Engineering manager Rudy Simoneaux inspects the surface of the model and an acoustic gauge at the LSU Center for River Studies. The model is sturdy enough for foot traffic, but no shoes allowed.
The sediment particles fan out onto the bayou during an early calibration run, hinting at the model’s potential for demonstrating the effectiveness of sediment diversion gates.
The model is made of 216 foam core panels, which took a computer-controlled router about 1 1/2 days to carve, according Simoneaux. Each panel is 5 feet by 10 feet and 700 pounds.
This is the 14,000 square miles of the Lower Mississippi bayou that the model covers.
The 700-pound panels are supported by more than 800 automotive jack stands.
The Lower Mississippi River Physical model, at Louisiana State University’s Center for River Studies in Baton Rouge, is bigger than two basketball courts. Carved into the surface of a huge white table is a precise re-creation of 14,000 square miles of southeastern Louisiana, gleaned from more than 4 billion data points. It will help researchers find a way to stem land loss in the bayou.
Barges and ocean-going ships crowd the waterway along a stretch of the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. About 60 percent of the nation’s grain and 500 million tons of cargo travel the lower Mississippi to ports around the world. Though levees keep the river navigable, they prevent sediment from replenishing the surrounding land.
A movable bridge allows researchers and engineers to look closely at the model. Twenty overhead projectors work together to superimpose data over the model, which in this case, includes satellite imagery.
Willson holds plastic particles that he and his team created specifically for the physical model, which will behave and flow just like the river’s real sediment.
LSU environmental engineer Clint Willson works at the upstream end of the physical model, adding a slurry of water and plastic particles into the model.