Coastal Studies expanding

The Coastal Studies Institute at LSU expects a new director, an expanded mission and other changes to result in more support for scientists from different disciplines, more young, trained scientists and more collaborations among different schools and departments.

“LSU has a long history, a very distinguished history, in coastal science and that’s what we want to build on,” said Christopher D’Elia, dean of the School of the Coast and Environment at LSU.

The changes at the Coastal Studies Institute will help to bring researchers from different disciplines together to work on large, grant-funded projects, said Sam Bentley, director of the Coastal Studies Institute and a professor in LSU’s Department of Geology and Geophysics.

Four or five schools and colleges will be involved with the institute now instead of just the School of the Coast and Environment, he said.

Through discussions to get the university’s program on delta research reinvigorated, it was decided that the Coastal Studies Institute could be the vehicle for that coordination while also providing technical and administrative support to research, Bentley said. Researchers would have more time to devote to science, he said, and spend less time on the paperwork many grants require.

“Some of the most important research worldwide on how deltas operate has been done at LSU,” Bentley said. The “kings of the Mississippi Delta,” Harry Roberts and James Coleman, are still active in the department, but they’re both in emeritus status and there was a desire from the university to put a focus on developing expanded expertise, he said.

“That’s a consequence of how people have moved in and out of the institute,” Bentley said.

To help accomplish that expansion, Bentley said, three fellowships for doctoral students will be allocated to the institute where before there were none. Previously, any graduate students depended on grant money that faculty could pull in, he said.

Last year, Bentley and 20 other scientists put together a grant application to the National Science Foundation for $3 million to fund doctoral student work through a interdisciplinary program and have the LSU program focus on sustainable deltaic coasts, he said.

The kind of work the Coastal Studies Institute will be trying to coordinate now is important for several reasons, Bentley said.

“The problems we are facing are complex (in coastal Louisiana) and cannot be answered by a single discipline,” Bentley said. Secondly, many federal programs, such as the National Science Foundation, are moving grants more toward proposals that show cooperation and coordination across disciplines, he said.

D’Elia said another reason to refocus the institute’s work is not only will the resources of things like the field support be shared, but so will the cost of keeping the program paid for amid budget cuts.