Swallowed by rising seas

Sea level rise is very real in western Louisiana

Coastal forests in Louisiana are being drowned as the ground sinks and sea level rises. @bberwyn photo.
Coastal flooding is nearly a daily reality in parts of Louisiana. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Big chunks of Louisiana’s coast will be swallowed by the sea within decades unless there’s a major effort to rebuild wetlands. Over the last six to 10 years, sea level has been rising about .5 inches per year on average in the region, according to Tulane University researchers, who recently published a new study in the journal Nature Communications .

“In the Mississippi Delta, about 65 percent of study sites are probably still keeping pace, but in the westernmost part of coastal Louisiana, more than 60 percent of sites are on track to drown,” said Tulane geology professor Torbjörn E. Törnqvist, a co-author of the study.

The researchers analyzed measurements of shallow subsidence rates at 274 sites across the coast and combined these with published GPS-measurements of deeper subsidence rates. Adding published satellite observations of the rise of the sea surface in the Gulf of Mexico, they were able to calculate how rapidly sea level is rising with respect to the coastal wetland surface.

“The bottom line is that in order to assess how dire the situation is in Louisiana, this new dataset is a huge step forward compared to anything we’ve done before,” Törnqvist said.

Justin Lawrence of the National Science Foundation, which provided funding for the study, agreed.

“These researchers have developed a new method of evaluating whether coastal marshes in Louisiana will be submerged by rising sea levels,” Lawrence said. “The findings suggest that a large portion of coastal marshes in Louisiana are vulnerable to present-day sea-level rise. This work may provide an early indication of what is to occur in coastal regions around the world later this century.”

A link to the research article can be found here.

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