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.
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:
The centerpiece of Louisiana's Master Plan to stem coastal erosion is this: divert the Mississippi River to let it flow over the marsh. Sediment in the river is supposed to stick and build up the wetlands, keeping more Louisiana land above water as sea levels rise.
The Tangipahoa Parish Council voted unanimously to award a $4.8 million contract to Bertucci Contracting Co. of Metairie to construct a stone breakwater designed to halt coastal erosion in the extreme northwestern corner of Lake Pontchartrain.
Parish engineer Maurice Jordan told The Advocate on Monday a 10,000-linear-foot wall can be constructed from an area just west of the mouth of the Tangipahoa River toward Pass Manchac, which empties into Lake Pontchartrain.
Nicholls State University in Thibodaux is taking a new perspective on tracking coastal erosion and the health of Louisiana's barrier islands more closely.
The islands are an important habitant for migratory birds and a front-line protection against hurricanes, but the islands have undergone heavy erosion as the state's coast has faded into the Gulf of Mexico.
Pictured here on April 13, 2011, Barataria Bay — part of Louisiana's Barataria Basin — was one of the hardest hit areas in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. Today, obvious signs of the spill have faded, but communities are still reeling from its effects.
Credit Debbie Elliott / NPR
Orange Beach, Ala., Environmental Manager Phillip West holds a tar ball that has washed onto the area's sugar-white sand beaches. He says the clumps of weathered oil come in when the surf is rough — an indication that two years later, there's still oil lingering offshore.
Credit Debbie Elliott / NPR
Two years later, this Bay Jimmy island is part of 200 miles of Louisiana shoreline still fouled by the BP oil spill. A layer of oil has hardened along the coast, creating a thick layer of asphalt-like tar that's choking the edge of the marsh and accelerating an already alarming rate of coastal erosion.
It's been two years since the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 rig workers and unleashing the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The oil has long stopped flowing and BP spent billions of dollars to clean up oiled beaches and waterways, but the disaster isn't necessarily over.
Oil fouled some 1,100 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline, but today, in most spots, you can't see obvious signs of the spill. In Orange Beach, Ala., the clear emerald waters of the Gulf roll onto sugar-white sand beaches.