La Shawna Weeks, Gicel Estrada, Ramsey Coronado, Claire Bailey, Kelsey Wefald, and Denise Coronado perform fieldwork in the Wax Lake Delta.

LSU Hosts Unique Research Experience for Undergraduates on River and Coastal Restoration

The LSU Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences has established a unique collaboration with the University of Minnesota and the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory to host a Research Experience for Undergraduates, or REU, focusing on river and coastal restoration. Made possible from a National Science Foundation grant, this multi-year summer research program is in its second year.

This REU is unique with its partnership approach between research institutions and field sites. Interns work in a team atmosphere to link geomorphology and ecology. Undergraduate students from across the country begin their summer research by visiting the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, or SAFL, in Minnesota. While there, students run controlled experiments in flumes to test basic principles of river and delta geomorphology.

Interns depart SAFL to conduct research at two field sites, Oregon’s Sandy River and Louisiana’s Wax Lake Delta. The Wax Lake Delta is a long-term LSU field research site where rapid, natural delta growth can provide answers for restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. This year’s interns braved the record June temperatures of south Louisiana to discover connections between plants, sediments and nutrients – the building blocks of new deltas.

To understand the importance of engineering to coastal restoration, the interns were able to visit the old river control structures on the Mississippi-Atchafalaya Rivers and also the small-scale physical model of the Mississippi River delta on campus, which was developed by LSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

While each student develops an individual project, the collective body of their work unites the disciplines of ecology, geomorphology and hydrology. This year’s students are:

  • Kelsey Wefald, St. Catherine University
  • La Shawna Weeks, the College of Wooster
  • Ramsey Coronado, University of Arizona – Tucson
  • Claire Bailey, San Francisco State University
  • Gicel Estrada, Loyola University

Robert Twilley, associate vice chancellor of research and economic development at LSU, director of the Coastal Sustainability Agenda and professor in the LSU Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, and Diana Dalbotten, diversity director at the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics in the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, are the project principal investigators.

“This program illustrates LSU’s consistent innovation and excellence in coastal research,” said Twilley. “Bringing young researchers into an environment where they can have hands-on experience is a great way to build interest in saving our wetlands and draw attention to how important of a resource these ecosystems really are.”

Helping to drive the program are LSU School of the Coast and Environment research advisors Guerry Holm, Azure Bevington and Kelly Henry. 

“This year’s interns probably saw more of our coastal wetlands than most Louisianans, and they really understood how the loss of Louisiana’s wetlands affects our nation,” said Holm. “With their newfound knowledge of our challenges, they are like ambassadors for Louisiana that can carry our story to places like California, Arizona, Minnesota, New York and Ohio.”

Ashley Berthelot | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations
August 2009