History of CSI

The Coastal Studies Institute
was formed to study the coasts
of the world over 60 years ago

Click here for a comprehensive overview of the history of the Coastal Studies Institute

The Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) of Louisiana State University is celebrating it's official 50th anniversary. The Institute's origin began as a result of a national study to evaluate the environmental problems faced by the defense department during World War II. Dr. Richard Russell, the founder of the Institute, served on this panel. One of the major findings was that a lack of coastal environmental data that could be used for accurate prediction of coastal conditions was the cause of major failures in wartime operations. Dr. Russell met with the newly appointed director, of the Coastal Geography Programs of the Office of Naval Research, Dr. Evelyn Pruitt, and convinced her that a long-term systematic research program should be oriented towards understanding the geomorphology and coastal processes that occur along the world's coastlines. As a result of this relationship, a long-term contract between the Office of Naval Research and Louisiana State University was established. With the initial contract, Dr. Russell immediately enlisted several graduate students to begin studies of the Louisiana coast. They quickly became known as the "marsh rats". The initial projects concentrated on trafficability and stability of the Louisiana coastline and the effects of coastal changes caused by hurricanes. Although Dr. Russell coined the name for the Coastal Studies Institute in 1952, the Institute was not formally recognized by the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors until 1954 when it became an independent unit under the School of Geoscience.

The initial studies of the Louisiana shoreline lasted from 1951 through 1958 and resulted in the first major understanding of coastal change and processes that affected a deltaic coastline. Later, additional graduate students continued to study the Louisiana coast and conducted studies on the botanical and archaeological aspects of the coastal marshes. These systematic scientific studies were the first to be conducted on coastal processes. With a promise of continuing funding, research activity expanded from the Louisiana coast to various foreign coastal areas. Research on one of the world's largest deltas, that of the Ganges-Brahmaputra River system in Bangladesh, was one of the first of many studies of foreign deltas. Additional research was carried out along the coasts of Brazil and Baluchistan. The 1960s saw the beginning of the study of carbon-ate coasts of tropical islands, environments that were not well-studied by the scientific community. This type of environment was the site of numerous failed beach landings during WWII and this research was aimed at a better understanding of carbonate beaches and the formation of beach rock. Studies were conducted in many of the Caribbean Islands.

In 1956, legal questions concerning the Louisiana coast, generally referred to as the Tidelands Issue, became the first CSI studies to be funded from sources other than the Office of Naval Research. The State of Louisiana contracted with the Institute to conduct studies of the changes in the Louisiana shoreline and the mudlumps at the mouth of the Mississippi River (Morgan, et al, 1968). Private industry (Gulf Oil Corporation), entangled in legal issues in the Mississippi River delta, contracted with the CSI to conduct investigations on those processes and sedimentological characteristics of the river's subdeltas (Coleman et al., 1969), specifically West Bay. It was at this time that two full-time researchers were hired, James Coleman and Sherwood Gagliano. With the increase in grants and contracts, Dr. James P. Morgan, a professor of Geology at LSU, was appointed as Managing Director of the Institute. These two contracts and with continuing support from ONR launched the Coastal Studies Institute on a 50 year program of continuous research on coastal and deltaic regions on a world-wide scale. It also marked the beginning of the "form-process" investigations in which geomorphic form is intimately associated with those processes responsible for the creation of the coastal landscape. Realizing the importance of coastal research, the Institute with the support of the University requested NSF funding for permanent housing of this newly created institute. In 1964, funds were made available to convert and upgrade three former military buildings on the LSU campus to permanent offices and laboratories.

James Coleman and Gill Smith in the Klang River delta, one of the many CSI foreign delta projects.