New science department to study Mississippi River delta

Tulane’s School of Science and Engineering is introducing The Department of River-Coastal Science and Engineering, the first of its kind. 

Through the new program, Tulane seeks to further understand the coasts and rivers not just in Louisiana, but around the world. Professor Mead Allison will head the department.

Allison said one of the goals of the new program is to enable and encourage research while also teaching a wide range of subjects regarding natural resources along coastal regions. 

“[Our] mission statement is to focus on a specific range of environments on the surface of the earth that are interconnected — that is rivers, deltas and coastlines,” Allison said. “It’s an area that we know is of huge societal relevance.”

According to Allison, the major will include a wide range of disciplines that allow students the opportunity to approach this topic with a focus on their unique interests and strengths. Students will also study the relationships among different environmental systems along our coastline, using a variety of scientific schools of thought to approach these topics. Universities do not often start an entirely new department, as new areas of study are usually included under a current department.

“It’s crossing traditional departmental boundaries,” Allison said. “Meaning, we’re not going to train someone to be a geologist or an ecologist or a civil engineer. We’re going to train somebody with elements of all of that with a kind of background that work in this specific range of environments that have very specific and very societally-relevant problems associated with them.”

Dr. Ehab Meselhe will also join the department as a professor. In studying coastal wetland, estuarine and riverine systems, Meselhe’s primary focus is the application of computer modeling. Meselhe said he hopes to teach students the fundamentals of research, such as the methods for computer modeling and following up the foundation with deeper, more intricate aspects of research. 

Coming from a background in coastal ecology and restoration, Meselhe, as well as Allison, has worked closely with the Water Institute of the Gulf in Baton Rouge. Students are offered the unique opportunity to study coastal systems in an area in which costs are all-important.

“… just where we are is important, especially getting the field experience — that sort of thing,” junior engineering major Elizabeth Hwang said. “I think that if people are looking to save the coastline Louisiana is a great place to come because you get that field experience.”

While Tulane students may not be able to work with this newly formed department immediately, classes are set to begin in the spring semester of 2018.

The tentative goal of the program is to lead with a coordinate major and build from there until a full department is formed. Allison referenced the Computer Science Department as a frame of reference for what a new department might look like going forward. 

To help students achieve their goals, Allison and Meselhe want to provide Department of River-Coastal Science and Engineering students with research tools and a broad spectrum of topics that can be applied to real, practical solutions. 

“Tulane obviously sits on top of the Mississippi Delta and has recognized for a very long time that this is something we need to be an expert in because this is of direct relevance to the survival of the university,” Allison said.

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