Robert Twilley, executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program and University oceanography and coastal sciences professor, and his colleagues on the “DELTA SEES: Sustainability of Deltaic Coastlines — The Trillion Dollar Problem” project are getting into the nitty gritty of coastal sustainability.

The DELTA SEES project, a multi-university collaboration that focuses on the Mississippi River delta and its coast, is one of nine projects to receive the National Science Foundation’s Coastal SEES Award.

The award provides funding to interdisciplinary projects linking scientific expertise with the issue of coastal sustainability. Twilley, the project’s principal investigator, said with funding, secured research is scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2015.

“Deltas are built on the sediment that comes from the rivers they’re connected to,” Twilley said. “And so managing that river and that sediment supply is critical to maintaining that landscape that represents the delta where people live.”

Twilley said the Mississippi River delta plays a major role in the economy and people settled in the area because of the large number of industry opportunities. Those living in the surrounding landscape are vulnerable to the dangers of flood surge.

“A large part of the economy in Louisiana is dependent on the survival of our delta,” Twilley said. “The delta is a unique part of our coastal landscape, and that coastal landscape supports the energy industry, supports the largest port in the world and the second largest fishery, inshore fishery, in the United States.”

Twilley said the delta’s surrounding landscape is protected from flooding by the wetlands around the delta, and the wetlands are dependant on the river’s sediment deposits. He said climate change and sea level rise will affect the future of deltaic coasts and the jobs they support.

Twilley said the project’s goal is to document the dependency of wetlands on the sediment supply and the dependency of the surrounding community on the wetlands for flood protection. The project will link the numbers generated by research to formulas and models to create applicable restoration strategies.

“We pitched it to the National Science Foundation that we are going to look at the challenges that deltaic coasts around the world are faced with for these economies to survive, and again, these lands are sinking,” Twilley said. “The sediment supply from the river builds land each year so that they can keep their head above water basically.”

While the DELTA SEES project plans to concentrate its efforts on the Mississippi River delta, Twilley said the information and solutions the project produces will apply to deltaic systems worldwide.

In Louisiana, Twilley said the University has one of the best natural laboratories in the world, setting the program apart from the competition.

“Ever since Hurricane Katrina, the challenges that we face to keep the economies of the Mississippi River delta sustainable, and that’s the key word in this proposal, that those challenges, and the way that we here at LSU have focused our abilities to solve those challenges gives us tremendous credibility up at the National Science Foundation,” Twilley said. “We have the best natural lab in the world to study these problems, and our results can be applied worldwide.”

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