GOM - Gulf Research Program Awards $22 Million to Launch New ‘Mississippi River Delta Transition Initiative’ Consortium

WASHINGTON — The Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has awarded $22 million to fund a transformative new research consortium focused on advancing understanding of the future sustainability of the lowermost Mississippi River Delta, known as the Bird’s Foot Delta.

Over five years, the Mississippi River Delta Transition Initiative (MissDelta), led by a partnership between Louisiana State University and Tulane University, will work to transform understanding of the delta’s future through the end of the century and advance research and practical ways to combat land and ecological losses.  

The Bird’s Foot Delta is home to communities, a rich cultural heritage, national wildlife preserves, extensive energy infrastructure, and ecosystems that provide protection from storm surges and support fisheries and ecosystem health for much of the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, approximately $2 billion in commerce passes through the waterway each week. Degradation of the region’s ecosystem is thought to be caused by a complex set of processes, including drastic reductions in wetland-building river sediments. Its longevity is further threatened by increasingly intense hurricanes, rising seas, and an escalation in maintenance costs for the navigation channel. The implications of these events, especially for water quality and food networks, remain poorly understood.

LSU and Tulane will lead a consortium of 14 Gulf institutions to project the evolution of the Bird’s Foot Delta over the coming decades, and based on those projections, evaluate management strategies and their ecosystem, industry, and natural resource implications. The consortium will also assess socioeconomic effects and disaster management impacts on community resilience.

“Multiple natural and human-made factors are driving major changes to the Mississippi Delta, and how these play out will have profound implications for the Gulf and the nation,” said Lauren Alexander Augustine, executive director of the Gulf Research Program. “The MissDelta project takes advantage of the wealth of expertise in the region and mobilizes multiple institutions to provide the foundation for forward-looking, science-based management of this incredibly important natural resource for the benefit of Gulf residents.”

Beyond considering the impacts that a changing climate and shifting health of the Bird’s Foot will have on local communities, a major focus for MissDelta will be on including the community as an active participant in its current research and working to improve the future quality of the research workforce. MissDelta will help train and mentor a new, more diverse generation of the workforce in coastal-deltaic sciences. Activities in this area will include work with middle- to graduate-school students from underrepresented groups, the formation of a mentoring network, and organization of experiential learning opportunities in labs and out in the field.

Along with LSU and Tulane University, the MissDelta consortium includes six historically Black colleges and universities — Southern University of Baton Rouge, Xavier University of New Orleans, Jackson State University, Grambling State University, Dillard University, and Alcorn State University — as well as the University of Southern Mississippi, University of Central Florida, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Water Institute of the Gulf, and the College of William & Mary.

The funding opportunity that led to this award was conceived of by GRP as a way to respond to the critical research and knowledge gaps identified in its 2018 report, Understanding the Long-Term Evolution of the Coupled Natural-Human Coastal System, and was informed through conversations with Gulf-based stakeholders, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, and subject matter experts over the course of several years. It is among a range of activities that the National Academies are taking on to combat the climate crisis.

The National Academies’ Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program founded in 2013 as part of legal settlements with the companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It seeks to enhance offshore energy system safety and protect human health and the environment by catalyzing advances in science, practice, and capacity to generate long-term benefits for the Gulf of Mexico region and the nation. The program has $500 million for use over 30 years to fund grants, fellowships, and other activities in the areas of research and development, education and training, and monitoring and synthesis.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, engineering, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

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