Marine Geology & Geophysics

Following the early onshore research dealing with the geomorphology of coastal land forms and process-oriented sedimentology, Coastal Studies Insititute researchers started investigating the marine extensions of coastal depositional systems, especially deltas and reefs. Driven largely by the availability of new technology such as side-scan sonar and high resolution seismic, CSI researchers developed a marine geology program that started with studies of the offshore Mississippi River delta and since has encompassed other domestic as well as foreign study sites. In additional , marine geology studies have expanded beyond the continental shelf to continental slope and deep basin floor evnironments. Notable studies conducted by CSI researches in the realm of marine geology include:

  • the investigation of delta front instability processes in the modern Mississippi River delta,
  • the study of carbonate reefs and shelf-slope sedimentary processes at numerous sites throughout the Caribbean region,
  • studies of mixed carbonate-siliciclastic sedimentary systems including the Nile Delta, northern Red Sea, Nicaragua's eastern Caribbean shelf, eastern Java Sea, and offshore Mahakam Delta,
  • a study of Mississippi Fan,
  • on-going investigations of impacts o fluid and gas, and
  • investigations of gas hydrate occureence in teh Gulf of Mexico continental slope province.

In addition to the on-going marine geology studies of continental shelf and slope areas, CSI researchers are actively collecting high resolution acoustic data, vibracores, box cores, and geotechnical data from Louisiana's shallow lakes and bays. This shallow water marine geology program is designed to collect critical data sets to iprove our understanding of the changes taking place in Louisiana's coastal water bottoms and associated marshlands. This program supports the overall effort to understand and mitigate Louisiana's enormous coastal land loss problem.

Coring a deep continental shelf sand-body in a reef environment.

High altitude (62,000 feet) NASA ER-2 near-infrared photograph of the Atchafalaya and Wax Lake deltas and offshore flows of turbid waters, driven by northerly winds

Schematic diagram of mud-flows and depositional features on the front of the Mississippi Delta.

Coastal Morphodynamics

The Coastal Morphodynamics Laboratory (CML) was founded in 1991 to facilitate graduate student and faculty research in coastal morphodynamics. The CML offers a wide range of state-of-the-art field, laboratory equipment and computers for research in coastal processes including ocean observing, wave hydrodynamics, hurricane impacts, sediment transport, beach and nearshore profile measurements, Geographic Information, mapping, database, and sedimentology. CML houses a wave tank with a fully automated wave generator. It also has a wide array of instrumentation customized for hydrodynamics and sediment transport filed experiments, and a Total Station laser beach profiler. Computing platforms include IBM mainframe, Compaq Servers, Dell workstations, HP large format plotter and scanner. CML interfaces with a field support group through the Coastal Studies Institute at LSU.

Breaker wave heights and net longshore transport rates for the Derniers and Timbalier Islands.

Sugarcane Fibrous Mat Research.

Coastal Hydrodynamics

Coastal hydrodynamics research at CSI greatly benefits from the immediate access to the Northern Gulf of Mexico coast, the extensive monitoring instrumentation deployed there by the WAVCIS lab, and the remote sensing capabilities provided by Earth Scan Lab. Louisiana coast and shelf are exciting places to study the interaction between sedimentary and hydrodynamic processes in heterogeneous sediment environments. Sedimentary fabric is diverse, ranging from coarse sands to fine-grained muds and silt. Atmospheric conditions can vary greatly, from calm to moderate cold front storms to hurricanes. The geographic location is the contact line between two very dynamical systems - the fresh water system of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, the observational capabilities deployed by CSI on the coast are among the most advanced in the world in their class.

The Wave-Current Information System (WAVCIS,, is designed to withstand severe storm conditions, while providing a continuous stream of comprehensive (wind, wave, current), high quality data. In addition to standard instrumentation (e.g. sensors for air and water temperature and pressure, current meters), WAVCIS deploys highly sophisticated arrays of turbidity meters and acoustic profilers (ADCP) which provide real-time information about directional properties of surface waves, and vertical distribution of suspended sediment concentration and current velocity. These data are yield many "first time" insights into the hydrodynamic processes of heterogeneous coasts.

Ongoing research topics include coupling of hydrodynamic and sedimentary processes in muddy environments, coupled effects of wave and surge during hurricane inundation, effects of waves and currents on the evolution and stability of the barrier islands. Recent studies at CSI exposed significant deficiencies in the ability of existing models to handle cohesive sedimentary environments. The reason is the essentially different physics involved, not accounted for by the models. With funding from ONR, LA Board of Regents, NOAA and other agencies, research is in high gear to enhance observation capabilities and reformulate basic governing equations for stochastic wave propagation over muddy seabeds.

Wave and wind evolution versus time, during a storm associated with a cold front which passed over WAVCIS on 28-31 January, 2001 (Sheremet and Stone, 2003). a,b) Evolution of wave spectrum. Short- and long-wave frequency bands are separated by dashed line, corresponding to the 0.2 Hz frequency. c) Wind speed, measured and simulated . d) Significant wave height (CSI 5 and CSI 3 data represented by blue and red lines, respectively).

Frequency-alongshore wavenumber spectrum of energy flux of low frequency waves (Sheremet and Guza, 2003, in review). Upper half of plot corresponds to waves propagating shoreward, lower half to waves propagating seaward. A new analysis method separates for the first time shoreward from seaward energy fluxes, while resolving also the directionality of the waves (the alongshore wavenumber is a function of the angle of propagation). Data for this analysis comes from the SandyDuck '97 experiment (Sheremet et al. 2002).

Marine Meteorology

Marine meteorology deals primarily with the physics of the marine atmosphere including the study of atmospheric phenomena above the oceans, their influence on shallow and deep water, and the influence of the ocean surface on atmospheric processes.

For more than 20 years, the Marine Meteorology Group has participated In field measurement programs conducted in maritime locations around the world. An extensive archive of both surface meteorological and atmospheric profile data has been acquired and is available for analysis. On the other hand, research activities are not limited to the ocean environment. For example, a current program is focused on the atmospheric boundary layer characteristics over an inland urban area. With the resources now offered by the Earth Scan Lab, aspects of the meteorology and oceanography of almost any geographic location can be studied through application of the wide variety of remotely-sensed data provided by polar-orbiting and geostationary satellite platforms.

Research on the following topics is ongoing at CSI:

  • Air-sea interaction for momentum and heat exchanges
  • Structure of the marine atmospheric boundary layer
  • Atmospheric dispersion characteristics for pollution transport research and modeling
  • Marine cyclogenesis
  • Wind-wave interactions during storm and hurricane conditions
  • Atmospheric refractive physics for laser microwave propagation
  • Tropical storm intensification and storm track via remotely-sensed (satellite) data
  • Structure of the urban atmospheric boundary layer associated with high ambient ozone levels
  • Haze and particulate matter (PM) characteristics affecting the coastal zone

Former CSI Field Shop Coordinator Rodney Fredericks servicing a meteorological datalogger deployed on a near-shore platform in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

A tethered kitoon being retrieved aboard the oil tanker Agip Milano in the Mediterranean Sea west of Sicily.

CSI Electronics Technician Bill Gibson preparing to service a meteorological and air quality station deployed on Gosier Island, in the Chandeleur Islands east of the Mississippi River Delta.

Physical Oceanography & Numerical Modeling

Since the late 1960s, the institute's physical oceanographic component has evolved rapidly into an internationally recognized effort. Initially focusing on the dynamics of the outflow of the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, this program has steadily expanded to include benchmark studies of the circulation in Louisiana bays and estuaries, the Louisiana Coastal Current, and aspects of circulation on the continental shelf and in the deep gulf. Initially, physical oceanographic studies were primarily supportive of the institute's geology program. Increased recognition for innovative research has brought in strong support for international programs. Physical oceanographic studies along the coasts of China, in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, in the Indonesia Archipelago, off Nicaragua, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Canada, and in the Arctic have all gained significant international visibility for the institute. More recently, institute personnel have broadened their interests to include the dynamics of marginal seas and linking sea straits, middle- and outer-shelf dynamics, and large-scale ocean-atmosphere interactions affecting weather and climate. Numerical modeling of coastal-to-basin scale circulation, including research on Loop Current eddy formation and the El Ni?o phenomenon, is a relatively new thrust for the institute.

These studies employ an impressive array of state-of-the-art technology including Acoustic Doppler Current Profiling, satellite tracked current drifters equipped with GPS positioning, moored salinity and temperature sensors, and satellite remote sensing of surface temperature, surface suspended sediment distribution, and circulation patterns. This is a vibrant program ranging from detailed studies of estuarine dynamics in the nearshore zone, to processes on the outer shelf and slope where the most exciting oil exploration and development activities are currently focused.

The institute specializes in:

  • Coastal and Estuarine Circulation
  • River plumes
  • Marginal seas and straits
  • Shallow water waves
  • Numerical modeling and validation
  • Shelf and slope circulation
  • Physical/biological interactions
  • Oil spill dynamics and response
  • Sediment transport processes

Sea-surface height and geostrophic velocity vectors for 2/28/01. The X marks the location of the Deep Water Mooring funded by the Minerals Management Service. The PIí»s are Masamichi Inoue, Susan Welsh, and Larry Rouse.

Modeling Deep Water in the Gulf of Mexico.

Susan Welsh has developed a primitive-equation, numerical ocean model for the Gulf of Mexico. The model features high vertical and horizontal resolution in order to resolve the complicated bottom bathymetry and adequately simulate the small-scale flows associated with eddies. The first goal of this project was to realistically reproduce the observed upper-layer circulation features of the GOM, including the vertical structure of the LC and LC rings, which dominate the circulation in the eastern GOM. The model circulation in the deep layer agrees with output from other modeling efforts, but there is little data available to verify these results. The Lagrangian technique of seeding and tracking tracer particles is used to examine detailed transport and mixing processes and to identify the processes responsible for ventilation of the deep water.

Barataria Bay Model:

Masamichi Inoue, Dubravko Justic, Dongho Park, S. A. Hsu and William Wiseman are developing a comprehensive coupled hydrological-hydrodynamic-ecological model of Barataria Basin, LA:

  • to simulate hydrological cycle in the basin;
  • to simulate evolution of salinity distribution in the bay; and
  • to study potential salinity alteration due to man-made freshwater diversions from the Mississippi River and their impact on the ecology of the Barataria Basin.

Preparation of current meter moorings for the Papua New Guinea physical oceanographic study.

Oceanographic & Atmospheric Remote Sensing

With the development of a physical oceanography program at CSI, the need to put site-specific measurements into a larger spatial context became imperative. Satellite-based remote sensing data were beginning to fill that need by the late 1970s (Huh et al., 1978). In 1988 Dr. Oscar Huh started the Earth Scan Laboratory (ESL) within CSI with a grant from Louisiana's Educational Quality Enhancement Fund. The ESL is a direct broadcast ground station and remote sensing laboratory that receives and processes real-time environmental satellite data using three antenna on LSU rooftops. This station was first on the Gulf coast to receive NOAA AVHRR images. ESL capabilities have expanded to include real-time reception and processing of data from five additional satellite sensors; including GOES GVAR, Orbview-2 SeaWiFS, Terra-1 and Aqua-1 MODIS, Oceansat-1 OCM and SAR (synthetic aperture radar). The ESL houses a large archive of environmental satellite data dating back to 1988.The real-time measurements and the archives of satellite data kept by the ESL are invaluable for researchers from many disciplines and for the state of Louisiana emergency response officials. Data from the ESL have been especially useful for:

  • studying and predicting the behavior of the Loop Current and its eddies in the Gulf of Mexico;
  • tracking and predicting the paths of hurricanes (real time data for emergency response planning;
  • tracking oil spills;
  • mapping sediment plume responses to various natural forcing events;
  • studying circulation and biological impacts of river discharges along the northern Gulf coastline and in interior bays;
  • mapping onshore flooded areas.

Many applications are still to be discovered. As Louisiana relies on controlled river diversions to help offset the effects of subsidence and land loss, remote sensing products from the ESL will certainly play an important project assessment role. In many areas of research, remotely sensed satellite data have become essential. The ESL will hopefully play an increasingly important role for CSI as well as other research groups as we move into the second half-century of research at the Institute. Near real time data are accessible on the Earth Scan Lab web site (

This Terra-1 Modis satellite image from February 23, 2003 reveals the spatial extent of river sediments on the Louisiana shelf after a cold front passage event. Red, green and blue channels are continued in this "true color" enhancement.

This satellite image shows chlorophyll a distribution on the Louisiana shelf on 22 March 2003. The image was captured by the Oceansat-1 ocean color monitor.

Installation of the Eath Scan Laboratory's 4.4m X-band tracking antenna in February 2001. The Louisiana Technology Innovation Fund provided funding to Dr. Oscar K. Huh and Dr. Nan D. Walker for this project. Acquisition of this antenna has enabled the tracking and capture of data from Terra-1 and Aqua-1 MODIS, Oceansat-1 Ocean Color Monitor and Synthetic Aperture Radar.

Funding & Contracts

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