“The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise.” - Mark Twain
Since the great flood of 1927, engineers have worked to contain the Lower Mississippi River with dykes and levees. Although this ensures navigable waters for shipping and transport, it also creates a barrier between the river and its floodplain. A result of this is the accelerated loss of wetlands, plunging Louisiana into what experts call the Coastal Crisis.
“We lose close to football field’s worth of coastal wetlands about every 100 minutes,” states Rudy Simoneaux, Manager, Engineer Division at the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). “Our charge is to reverse the Coastal Crisis,” says Simoneaux, explaining they want to “reconnect the river and the wetlands through sediment diversion projects,” which involve breaking holes in the levees and digging a channel to carry river water and sediment to the wetlands.
Integral to validating these projects is the 120-by-90-foot Lower Mississippi River Physical Model. Located in a warehouse sized room in the Louisiana State University (LSU) Center for River Studies, the model is a scaled replica of the lower 190 miles of the Mississippi River. By allowing water and a black silt-like substance to flow through the model, engineers can analyze the sediment transport capabilities of the river and impacts to the surrounding area.
“We’ve done a lot of computer modelling, but we wanted to look at it from a physical perspective to complement and validate what the computers show. That’s the primary focus,” shares Simoneaux.
A collaborative effort between CPRA and LSU, the Center performs another important role. “Communicating the crisis,” says Simoneaux. “It’s not just grass and critters we’re going to lose with our wetlands – its oil and gas infrastructure, shipping, tourism, cultural heritage, and industry. We have all these things to protect. So we’re looking for innovative ways to communicate what’s at stake and what we’re doing to restore and sustain it. This model and facility will certainly help.”
Spanning 10,000 sq. ft. and painted in dull-white swimming pool paint, it’s difficult to visualize what’s being shown. Or, as Simoneaux puts it: “If you’re unfamiliar with our coast, all you see is a giant white canvas with a black diagonal traversing it.”
At first, the team thought of bringing in art students to paint a map across the model. But after seeing the Cleveland Cavaliers on-court projection mapping system, something clicked. An internet search later and Simoneaux had contacted Christie® who then connected him with the team at New Orleans-based integrator, Interstate Electronic Systems (IES).
“Once I was able to talk to people and show them what we had in mind, there was an immediate excitement,” says Simoneaux. “With Mike [Rideau, Managing Partner, Operations, IES] being from Louisiana, there was an immediate connection. And the Christie folks were very much fascinated with the project.”
“It was a total team effort,” exclaims Rideau, whose team at IES was contracted to do the projection system design and installation. A total of 20 Christie Roadster WU20K-J projectors were hung from the rafters above the model. For processing and show control, IES integrated Christie Mystique and Christie Pandoras Box.
Christie Mystique comprises software, hardware and services that simplify the setup, blending, warping and alignment of multi-projector displays. With 20 projectors displaying one seamless image, the river model is a perfect application for Mystique; and Rideau couldn’t be happier. “It was the easiest part of the installation. It was perfect. I cannot say one bad thing about it.”
For content and show control, Christie Pandoras Box is being used. “We had Steve Gilbard from Theatrical Concepts, Inc. subcontract and he did a fantastic job setting up the interface and content.”
For Rideau, the river model is a showcase project. “I have been doing this for some time and this is the coolest thing I’ve been involved with. Being from Louisiana, I have an interest in helping the CPRA efforts fighting the coastal erosion.”
And visitors to the river model seem to agree. “We’ve had a wide array of people come through,” says Simoneaux, noting the list of guests include the Secretary of the Interior, student groups, researchers, engineers, professors and many more. “The reaction has been phenomenal.”
Looking forward, Simoneaux is excited. “There are so many other things that we are doing – like salinity, storm surges, sea level rise –all these things the physical model doesn’t speak to, we can use the projection system to communicate. We know the limitations of the model, but we’ll supplement that with the projectors.”