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Understanding offshore wind energy development

Virginia Beach VA & Ocean City NJ

Featured image for the project, Understanding offshore wind energy development

Images courtesy of Virginia Wasserberg, Suzanne Hornick, and Offshore Drones

Large Scale wind farms are being proposed off the coasts of two participating communities – Ocean City, New Jersey and Virginia Beach, Virginia. In Ocean City, the proposed largest wind farm in the country would be powered by potentially as many as 600 turbines anchored 10.4 miles off the coast. In Virginia, plans are underway to build nearly 200 giant wind turbines 27 miles off the shoreline. Both communities suffer from coastal flooding and tourism impacts from climate change and support solutions to mitigate these challenges, but are concerned about being futuristic and cautious before embracing alternative energy sources by taking into consideration all potential outcomes, both positive and negative, with regard to environmental, marine, tourism, and socioeconomic impacts. In this project, we will explore the pros and cons of offshore windfarms against other potential alternative renewable energy sources in the face of a changing climate and exacerbated flooding.


Ocean City, New Jersey is in Cape May County and is an 8-mile long barrier island of 11,701. During the summer months, the population can include over 1 million visitors. Ocean City faces the biggest hit to its property values from sea level rise on the eastern seaboard, surpassing even Miami Beach. The city has the greatest number of newly constructed homes in those risk zones in the entire United States. Virginia Beach is a city of 437,994 and is the most populated city in the state of Virginia. The city has been impacted by multiple flooding events in recent years. The low-lying land is sinking and, combined with sea level rise, southeastern Virginia is experiencing one of the fastest rates of sea level inundation on the East Coast. Both communities already have strong support groups focused on flood mitigation and growing interest in understanding offshore wind energy development to ensure their communities remain protected and best served moving into the future.


Community Goals

The two partner communities want informed stakeholders to be able to engage in conversations and planning toward balancing their needs with the best alternative energy solution. Our project aims to develop community knowledge and input capacity by working with experts to help inform about the development of offshore windfarms and potential alternative energy sources. We will engage with community stakeholders to empower them through education about the benefits and impacts of offshore wind development with particular focus on climate change and coastal flooding impacts. We plan to conduct an Impacts Assessment from both the community and scientific perspectives to improve transparency regarding these values and potential concerns as part of the offshore wind development conversation.


Project Details

  • Key stakeholders: Communities of Ocean City and Virginia Beach


  • Expected Outputs: 1) Community transparency and discussion- a COMMUNITY CONVERSATION is needed that includes both communities to improve understanding and stakeholder input to the process; 2) Impacts Assessment to help characterize and quantify community questions and concerns about all aspects of renewable energy options with a focus on offshore windfarms.


  • Expected Outcomes: Communities will have a broader concept and understanding of climate change threats and the ways in which mitigating them in the present can positively impact the future, specifically focusing on offshore wind energy as a potentially sustainable alternative. Increase broader understanding for the communities regarding renewable energy and climate issues from a scientific perspective, which will include the community voice. Educate and empower the communities with knowledge.


  • Expected Impacts: Through the intended outcomes, both communities will be better able to engage and provide input on alternative energy development and mitigation solutions proposed to offset climate change and flooding impacts. Community needs and concerns will be heard and cooperative discussions held to ensure sustainable paths forward for each with regard to alternative energy development. This process will serve as a model for other communities facing similar situations to collect data by engaging scientists and help community members develop knowledge and skills to engage with other stakeholders to ensure a balanced approach in any mitigation scenario with potential environmental impacts.



This project is expected to take 12-18 months to complete.

Project Team

Community Leads

Ocean City, NJ Project Leader- Suzanne Hornick

Suzanne Hornick is the founder and chair of the Ocean City Flooding Committee in Ocean City, NJ.  Suzanne’s family has owned the property they currently reside in since the early 1940s.  She is dedicated to raising awareness of flooding and climate impacts across the barrier island with residents, vacationers, and local city government to inspire these groups to reduce flooding and restore parts of the island for future generations.

Virginia Beach, VA Project Leader- Virginia Wasserberg

Virginia Wasserberg is a member of the Princess Anne Plaza Civic League Flood Committee and the Leader of Stop the Flooding NOW in Virginia Beach, VA. Virginia is a music major and homeschooling mother of two. In October of 2016 she and her husband, experienced a combined 18 inches of stormwater and sewage back-up due to heavy rains from two tropical storms and Hurricane Matthew. Virginia’s entire neighborhood was flooded and many homes were severely damaged. It took 3 months of restoration before Virginia and her family could move back into their Virginia Beach home.  Shortly after these events, Virginia became involved with her local Civic League, seeking solutions to the persistent flooding. After meeting with Virginia Beach City staff, Virginia was motivated to create a Facebook community page, Stop the Flooding NOW in an effort to connect residents with flooding on a more personal level. The page gained momentum in the following months and is an important communication resource for many residents of Virginia Beach.

Community Science Fellow

Dr. Jason Polk is a Professor of Environmental Geoscience at Western Kentucky University. He serves as Director of the Center for Human GeoEnvironmental Studies (CHNGES) and HydroAnalytical Lab. Dr. Polk earned his doctorate degree from the University of South Florida in Geography and Environmental Science and Policy and his current research investigates groundwater resources, isotope hydrology and geochemistry, karst resource management, and global climate dynamics. Dr. Polk is passionate about the integration of human-environmental research and community development through applied research. He has technical expertise in hydrologic monitoring, water quality and quantity assessments, groundwater resource management, and solution-based approaches to resilience and adaption planning for communities. Dr. Polk conducts research throughout the world, including the Caribbean, Vietnam, Iceland, and Europe and has worked in the longest, largest, and deepest caves in the world.

Scientist Wanted

We seek three scientific experts with complementary expertise to tackle this diverse and interdisciplinary project, with focal areas in Marine Resources, Environmental Science and Policy, and Environmental Justice and Education. Scientific experts should contribute to the following project goals:

  1. Teach the communities how to identify, summarize, and understand relevant scientific data on project topics of concern.
  2. Help the communities understand how to have an informed dialogue about the various impacts of concern and solutions presented.
  3. Work with community leaders to develop stakeholder input and impacts assessment data toward community conversation development.


Specific skills and qualifications desired from each expert are as follows:

Marine Resource Scientist

  • Expertise to identify facts and issues on marine impacts from offshore windfarm development
  • Expertise in marine biological and ecosystem impacts and marine subsurface geologic drilling and blasting (geology, biology, etc.)
  • Ability to teach the community about marine science impacts

Environmental Scientist

  • Expertise on renewable energy and offshore windfarms
  • Explore data and facts to compare and contrast renewable and alternative energy sources and their impacts to the environment and communities
  • Teach community about environmental cost-benefit decision making
  • Provide expertise about climate change, inland windfarms, and coastal flooding

Social Scientist/Anthropologist

  • Expertise in human-environment interactions, particularly environmental equity and education in communities
  • Understanding of tourism and economic impacts on communities
  • Understanding of impacts of climate change on community structure and cultural development
  • Ability to train on having cross cultural community conversations


All scientific experts should possess the following skills:

  • Experience and/or desire to participate in community education, outreach, and engagement
  • Ability to work across cultures and communities
  • Experience with citizen science and engaging communities in scientific discourse
  • Public speaking skills
  • Strong listening and collaboration skills
  • Willingness to connect science to local concerns
  • Relaxed, easy-going personality with a good sense of duty and ethics
  • Organized and effective at time management
  • Optional involvement of students for project support
  • The scientist should be able to visit the community in-person if needed


Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now!