coastal erosion

USGS

Let’s imagine it is the Spring of 2025, and Louisiana is preparing to open three diversions on the lower Mississippi so fresh water and sediment can reach wetlands struggling to stay ahead of sea level rise.

We've collected the first five episodes of our ongoing environmental series The Louisiana Coast: Last Call into one podcast.

You can play the stories on this page, right click on the player and select "Save As" to download it, or find all of our last call podcasts here:

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The Louisiana Coast: Last Call — River Diversions

May 20, 2013
NASA Earth Observatory

It’s almost impossible to find anyone in coastal Louisiana opposed to the idea of “coastal restoration.” Storms like Katrina, Gustav and Isaac have shown everyone the value of the marshes and swamps that once stood between them and the Gulf.

But when “restore” means turning things back to the way they once were, problems can arise.

The best-known example of that is the conflict over using river diversions.

The Louisiana Coast: Last Call — The Master Plan

May 17, 2013
Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority

If you’ve been listening and reading along this week, by now you know the consensus among coastal experts is that New Orleans and southeast Louisiana are headed for an early grave before the end of the century.

Because of river levees and damage from oil and gas canals, the wetlands that once protected this city from the Gulf have been reduced by more than half. And now what’s left of this landmass is sinking, at the same time the Gulf is rising due to global warming.

Jason Saul / WWNO

The clang of tide gauges throughout parts of southeast Louisiana aren’t from a science fiction movie, though they may make residents feel like they’re caught in one.

Those sounds tell the stories of rising tides along the Gulf Coast and melting glaciers in the Arctic. And they tell how scientists believe those two events, taking place thousands of miles apart, are the reasons why the Gulf of Mexico is on pace to submerge most of southeast Louisiana by the end of the century — if nothing is done.

Dr. Terry McTigue / NOAA

These days when fishing guide Ryan Lambert motors away from the boat launch in Buras, he’s fishing in the what locals call “the land of used-to-bes.”

As in, that used to be Yellow Cotton Bay, or Drake Bay, or English Bay… and dozens more. It’s all one big open body of water now because the marshes, cypress swamps and ridges that separated these water bodies for most of his life are gone.

Thomas Jefferys / Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library

Anyone flying into New Orleans on a clear day now looks down on a panorama of delicate marsh floating like green lace on the brown waters of the Mississippi delta. Those wetlands seem endless — stretching to the horizons.

But scientists tell us we’re really looking at the skeletal remains of a vast wetland ecosystem that presented huge challenges to European explorers back in the 16th century.

If you enter New Orleans in a Google search you’ll get words and images that echo the city’s unofficial motto: laissez les bon temps rouler, let the good times roll.

Americans love to visit this place because, as noted TV producer David Simon has said, New Orleanians will always find a way to celebrate, even when they get bad news.

But there’s some bad news coming to bayou country that no one will be dancing to.

WWNO To Examine Coastal Land Loss In New Series

May 9, 2013

Rising sea levels threaten communities on every American coastline, but none more so than Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, where every hour a football field’s worth of marsh disappears.

NASA

In a new story out in The Lens today, environmental reporter Bob Marshall delves into an ongoing study about Mississippi River sediment, and its ability to rebuild the coast. Government agencies and scientists have some new ideas about how much mud and sand the Mississippi River deposits along the Louisiana coast before it flows out to the Intercontinental Shelf.

Marshall tops his story by laying out some assumptions:

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