Denise Reed

Chief Scientist

The Water Institute of the Gulf (Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New Orleans)

Dr. Denise Reed’s research focuses on how coastal marshes keep pace with sea-level rise, especially on the relative role of tides and storms in transporting fine sediments. By measuring sediment deposition in coastal marshes on a biweekly basis, she and her team have been able to identify the specific role that cold fronts and tropical storms and hurricanes play in maintaining marsh elevation. This is especially important in coastal Louisiana where marshes must build vertically to survive as high rates of subsidence mimic future increases in sea-level. This work has identified that, by depositing sediments, hurricanes can be an important part of maintaining marshes in areas with otherwise low sediment supply. Dr. Reed and her team have been able to directly measure the sediment contribution of Hurricanes Andrew, Lilli and more recently Katrina on the Louisiana coastal marshes.

Understanding how sediments and plants work together to help marshes survive sea-level rise has led Dr. Reed to apply that knowledge to coastal restoration. How to restore marshes in ways that they can be self-sustaining in the future is a key question facing many coastal managers. Dr. Reed’s team measures how sediments and plant material contribute to soil development and how their role changes as tidal action and salinity vary from rivers to oceans. Such measurements in the San Francisco Bay-Delta have shown that as long as sedimentation or dredge material placement can increase the elevation of flooded areas high enough for wetland plants to survive, the plants can essentially do the rest and grow and maintain marsh elevation.

Dr. Reed also is keenly interested in coastal restoration decision-making and ensuring that science informs decisions wherever possible. She has worked with agency staff and other research scientists to develop plans for coastal restoration in Louisiana, and has similarly contributed to ecosystem restoration planning in the San Francisco Bay-Delta and salt pond restoration in South San Francisco Bay.