CC&E Professor Named a 2022 LSU Rainmaker

March 07, 2023

A portrait of Z. George Xue

2022 LSU Rainmaker Z. George Xue

BATON ROUGE -- Z. George Xue, a leader in research, scholarship and creative activity, has received the 2022 LSU Rainmaker Award in the Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics mid-career category. Xue is an associate professor in the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences with a joint appointment with the Center for Computation and Technology. This award marks the eleventh time that a faculty member from the LSU College of the Coast & Environment has been honored with the award. 

“Our College congratulates Dr. Xue, who is an innovative leader in his field,” said Chris D’Elia, dean of the College of the Coast & Environment. “His computer modeling to predict compound flooding and to understand coastal ocean carbon cycling will have a major impact on coastal communities in Louisiana, as well as elsewhere in the Gulf and indeed around the world. This award is very well-deserved recognition of a great scientist.”

“I am glad my coastal research is recognized by LSU, as Louisiana is suffering a wide range of coastal hazards, like hurricanes, land loss, and hypoxia,” Xue said. “My success is not possible without the generous support from the Office of Research, the College of the Coast & Environment, the Center for Computational Technology and the LSU High Performance Computing. I also would like to thank all the talents in my group, including research professors, postdocs, and graduate students. The honor belongs to all LSU coastal scientists and LSU A/AAPI faculty.”

Xue’s main areas of research are in physical bio-geochemical modeling, coastal ocean carbon cycling and coupled atmospheric hydrological modeling. Since 2014, he has brought in $14.9 million in external research funding, including projects from NOAA, NASA, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Science Foundation, and others. He has another $26.4 million pending.

Much of Xue’s research involves what he refers to as a coupled model, a unique approach to computer modeling that he has been developing for the last twenty years. He used this modeling technique while working with researchers from LSU and Southern University to track the carbon export of the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico . Currently, Xue is working on building a model of coastal estuaries for three different sites on the gulf as part of a project for NASA and recently completed a study accurately recreating the flooding conditions created by Hurricane Florence, which hit the North Carolina coast in 2018, as a way of proving the success of his coupled modeling approach.

"Dr. Xue led efforts to couple an ocean model to a hydrology model that allows feedback between the ocean surge and the river flows. This coupling is a major gap in the application of models at the coast- even for NOAA forecasting. River models typically do not account for the tide and surge at the ocean end. However the surge can cause backwater effects and prevent the river flow from entering the ocean. Dr. Xue led the first example of a coupled 3D ocean model with a hydrology model," said John Warner, an oceanographer with the Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center Coastal and Estuarine Dynamics Group of the US Geological Survey. "Applications of this system to Hurricane Florence clearly demonstrate the need for a coupled approach to accurately simulate coastal inundation."

Xue sat down with CC&E to talk a little bit more about his approach.

You use coupled modeling in many of your projects. In a coupled model, you’re running two or more models at the same time—for example, you may run a model of the ocean along with a model of a river that empties into a bay. Can you explain what the purpose of this is and what your goals for it are?

The purpose of a coupled model is to represent the interaction among processes that occurs in different parts of the earth. For the coastal ocean, a coupled model is targeted to capture the interactions between the atmosphere and ocean, between ocean and river/land surface, and between the atmosphere and land surface.

One goal of my coupled modeling projects is to investigate the interaction between hydrological (river/land surface) and ocean processes to forecast better the hydrodynamics, flooding, and contaminant dispersal during extreme events like hurricanes and floodings.

Talk about the real-world applications of your work.

My goal is to build an “operational compound flooding forecast system,” which aims to provide an operational forecast for inundation and flooding during normal and extreme weather events like hurricanes and river floods.

What is the origin of the coupled model?

Back in 2005, when I first started my Ph.D. dissertation study of the evolution of the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, I embraced the concept of “source-to-sink,” which means that we need to integrate processes from land to coast and to ocean if we try to have a complete picture of how energy and mass are exchanged at the land-ocean interface.  The couped model I have been using is built on an open-source modeling platform (COAWST, Coupled-Ocean-Atmosphere-Wave-Sediment Transport Modeling System) that has been continuously developed by USGS and other colleagues since 2010, LSU has been a key contributor to the development since 2014. 

What would you like to see the impact of your coupled modeling approach be?

I would like to have my research findings (both theory and model) to be applied in coastal hazard management so we can be more resilient to natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, ocean acidification, hypoxia, land loss, and others.


Established by the Office of Research & Economic Development, Campus Federal Credit Union, and the Council on Research, the Rainmaker Awards recognize both sustained and continuing work, as well as the impact that work has had on the faculty members, their department, and their academic community. Previous awardees from the LSU College of the Coast & Environment are Eugene Turner (2008 and 2009), Kam-biu Liu (2008 and 2012), Nina Lam (2008), Irving Mendelssohn (2009), James Cowan (2009), Kenneth Rose (2009), Michael Polito (2019) and Robert Twilley (2021). The Rainmaker Award was established in 2008.