Collaborative

A Hampton University and Old Dominion University, cross-disciplinary program in Adaptation to Sea Level Rise, used green infrastructure combined with other natural solutions to protect coastal communities in Hampton Roads. The impact of this research resulted in a National Science Foundation grant to Hampton University, with ODU as a partner, to move towards a trans-disciplinary, collaborative design course series that includes professionals.

Road Inundation Estimation from Image Data

Leverages new and existing surveillance equipment. Civil and environmental engineering researchers create advanced systems to model, monitor and record road inundations due to recurrent flooding.

Hydrodynamic and Hydrologic Models to Study Flooding Impacts

Employs state-of-the-art hydrodynamic and hydrologic models to study the impacts of sea-level rise on transportation infrastructure in flood-prone areas of Norfolk. An objective of the study is to improve inundation estimates and account for the effect of sea-level rise and storm surge on shoreline erosion.

Green Infrastructure Training and Outreach

A 20-hour green infrastructure training course was developed and offered to veterans in Hampton Roads to educate them in green infrastructure practices and give them hands-on opportunities to install green infrastructure. Additionally, a green infrastructure hands-on activity was developed to complement the Earth Science curriculum for the Norfolk Public Schools.

Built Environment

The Built Environment provides numerous opportunities to build resilience in the Hampton Roads region. Using sustainable building practices for the construction and renovation of existing buildings provides beneficial opportunities in our environment.

Building codes need to be updated to look at future impacts of climate change rather than relying on historic data. We are already experiencing rainfall extremes with an increase in intensity and frequency of storms. The report Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment indicates that we will experience increasing temperatures, with an increase in frequency, intensity and duration of extreme events, and a decrease in water availability.

Buildings are typically designed for a 50 year life cycle, based on historic climate conditions. We need to build for the future, consider future climate conditions in current building design and look for opportunities to create open space that can be used for recreation and provide opportunities for the population of Hampton Roads to connect with nature. Those spaces can then be used to mitigate flooding impacts during extreme events. Along those lines, faculty are exploring methods to change land use and buy out properties in low-lying areas to create opportunities for green space development in Hampton Roads.

Individual cities in the Hampton Roads region are making great strides in resilience, with each taking a different approach. However, as a region, there remains important work in the areas of critical infrastructure; identification, vulnerabilities assessment, interdependencies, capabilities and cascading effects, and the evaluation and ranking of resilience needs.