Dr. Robert Twilley


Executive Director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program & Professor of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences at LSU

Coastal Deltaic Floodplains: An Ecosystem Concept and Design to Promote Sustainable Deltaic Landscapes

Friday, September 9 @ 9:45 am – 11:00 am

1.5 HSW


Most major human population centers are located on delta plains because of their rich fertile soils and plentiful natural resources. Unfortunately, it is not clear if human occupation on many coastal river deltas is sustainable. Such is the case of the Mississippi River Delta where a history of alternative designs to control floods and promote the economic development associated with navigation have eclipsed the long-term value of the entire system in all its complexity. This presentation will describe ecosystem design approach to link multiple-purpose needs of the diverse services and stakeholders that a large river system and coastal network provides. One problem is the lack of clear concepts concerning coastal deltaic floodplains as emergent ecosystems that develop in depositional environments.  New concepts on these ecosystem functions together with the combination of systems and design thinking focuses on a comprehensive restoration alternative.  The presentation will describe a three layered framework integrating Ecosystem, Economy, and Community resulting in an ecosystem design plan entitled ‘The Giving Delta’.  The goals of the ecological, economic, and community system frameworks include aggressive reconnections of River’s natural flood pulse to the coastal landscape, relocating port operations, and development of delta communities along a more consolidated delta landscape. The Giving Delta framework plan lays out a vision over the next four generations for restoring the environment and leveraging the natural ability of human settlement to adapt and change to a long-term vision of the delta.


  • Definition of a coastal delta and natural processes that allow deltas to maintain landscapes above rising sea levels as function of sediment supply from rivers.
  • Co-evolution of human occupation on delta landscapes as function of delta elevation to protect from flooding; the conflict of designs to accommodate human occupation, economic development, and floods to sustain delta landscapes.
  • The techniques of systems thinking and ecosystem design as approach to solving design problems associated with human occupation and natural processes of delta development.
  • The concept of ‘control floods’ as approach to designing human occupation and economic development in major river delta landscapes in support of navigation, flood control and ecosystem restoration.


Dr. Twilley is Executive Director of Louisiana Sea Grant College Program and professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Science at LSU.  Presently, Dr. Twilley serves as President of Coastal Estuarine Research Federation.  He has been a Distinguished Professor at both LSU and UL Lafayette.  In the last several years, Dr. Twilley has served in administrative capacities in higher education including Vice President for Research, Associate Vice Chancellor of Research and Economic Development, and Director of the Wetland Biogeochemistry Institute.  He is founder of the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio and developed the UL Lafayette Center for Ecology and Environmental Technology. Most of Dr. Twilley’s research has focused on coastal wetlands both in the Gulf of Mexico, throughout Latin America, and in the Pacific Islands. Dr. Twilley has published extensively on wetland ecology, global climate change, and has been involved in developing ecosystem models coupled with engineering designs to forecast the rehabilitation of coastal and wetland ecosystems.  He served in several capacities as science advisor to coastal restoration planning process including Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) plan, 2007 and 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plans, and regional planning following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita known at Louisiana Speaks.  He received his BS and MS from East Carolina University, PhD from University of Florida and post-doctoral studies were at Horn Point Laboratory at University of Maryland Center for Environmental Studies.