Fluvial Geomorphology and Seasonal Flooding

Researchers:  Dr. Frank Heitmuller

The National Science Foundation awarded a collaborative RAPID research grant to Dr. Frank Heitmuller to investigate floodplain sedimentation along the Lower Mississippi River in Wilkinson County, Mississippi, and West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, in association with the unprecedented 2011 flood.  Flood stages surpassed previous record crests at Vicksburg, Natchez, and Red River Landing, which resulted in the opening of Morganza and Bonnet Carre Spillways.  River monitoring programs have noted that even before this high-magnitude flood, relatively modest floods were reaching increasingly high stages in the study area.  This implies that volumetric space between flood-control levees is decreasing, either in the river channel, the overbank floodplain, or both.  The purpose of this research is to replicate a previous study following the great 1973 flood to determine if event-based floodplain accretion has changed through time.

In August and September, Frank and Paul Hudson (UT-Austin/geograhpy) and Dick Kesel (LSU/geography), and Amber Butler (USM geology undergraduate student) sampled floodplain thickness at over 50 sites in the study area that replicated those published in Kesel et al. (1974).  Sediment samples were brought back to the USM Sedimentology Lab to analyze organic carbon content and particle size distributions.  The findings will be of considerable importance to flood-control operations of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, conservation efforts by riparian ecologists, and restoraton efforts along the Louisiana coast.

You can learn more about Dr. Heitmuller's other research projects in fluvial geomorphology by contacting Frank at the department.