Closing the Gap: LSU receives $5M funding to build High Frequency Radar Systems on the Coast

September 20, 2023

an hf radar system like those to be installed on the Louisiana coastline, wiht support from the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences

A CODAR HF radar antenna similar to the ones that will be used on the Louisiana coastline.

– Photo credit: Laura Pederson, CODAR

BATON ROUGE - From energy production to recreational fishing, Louisiana’s coastal waters are a busy place. Having reliable data about oceanic conditions can be critical to safe operations for those who work and play in coastal waters. Up until now, Louisiana’s Gulf Coast has been hampered by a lack of high-quality information about currents, waves and other important factors.

A new, LSU-led high frequency radar project will change that.

This $5 million project, funded by NOAA, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will install up to 8 high frequency radar, or HF radar, systems along the Louisiana coastline. Spearheaded by the LSU Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences, or DOCS, Professor Kevin Xu, and LSU Department of Geology and Geophysics Professor Sam Bentley, this HF radar system will allow near-real-time monitoring of the speed and direction of ocean surface currents in coastal water.

“Coastal Louisiana is one of the most unique places in the world. We’re home to one of the largest river systems and some of the top global port facilities. We have abundant fisheries and energy resources. These reasons and more make our state worth protecting,” said Congressman Garret Graves, who assisted in securing NOAA funding for the project. “Today’s investment will improve our monitoring of coastal conditions, including weather predictions, water conditions, and Mississippi River sediment. It will be an important tool to inform future investments and provide more accurate weather conditions. This is a great win for LSU and all of Louisiana.”

“Louisiana’s coast is a working coast that provides services and resources valuable to the entire nation, and it is also a coastal region that is changing environmentally due to a range of factors,” Bentley said.  “This HF radar network will provide valuable information to help us track and better understand oceanic and meteorological events. We are deeply grateful for the support we are receiving from NOAA with the assistance of Congressman Garret Graves, and we look forward to getting this going!”

HF radar is widely used on the coasts around the United States. Xu, who also serves as the Director of LSU’s Coastal Studies Institute, said once they are built, the radar systems will provide crucial information about Louisiana’s coastal conditions.

“We have a large observational gap in the Gulf of Mexico, so this is very much needed. There is a huge potential to use these data in hurricane forecasts, navigation, marine safety, energy production, coastal restoration, and other efforts,” Xu said.

HF radar systems measure currents over a large area of coastal ocean and can operate under different conditions. They offer more granular, accurate information than other techniques, such as numerical models, or satellite data.

Once Louisiana’s HF radar systems are built, they will contribute data to NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observing System, or IOOS, a national network of such systems on all coasts. LSU will be participating in the GCOOS, or the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Observing System, the IOOS’s regional partner.  

Brian Zelenke of IOOS noted the technology used in HF radar will make a substantial contribution to [the] measurement of surface currents and waves across the Louisiana coast. “It will provide thousands of readings updated hourly that cover the ocean out to 100+ miles offshore.”

He added, “By live streaming the readings from this project's CODAR SeaSonde® sensors to the IOOS High Frequency Radar National Network, these oceanographic data from LSU will be made available by NOAA to the public and partners including the U.S. Coast Guard for search-and-rescue, NOAA's Emergency Response Division for oil and other hazardous chemical spill response, and to NOAA's National Weather Service for marine forecasts -- helping to protect lives and property, and enhance the economy of Louisiana and the nation.”

Louisiana’s HF radar system will be fully operational in about five years, Xu said.   

DOCS Professor Chunyan Li, as well as Associate Professor Z. “George” Xue--who holds a joint appointment with the Center for Computation and Technology—and Assistant Professor Paul Miller, are also investigators on the project. Also collaborating on the creation and installation of the radar systems will be Steven DiMarco, a professor of Oceanography and Ocean Engineering of Texas A&M University and Jorge Brenner, the Executive Director of GCOOS. 

“This is the opportunity we have been waiting for,” said Li. “This project will add a new dimension to our capability for the monitoring and understanding of the coastal ocean environment.”

Chris D’Elia, DOCS Professor and former dean of the College of the Coast & Environment, agreed that the benefits of HF Radar to the Louisiana coast are significant. “The new HF Radar capability will help save lives, livelihoods, and property in Louisiana.”