LSU Researchers Awarded $1.5 Million from NASA for Deltaic Research

Oct. 3, 2018 
BATON ROUGE – LSU Assistant Professor in the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences Zuo “George” Xue, in collaboration with Southern University, has been awarded $1.5 million in federal and state funding for a research project entitled, “Understanding and Quantifying Carbon Export to Coastal Oceans through Deltaic Systems.” The award is from the 2018 NASA Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR. Xue will analyze aquatic carbon export in collaboration with three other faculty from the College of the Coast & Environment: Eurico D’Sa, Kanchan Maiti, and Victor Rivera-Monroy. The Southern University team, led by Zhu Hua Ning, professor of forest ecophysiology and tree anatomy, is studying terrestrial carbon export.    

photo of graph used in research showing the two area of the delta that were studied

Mississippi River Delta Plain showing regional study sites: Left: prograding Wax Lake Delta; Right: Barataria Bay (acute erosional process, land loss). Satellite data source: USGS Landsat. Photo Credit: George Xue

This project supports NASA’s major strategic goal of advancing human understanding of Earth by exploring how carbon is exported from delta-dominated systems to the coastal ocean, a narrow strip of ocean water that lies above the continental shelf. When soil from a delta submerges into the coastal ocean—due to land loss, for example—carbon is released from the soil organic matter. This greenhouse gas may either be trapped in colder waters, a phenomenon referred to as carbon sink, or be effluxed in warmer water, to be released into the air. While most of the Gulf of Mexico is a carbon sink, as are oceans worldwide, the coastal ocean of Louisiana is a strong carbon source with over-saturated inorganic carbon concentration, so excess carbon is released into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change.  

LSU’s and Southern’s experts are exploring two contrasting sites in the Mississippi River Delta plain: Barataria Bay, which has a coastline that is experiencing significant subsidence and land loss, and Wax Lake Delta, a fast-growing delta that is expanding. LSU’s team is tracking the destination of the carbon and how it will affect coastal water quality.  

According to Xue, understanding these two contrasting environments is critical to assessing the role of delta systems in carbon export to the coastal oceans at a global scale. He anticipates that over the next three years his team will have collected enough data to produce a carbon “budget” for the Mississippi River Delta by comparing the site that is losing land to the site that is building land and assessing the net carbon being exported into the ocean and atmosphere.  

Understanding the carbon cycling occurring in the subsiding Barataria Bay and the prograding Wax Lake Delta will allow researchers “to build [a] toolbox which is [applicable] to all the rest of the deltas around the world. Because we know that almost all the modern deltas are sinking now,” Xue said.  

Xue also holds a joint appointment with the Center for Computation and Technology and is a fellow of the Coastal Studies Institute. 
Additional Link: 
LSU College of the Coast & Environment:


Contact Christine Wendling 
LSU College of the Coast & Environment 
Alison Satake 
LSU Media Relations 
More news and information can be found on LSU’s media center,