Spotlight on Coast, Energy, and Environment

The LSU Center for River Studies exemplifies LSU’s commitment to bridging the coast, energy, and environment.

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Fierce for protecting our coast and our world

Meet Clint Willson, PhD, director of the LSU Center for River Studies and a passionate proponent of taking steps today to secure a safe tomorrow.

Clint Willson

People will always need access to water. This simple truth is at the heart of Clint Willson’s interest in studying rivers and water resources, particularly the Mississippi River. With the demand for water comes the responsibility to consider the safety and security of the surrounding communities and establish reliable infrastructure so people and industries can thrive.

“Today, the Mississippi River is a very highly engineered system,” Willson explained. “Without this engineering, the Port of Greater Baton Rouge wouldn’t be where it is, or the plants along the river. People would have to pick up and move as the river shifted, just as they did 200 or 300 years ago.”

While Willson is acutely aware of the river’s past, his focus is on the future. In collaboration with the LSU College of the Coast & Environment, LSU College of Engineering, LSU Department of Geology & Geophysics, and many other on- and off-campus partners, Willson leads the research effort using one of the university’s most state-of-the-science tools: a 10,000-square-foot, moveable bed physical model of the Mississippi River Delta.

Located on the Baton Rouge Water Campus, the Lower Mississippi River Physical Model is a collaborative project with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Scientists, faculty, and students—from LSU and across the globe—use the model for research, and it’s also a resource for educating the public about current projects and concerns. The Center for River Studies’ ultimate goal is to provide crucial data to the state in an effort to combat coastal wetland loss while ensuring the safety of Louisiana’s people, businesses, and ecosystems.

“By modeling how the river will respond to natural and human-made processes over the next several decades, we can demonstrate to the community, politicians, and stakeholders that we can’t wait 20 years to tackle problems and identify solutions—we need to start now,” Willson said.

Starting now means training the next generation of engineers, geologists, river experts, and policymakers to address urgent, water-related issues worldwide. With the river lapping in Baton Rouge’s backyard, LSU students are ideally positioned to conduct hands-on laboratory and field work side by side with faculty on the front lines of coastal restoration.

“So many of our students grew up playing or working along our coasts. They understand the importance of the Mississippi River to our industries and culture,” Willson said. “With LSU’s resources and expertise, we can channel their passion and their desire to make a difference. Here in Louisiana or far from home, our students are prepared to face the challenges and implement the solutions, because they know what it means to the people in coastal communities all over the world.”

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