Louisiana scientists, students to share $2.5 million in BP spill fine money

Jun 23, 2017

Louisiana university scientists and students will use most of $2.5 million in grant money over two years to conduct research aimed at assisting the state's coastal master plan, under a program funded by fines from the BP oil disaster, officials with the Louisiana Restore Act Center of Excellence announced Thursday (June 22). The Center of Excellence is part of the Baton Rouge-based Water Institute of the Gulf, one of five Gulf Coast centers set up under the federal Restore Act.

The centers receive 2.5 percent of the $5.3 billion in Clean Water Act fine money paid by BP and its drilling partners. Congress directed the money to the Restore Act program for research related to coastal restoration issues linked to the BP spill or science issues related to the Gulf of Mexico.

In Louisiana, the 13 grants are aimed at supporting the state's $50 billion, 50-year coastal master plan, because Restore Act money and other fines and payments related to the oil spill will be used to build many of the projects.

Mark Kulp, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of New Orleans, will use $349,000 from the program to lead a study to map geologic faults in the Mississippi River delta. Kulp's team plans to use shallow, high-resolution and deep seismic data and sediment coring to evaluate faults in the delta, including in northern Terrebonne-Timbalier Bay, along Bayou Lafourche near Golden Meadow and in Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne.

The team will include Nancy Dawers of Tulane University, Rui Zhang of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, David Culpepper of Culpepper Group, Kevin Yeager of the University of Kentucky and John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

A research group directed by Marla Nelson, UNO associate professor of planning and urban studies, will use $295,000 to design an effective and equitable relocation policy for Terrebonne Parish residents. The master plan includes "non-structural" projects such as relocating some residents, and elevating some homes that will be in danger of storm surge flooding over the next 50 years as the sea level rises and subsidence and erosion continue along the parish's coastline.

Nelson's research group includes Tracie Birch of the Coastal Sustainability Studio; Anna Brand with UNO's Department of Planning and Urban Studies; Tara Lambeth of UNO's Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology; and Renia Ehrenfeucht of the University of New Mexico.

Other grants announced Thursday include:

Integrating models with remote sensing to predict storm impacts, $501,270 -- Qin Chen, a Louisiana State University coastal engineering professor, with Kehui Xu of LSU, Claire Jeuken of Deltares USA and Brady Couvillion of the U.S. Geological Survey will pair satellite and ground measurements with modeling to understand the physical processes affecting the Caminada Headland, including sediment exchange, wave conditions and their feedbacks with vegetation.

Coupling hydrologic, tide and surge processes to enhance flood risk assessments for the master plan, $499,882 -- LSU engineering professor Scott Hagen, with LSU engineering professor Matthew Bilskie, University of North Florida engineering professor Don Resio; and ARCADIS engineer Hugh Roberts will evalute the coupled hydrologic and surge influence on coastal flood hazards and risks in the Barataria and Lake Maurepas watersheds, using a storm surge model, with the aim of using the results to improve long-term planning for vulnerable communities.

Assessing barrier island restoration practices for the creation of brown pelican nesting habitat, $299,733 -- Paul Leberg, a biology professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and Tulane biology professor Jordan Karubian will investigate how restoration alters factors important to nesting, including vegetation types, predators and other site characteristics.

Enhancing sediment retention rates of receiving basins of Louisiana sediment diversions, $292,495 -- Kehui Zu, assistant professor of oceanography and coastal sciences at LSU, and LSU co-investigators Samuel Bentley and Yanxia Ma will explore how best to retain fine grained or muddy material discharged from the Mississippi River through diversions into water bodies to rebuild wetland and land areas.

Enhancing the ability to predict responses of plant and soils in coastal locations to the availability of nutrients and sediment, $292,914 -- Tracy Quirk, LSU assistant professor of oceanography and coastal sciences, assistant biology professor Sean Graham of Nicholls State University will use field and laboratory studies to measure the cycling of nutrients, plant productivity, decomposition of plant material and the accumulation and buildup of organic matter on the soil, all aimed at helping models used in directing master plan projects.

Electrokinetic barrier for seawater intrusion in coastal Louisiana, $57,519 -- Engineering assistant professor Sanjay Tewari of Louisiana Tech University will oversee this graduate student grant to study how to use direct electric current as a barrier to reduce salinity in areas where saltwater intrusion can affect freshwater supplies.

Multiple tools for determining the fate of nitrate in coastal floodplains, $63,100 -- Executive Director Robert Twilley of Louisiana Sea Grant will oversee this graduate student grant to identify what factors maximize the interaction between nutrient-rich river water and floodplain wetlands to reduce the nutrients in the water.

Modeling how sediment carried by Louisiana rivers enters the coastal ocean, using a new model using atmospheric and water readings, $77,015 -- Zuo Xue, LSU assistant professor of oceanography and coastal sciences, will oversee this graduate student grant to develop a hydrologic model to measure water and sediment movement from rivers in the Chenier Plain in western Louisiana, with the goal of predicting changes in water and sediment flow in relation to climate change and master plan coastal restoration projects.

Evaluating radar-based rainfall data for use in master plan development, $71,148 -- Civil engineering professor Emad Habib of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will oversee a graduate student grant to conduct a regional-scale assessment of existing radar-rainfall datasets and determine whether they can be used in master plan studies.

Constructing Mississippi River delta plain soil stratigraphy - implications for coastal land building and subsidence, $70,070 -- Overseen by LSU engineering professor Frank Tsai, this graduate student project will analyze soil stratrigraphy, or layering, to investigate land building and subsidence caused by compaction to help develop marsh creation projects and sediment diversions.

Determining the influence of surface water diversions on physical and nutrient characteristics of wetland soils, $83,328 -- John White, LSU oceanography and coastal science professor, will oversee graduate student research into if and how the more than 10 years of operation of the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion in Jefferson Parish changed soil marsh properties. The information might help guide future operation of the large freshwater diversions.