News Release

Deepwater Horizon oil spill grants fund critical coastal research

LSU researchers awarded 8 of the 13 RESTORE Act Center for Excellence for Louisiana grants

Grant and Award Announcement

Louisiana State University

Gulf Coast

image: More than $2 million have been awarded to critical coastal research in Louisiana from fines following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. view more 

Credit: LSU

Enhancing sediment retention of diversions and improving flood-risk assessment are among the 13 studies recently funded through the first round of Louisiana's RESTORE Act Center of Excellence grant process. LSU faculty led eight of the 13 funded projects.

"Our research will contribute directly to the science needs for implementation of the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan for marsh restoration," said LSU Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences Assistant Professor Tracy Quirk, who is a Center for Excellence-funded lead investigator. "A clear understanding of the effects of high nutrients from river water or in eutrophic bays on important soil formation and accretion processes has yet to emerge, in particular when supplied with high sediment loads. The specific goal of our study is to provide critical information on the interactive effects of nutrient and sediment availability on brackish marsh nutrient cycling, plant productivity, decomposition and soil organic matter accumulation and accretion."

LSU Center for Coastal Resiliency Director Scott Hagen will lead a Center for Excellence-funded research team that will improve flood-risk assessment models by incorporating significant factors such as winter storms, rainfall and storm surge.

"We are all too familiar with what can happen near the coast when a hurricane makes landfall. With the continued loss of coastal Louisiana wetlands, there is an increased risk of coastal tides and surge interacting with rainfall and runoff to increase flood hazards. The August 2016 floods that devastated Louisiana provide a stark example of our vulnerability to rainfall events. Success with this project will enable us to evaluate increased risk that results from a combination of rainfall and coastal processes," said Hagen, who is also an LSU Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering professor and the Louisiana Sea Grant Laborde chair.

The two-year grants fund projects that directly relate to the implementation of Louisiana's Coastal Master Plan. The announcement includes three types of awards - Louisiana-led collaborative awards, research awards and Louisiana graduate studentship awards to cover tuition, fees and up to $5,000 for research expenses. In all, $2,530,803 was awarded to the research and collaborative awards with $422,180 awarded to the graduate studentships.

"The Louisiana Coastal Master Plan is nationally and internationally renowned for its incorporation of the best available science," said Justin R. Ehrenwerth, president and CEO of The Water Institute of the Gulf and director of the Center of Excellence for Louisiana. "The Water Institute is honored to serve as the state's RESTORE Act Center of Excellence and to support some of the most talented researchers across the state to help further advance our ability to protect and restore our coast."

The Center of Excellence received 61 proposals for the research and collaborative awards with a total request of about $20 million. Seven collaborative and research awards were selected as well as six graduate studentship awards in the inaugural funding cycle.

"The establishment of the Center of Excellence affords Louisiana a significant opportunity to encourage research that will accelerate the scientific progress relevant to Louisiana's Coastal Master Plan, and this first round of grant-making is an important step in making that a reality," said CPRA Executive Director Michael Ellis.

To select the projects, the Center of Excellence coordinated an external peer-review process where three experts from within Louisiana and from around the country evaluated each proposal. Representatives from the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority also evaluated how well each applied to advancing the Coastal Master Plan work and then there was an additional review by an expert external board.

Those funded include:


Integrating high-fidelity models with new remote sensing techniques to predict storm impacts on Louisiana coastal and deltaic systems ($501,270)
PI: Qin J. Chen, CSRS Distinguished Professor in Coastal Engineering, LSU
Co-Investigators: Kehui Xu, LSU; Claire Jeuken, Deltares USA; Brady Couvillion, USGS
Develop a coupled model that integrates physical processes by utilizing high-resolution satellite data and in-situ measurements of the Caminada Headland Complex. The model will help better understand sediment exchange, wave conditions, and the feedbacks with vegetation in Louisiana's coastal estuary.

Coupling hydrologic, tide and surge processes to enhance flood-risk assessments for the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan ($499,882)
PI: Scott Hagen, LSU Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering professor
Co-Investigators: Don Resio, University of North Florida; Matthew Bilskie, LSU; and Hugh Roberts, John Atkinson and Zach Cobell, ARCADIS
Evaluate the coupled hydrologic and surge influence on coastal flood hazards and risks in Barataria and Lake Maurepas watersheds by utilizing a storm surge model. The results from the model are intended to be used to improve long-term planning for vulnerable communities.

An evaluation of faulting in Holocene Mississippi River Delta strata through the merger of deep 3D and 2D seismic data with near surface imaging and measurement ($349,174)

PI: Mark Kulp, associate professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Director of Coastal Research Laboratory, University of New Orleans
Co-Investigators: Nancye Dawers, Tulane; Rui Zhang, ULL; David Culpepper, The Culpepper Group; John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation; Kevin Yeager, University of Kentucky
High-resolution seismic data and sediment coring will take place to evaluate faulting in the Mississippi River Delta Plain. Three study areas are planned in northern Terrebonne-Timbalier Bay, Bayou Lafourche near Golden Meadow, and the Lake Pontchartrain/Lake Borgne areas of the Deltaic Plain to better understand the vertical motion of land surfaces.

Assessment of coastal island restoration practices for the creation of brown pelican nesting habitat ($299,733)
PI: Paul Leberg, professor in the Department of Biology, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Co-Investigator: Jordan Karubian, Tulane
Determine factors altered by restoration, such as vegetation type, predator communities and site characteristics, that may affect brown pelican use of barrier islands as nesting habitat. Data will be provided to help improve the existing brown pelican habitat suitability model in the Coastal Master Plan.

From adapting in place to adaptive migration: designing and facilitating an equitable relocation strategy ($295,338)
PI: Marla Nelson, associate professor of Planning and Urban Studies, University of New Orleans
Co-Investigators: Traci Birch, LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio; Anna Brand, UNO; Renia Ehrenfeucht, UNO
Evaluate populations in Terrebonne Parish to identify the opportunities and challenges in designing an effective and equitable relocation policy that retains traditional communities while reducing risk. The team plans to collect data by interviewing residents about their concerns and priorities regarding the role of government in helping them relocate should they decide to move.

Enhancing sediment retention rates of receiving basins of Louisiana sediment diversions ($292,495)
PI: Kehui Xu, LSU Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences assistant professor
Co-Investigators: Samuel Bentley, LSU; Yanxia Ma, LSU
An observation and modelling effort that researches the hydrodynamics, sediment dynamics, sediment settling, and a holistic view of retention rate of fine grained or muddy material discharged from the Mississippi River. Specifically, Sediment Retention Enhancement Devices, or SREDs, will be examined to determine their effectiveness to increase land building capabilities.

Plant and soil response to the interactive effects of nutrient and sediment availability: Enhancing predictive capabilities for the use of sediment diversions and dredging ($292,914)
PI: Tracy Quirk, LSU Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences assistant professor
Co-Investigators: Sean Graham, Nicholls State University
A field and laboratory marsh study to determine the interactive effects of nutrient and sediment availability on nutrient cycling, plant productivity and biomass allocation, decomposition and soil organic matter accumulation and accretion. New information is intended to be integrated into an existing model that informs the Coastal Master Plan.


Electrokinetic barrier for seawater intrusion in coastal Louisiana ($57,519)
Sanjay Tewari, assistant professor of Civil Engineering and Construction Engineering Technology Louisiana Tech University
The project plans to use electrokinetic barriers against seawater intrusion in the coastal region of Louisiana. Efforts will be made to compare the efficacy of this electrokinetic barrier against other techniques that are being used, which is important for many coastal areas that have freshwater crises due to saltwater intrusion.

Multiple tools for determining the fate of nitrate in coastal deltaic floodplains ($63,100)
Robert Twilley, Louisiana Sea Grant College Program executive director
Research project plans to identify what factors maximize the interaction between river water and floodplain wetlands and to better quantify transformation of nutrients (nitrate) by wetland plants, soil, and microbes of deltaic floodplains. Numerical modeling and field experiments will help better understand the fate of nitrate under emerging deltaic floodplains.

Project Louisiana rivers' sediment flux to the coastal ocean using a coupled atmospheric-hydrological model ($77,015)
Zuo Xue, LSU Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences assistant professor
Project proposes to incorporate sediment and ocean characteristics in a newly developed hydrologic model to quantify water and sediment flux from Louisiana rivers to the Chenier Plain, including the Calcasieu, Mermentau and Vermilion basins. The goal is to project possible changes in water and sediment flux regarding future climate and restoration activities of the Coastal Master Plan.

Evaluation of radar-based precipitation datasets for applications in the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan ($71,148)
Emad Habib, Endowed Professor Department of Civil Engineering, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Precipitation is considered a major source of freshwater in coastal Louisiana (50-60 inches/year), and accurate information about its magnitudes and spatial and temporal distributions is critical for successful implementation of modeling studies. Regional-scale assessment will be conducted on radar-rainfall datasets and evaluate whether they can be directly used by the Coastal Master Plan studies.

Constructing Mississippi River delta plain soil stratigraphy - implications for coastal land building and compactional subsidence ($70,070)
Frank Tsai, LSU Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering professor
This study will investigate coastal land building and compactional subsidence through soil stratigraphy analysis and subsidence modeling of the Mississippi River Deltaic Plain. Results from this project are intended to benefit the Coastal Master Plan's restoration projects, such as marsh creation projects and sediment diversions.

Determining the influence of surface water diversions on physical and nutrient characteristics of wetland soils ($83,328)
John White, John and Catherine Day Professor of Oceanography & Coastal Science, LSU Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences
This wetland project will examine if and how the 10+ years of operation of Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion changed the soil marsh properties of bulk density, organic matter content, and nutrient content that are important to coastal marsh accretion and resilience in Barataria Basin. Data from this research could help inform CPRA about the continued use of large freshwater diversions (Davis Pond and Caernarvon).


About The RESTORE Act Center of Excellence Grants Program

The Water Institute of the Gulf was selected by CPRA to serve as the state's RESTORE Act Center of Excellence, and on Nov. 1, 2015, the Department of the Treasury awarded CPRA a grant to begin its research program. Funding for the research program comes from fines and penalties in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The mission of the RESTORE Act Center of Excellence for Louisiana is to provide research directly relevant to implementation of Louisiana's Coastal Master Plan by administering a competitive grants program and providing the appropriate coordination and oversight support to ensure that success metrics are tracked and achieved. The Center is a separate program within The Water Institute of the Gulf. More information about the RESTORE Act Center of Excellence for Louisiana can be found at

This project was paid for, or in part, with federal funding from the Department of the Treasury under the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012, or RESTORE Act. The statements, findings, conclusions and recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Treasury.

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