Three University of Louisiana faculty members earned a share of $2.5 million in grants that will boost the state's coastal master plan.

Projects by Dr. Paul Leberg, biology professor; Dr. Emad Habib, civil engineering professor; and Dr. Rui Zhang, geosciences assistant professor, were among 13 investigations funded by the Louisiana RESTORE Act Center of Excellence, which announced the awards Friday.

The center is part of Baton Rouge's Water Institute of the Gulf, one of five facilities established along the Gulf Coast as part of the 2012 RESTORE Act. RESTORE is an acronym for Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies.

The centers receive 2.5 percent of the $5.3 billion in federal fines levied against BP and its drilling partners following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The grants are the first the Center of Excellence has awarded. Each two-year grant supports the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, a $50 billion, 50-year project to reverse the effects of coastal erosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

UL's Leberg was awarded $299,733 for a project to assess how coastal island restoration has affected brown pelicans' nesting habitats. The investigation will study vegetation types, predator communities and other factors that might determine if the birds choose a barrier island as a nesting site.

Dr. Jordan Karubian, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Tulane University in New Orleans, is Leberg's project collaborator.

Habib's investigation will evaluate whether rainfall measurements collected by radar are accurate enough for use in coastal master plan studies. Louisiana's coastline receives 50-60 inches of annual rainfall, a major source of fresh water. A precise measurement of precipitation is critical to restoration efforts.

Habib was awarded $71,148.

Zhang is a co-investigator for a project that will use high-resolution seismic data and sediment coring to evaluate faulting in the Mississippi River delta plain. To better understand how land surfaces move vertically, investigators will study three areas the northern portion of Terrebonne-Timbalier Bay, Bayou Lafourche near Golden Meadow, and areas near the confluence of Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Bourne.

The team, which includes scientists from Tulane and the University of Kentucky, earned $349,174.