Tulane River and Coastal Center launches on the Mississippi

Sep 15, 2016

New Orleans, La. — You barely notice the small building tucked between the Port of New Orleans headquarters and Mardi Gras World's warehouses in the Mississippi riverfront. Yet the researchers and staff who will soon work inside could well play a key role in one of the most massive infrastructure projects in history --- saving the Louisiana coastline.

It's just one of the objectives and areas of interest for the Tulane River and Coastal Center. Its part of the Tulane ByWater Institute, a riverfront campus that includes warehouse space for storing boats and equipment. Even though personnel won't move into the site until next week, there's already talk of doubling or tripling the space available, said Michael Blum, the institute's director.

Blum, a Tulane University professor in river and coastal studies, led tours of the $5.5 million center Thursday (Sept. 15), noting that what's now a "blank space" will soon be home to scientists studying river sediment. They will bring back core samples from the river bottom and study its stratified layers.

When considering where to place river diversions to rebuild coastal wetlands, engineers need to know where to find the best source of sand, Blum said.

This is just one task of many envisioned for the Tulane ByWater Institute, which works in partnership with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and the Water Institute of the Gulf. The Pelican, a 116-foot LUMCON deep sea research vessel, was docked at the center for Wednesday's dedication of new venue.

The Tulane ByWater Institute is an evolution of what was first proposed in the 1990s as an interdisciplinary satellite campus, where the focus of curricula would be the art, science and culture of the Mississippi River. A subsequent proposal for a RiverSphere centered on a site for testing alternative energy sources, among them the river's current.

Hurricane Katrina changed the university's priorities, and it wasn't until 2009 that federal funding was made available to develop what would become the Tulane River and Coastal Center.

In later phases, the university intends to integrate studies in law, business, public health and biomedicine at the new site, Blum said. Tulane owns the riverfront property upriver from the port building that includes Mardi Gras World, a lessee. It carved out some of that lease space to create the ByWater Institute.

Tulane will soon reconstruct the dock adjacent to the center, providing more direct access for researchers to its laboratories, Blum said.