Mason’s Virginia Climate Center will help local communities meet the challenges of climate change

illustration about climate change
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George Mason University will bring its array of resources and expertise to bear in the state’s efforts to increase resilience to the impacts of climate change with the creation of the Virginia Climate Center.

Local municipal leaders will have access to an unprecedented range of observational data, environmental models, and experts in climate science, sustainability and engineering solution through the center, said Jim Kinter, the director of the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies (COLA) within Mason’s College of Science. They can then better make data-driven decisions that will help them save tax dollars and help Virginians increase resilience to severe weather, degraded air quality, drought and flooding, with an emphasis on serving the underprivileged communities within the commonwealth that are more susceptible to adverse effects of climate change.

“It’s Virginia’s communities that are going to be most severely affected by climate change,” Kinter said. “We can help them understand the challenges and potential solutions, so the intent is to partner with each of the municipalities to learn what keeps them up at night.”

The center will receive just under $2 million in federal funding to provide products and services to Virginia companies and municipalities to help them adopt climate risk prevention and mitigation strategies for sustainable entrepreneurship, enhanced profitability, and wise resource management. The center will offer advice on risk prevention and mitigation strategies, actionable information on current and projected future climate, and assessments of the likely climate change impacts on human health, buildings, infrastructure, transportation, agriculture and natural resources.

The Virginia Climate Center, which will serve as a climate extension service for communities in the commonwealth to increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change, came to fruition as part of a nearly $12 million federal funding package for Fiscal Year 2022 for nine projects in Virginia’s 11th District, which includes Fairfax. The center was established in partnership with the City of Fairfax, Fairfax County and the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.

“This funding will be put toward critical efforts to bolster Northern Virginia’s response to climate change, expand affordable housing initiatives, invest in workforce development and training, and more,” said U.S. Congressman Gerry Connolly, the Democrat representing the district.

Northern Virginia is particularly susceptible to several impacts of climate change, most notably flash flooding. Additional impacts will be felt statewide in the form of coastal flooding and erosion due to sea-level rise, more frequent heat waves, and human health problems stemming from the increasing propagation of mosquitoes and ticks.

In forging partnerships with local communities, the Virginia Climate Center will engage subject matter experts in areas that include physical climate systems, air quality, climate change communication, ecosystems and biodiversity, engineering, public policy, resilience, sustainability, and other areas.

The project includes seed grants to local municipalities to provide resources they can use to address climate change impacts.

“We hope to scale it up statewide,” Kinter said. “The goal is that, ultimately, the center is something that municipalities around the state can call on as a resource.”