Assistant Professor of Geosciences Anjali Fernandes and her team have been awarded a grant of $199,947 from the National Science Foundation to study Mississippi River flood deposits at the Bonnet Carre Spillway outside of New Orleans to advance the understanding of hydrodynamic controls and support models for better prediction of flooding events in floodplains. In addition to significant research, the NSF grant is funding accessible research opportunities for diverse geoscience students, including African American, Hispanic and Native American students who currently comprise less than nine percent of all students enrolled in geoscience graduate programs. Fernandes is the lead principal investigator for the study. She is working in conjunction with co-principal investigators Antoinette Abeyta (University of New Mexico, Gallup), Robert Mahon (University of New Orleans), and Travis Swanson (Georgia Southern University).
As flooding becomes more prevalent along the Mississippi, this research takes on more meaning. For example, the spring flood of 2019 lasted several months and prompted the opening of Bonnet Carre Spillway to protect New Orleans from flooding. The diverted floodwaters constructed a large deposit in the spillway.
“Vast areas of the Mississippi River Delta are rapidly disappearing due to subsidence, dwindling sediment supply, and rising sea levels. Billions of federal dollars are currently invested in mitigation strategies to combat land loss in coastal Louisiana,” says Fernandes. “These strategies include the construction of engineered diversions to direct sediment-laden floodwaters to regions that have sunk beneath sea-level.”
The NSF grant supports 17 undergraduate researchers and four early-career investigators to collect, archive and analyze sediment data from this deposit. In addition to significant research, this grant will improve diversity in the future geoscience workforce through targeted recruiting efforts and alliances with institutions in under-served communities. It provides training for undergraduate researchers in traditional methods in sedimentology and advanced techniques in digital data collection and quantitative analysis, preparing a diverse cohort of students readying to join the STEM workforce.
NSF funding facilitates an inclusive field research experience by providing financial assistance for students and opportunities to analyze data collected during field research back at their home institutions. The undergraduate research framework is intended as a template for fostering diversity and inclusion in Earth science.
“Thirty-four percent of the Bonnet Carre 2019 team is from historically underrepresented minority and ethnic groups (Black, Native American, Hispanic), which is almost triple the rate of representation in geoscience,” says Abeyta. “Fifty-four percent are female, which is almost double the rate of representation in the geoscience workforce.”
“Creative scientific solutions for a diverse society require a diverse scientific workforce,” says Fernandes.
Querying the 2019 Mississippi River flood deposits that fill Bonnet Carre Spillway advances our understanding of the hydrodynamic controls on the sedimentary architecture of floodplain deposits, and bolsters models that predict the dynamics of basin filling at the outlets of sediment diversions using these hydrodynamic variables. Analyzing data from this deposit will allow the investigators to address fundamental questions in coastal restoration science.