CC&E Fondly Remembers Dr. James Coleman

May 25, 2023

James M. Coleman

Dr. James M. Coleman

BATON ROUGE - CC&E was sad to learn of the recent passing of James “Jim” M. Coleman, one of the foremost coastal geologists of his time.

Coleman was on the faculty of the Department of Marine Sciences—later to become the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences, or DOCS. He was a highly respected researcher and teacher and was a guiding force in the growth of the renowned LSU Coastal Studies Institute during his time as director. His work with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering led him to be included in the department's Hall of Distinction, and he was also inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 1990. Coleman received the distinction of LSU Boyd Professor, the highest academic honor at the university, in 1980.

"Jim Coleman's leading research in coastal geology is known the world over. On behalf of our college, I extend condolences to his family, friends and colleagues," said CC&E Dean Chris D’Elia.

“I am saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. Jim Coleman,” said Kam-biu Liu, DOCS Chair and George W. Barineau III Professor. “His work with sedimentary characteristics in coastal and deltaic regions was truly groundbreaking. He will be sorely missed.”

"Boyd Professor James Coleman was a good friend and an adamant supporter of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE)," said George Voyiadjis, CEE chair and Boyd Professor. "He served as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and he was inducted into the CEE Hall of Distinction in 2003. He also served for many years as a member of the CEE External Advisory Board. He was always there to assist us with his vast knowledge in coastal science and his administrative background."

Instrumental to Modern Delta Studies

Harry Roberts, emeritus professor in DOCS, and also an LSU Boyd Professor, said that Coleman was instrumental in the creation of modern delta studies. “Early in his educational career at LSU he was working on significant problems associated with the Mississippi River Delta and quickly started working on foreign deltas,” Roberts said. “His research work was critically important to the oil and gas industry for understanding characteristics of deltas in the subsurface that were potential reservoir rocks.”

Coleman’s research focused mainly on the relationships between process, form and sedimentary characteristics, focusing on deltaic and offshore areas. The book "From Air to Land to Sea: 50 Years of Educating Coastal Leaders", published by DOCS in honor of the 50th anniversary of the department, discusses some of Coleman’s achievements. In his work on the dynamic environment of the Mississippi Delta, Coleman was among the first to document delta-front submarine landslides. This study, conducted of the “bird’s foot” of the Mississippi delta, demonstrated for the first time that sediment is unstable on extremely low angle depositional slopes.

Roberts noted that Coleman became known as the go-to researcher and teacher on deltas. “By the time he got his PhD he had developed a worldwide reputation through his publications and famous field trips through the Mississippi Delta,” Roberts said.

Coleman eventually rose to become Executive Vice Chancellor of LSU. He also served on many boards and committees, including time as the chairman of the Marine Board of the National Association of State and Land Grant Universities (NASULGC). He was a member of the Ocean Sciences Board of the National Research Council, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. In 2001, he was appointed as a member of the Presidential U. S. Ocean Policy Commission.

Coleman was born in Vinton, Louisiana, and received his PhD in Geology from LSU. “He had an amiable south Louisiana charm that served him well while working with colleagues on research projects, in various levels of university administration, and interacting with dignitaries in the USA and many foreign countries,” said Roberts.

“His research forms a cornerstone of geologic knowledge for the Mississippi River Delta as well as other deltas of the world.  He supervised outstanding students who carry on his legacy of cutting-edge research and teaching. He will be missed by his geologic friends throughout the world,” Roberts said.