Alumni Spotlight: Angelina Freeman

Angelina Freeman
M.S. ’04, Environmental Sciences
Ph.D. ’10, Oceanography & Coastal Sciences 

Angelina Freeman received a Master’s of Science degree in Environmental Science in 2004 and a Ph.D. in Oceanography and Coastal Sciences in 2010. Harry Roberts, LSU Boyd Professor, was her adviser. She currently works as a Coastal Resources Scientist with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority in Baton Rouge.

You are currently working as a scientist at CPRA and part of your duties include overall management and technical guidance to support Master Plan implementation through the Center of Excellence Research Grants Program. What is your typical work day like?
I am involved in a number of CPRA projects that range from project specific modeling, the Hypoxia Task Force, Master Plan development, applied science, to overall management and technical guidance to the RESTORE Center of Excellence Grants Program. My typical day is rarely without project meetings. For example, the comprehensive Master Plan for coastal restoration and protection is being developed by a team of over 70 scientist and engineers, and there is a lot of need for coordination. A number of LSU academics contribute to the modeling team and also serve on the Technical Advisory Committee and Science & Engineering Board.

You received first a master’s in environmental science and then a Ph.D. in oceanography and coastal sciences from LSU. What are some of the most important things that you feel you learned in your time here? 
One of the most important things I learned at LSU is the importance of collaborative work. Fortunately, I get to collaborate with a lot of LSU graduates since many of my colleagues studied at LSU. A number of CPRA staff are LSU and CC&E Ph.D. and M.S. graduates, and many colleagues at federal and state agencies, consulting firms, nonprofits, and universities CPRA collaborates with are LSU graduates or affiliated with LSU. CPRA also has a Coastal Science Assistantship Program to support Master of Science students, and I have mentored some of the LSU students during their internship with CPRA as part of the program. CC&E plays a very important role in educating the next generation of coastal researchers.

What else are you working on?
A CPRA-funded research project that includes a team of researchers led by Dr. Harry Roberts used the Wax Lake Delta and surrounding marshlands as field study areas to investigate fundamental relationships of sediment transport-deposition within the system related to the physical forcing processes of floods and cold front passages. The project also addresses the importance of suspended sediments and not just sand for land building. Nutrient fluxes within the system and impacts of suspended sediments and nutrients on productivity of delta and mainland plant communities are also focal points of the investigation. Project results were designed to improve our science-based understanding of river diversions, where they should be located for the most efficient land-building (highest retention rate), and where they have the most positive impact on both maintenance and improved productivity of plant communities in diversion-flanking environments. This study is very timely and a few major findings are mentioned below.

I am excited about a new project with LSU researchers to inform CPRA planning and implementation of sediment diversion projects. CPRA will contract with LSU researchers to update existing CPRA documentation of the effects of diversion-borne freshwater, nutrients and sediments on receiving basin wetlands and estuarine water bodies to account for recent literature and relevant SWAMP data. CPRA is developing a separate contract to facilitate an external peer review of the revised documents, and will also release the draft-revised documentation for public comment. These comments will be taken into consideration for the final deliverable to CPRA.

Predictive models are integral to large-scale and long-term planning efforts. As a modeler, uncertainty is, kind of ironically, the clearest challenge that you face. How does science help you face this challenge? What would you say to critics who believe that we are not making enough progress fast enough? 
Please help us make progress! And I mean that broadly – critics can be very helpful if they point out areas of uncertainties or knowledge gaps, or incorrect assumptions. Ecosystem restoration is increasing in Louisiana to a scale that has not previously been realized. Coastal Louisiana is also a “working landscape” where the natural and socio-economic systems are highly integrated, making management inherently difficult. Future conditions are also highly uncertain due to the dynamics of riverine and marine processes, storm events, climate change, population growth, economic activity, and ongoing human reliance on the natural resources the coast provides.

Using models to predict future conditions is challenging; one of the complicating factors is the uncertainty in environmental conditions over a 50 year planning horizon. To account for these uncertainties in future environmental conditions, a scenario analysis approach was taken in the Master Plan. A range of future predictions representing the range in environmental conditions was produced using this approach. This range of possible futures provides decision makers with a range of what the future without action may look like, as well as the insight into project performance under a range of future conditions.

What would you tell graduate students if you could give one important piece of advice about graduate school? 
As you are preparing for your career in graduate school, my advice would be to also consider a career outside the traditional track of academia.