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U.S. Geological Survey Digital Data Series DDS-79, Coastal Erosion and Wetland Change in Louisiana: Selected USGS Products


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Louisiana contains 25 percent of the vegetated wetlands and 40 percent of the tidal wetlands in the 48 conterminous States. These critical natural systems are being lost. Louisiana leads the Nation in coastal erosion and wetland loss as a result of a complex combination of natural processes (e.g. storms, sea-level rise, subsidence) and manmade alterations to the Mississippi River and the wetlands over the past 200 years. Erosion of several of the barrier islands, which lie offshore of the estuaries and wetlands and buffer and protect these important ecosystems from the open marine environment, exceeds 20 meters/year. The average rate of shoreline erosion is over 10 meters/year. Within the past 100 years, Louisiana's barrier islands have decreased in area by more than 40 percent, and some islands have lost more than 75 percent of their land area. If these loss rates continue, several of the barriers are expected to erode completely within the next three decades. Their disappearance will contribute to further loss and deterioration of wetlands and back-barrier estuaries and increase the risk to infrastructure.

Coastal wetland environments, which include associated bays and estuaries, support a rich harvest of renewable natural resources with an estimated annual value of over $1 billion. More than 30 percent of the Nation’s fisheries come from these wetlands, as well as 25 percent of oil and gas coming through the wetlands. Louisiana also has the highest rate of wetland loss: 80 percent of the Nation's total loss of wetlands has occurred in this State. The rate of wetland loss in the Mississippi River delta plain is estimated to be about 70 square kilometers/year -- the equivalent of a football field every 20 minutes. If these rates continue, an estimated 4,000 square kilometers of wetlands will be lost in the next 50 years. Losses of this magnitude have direct implications on the Nation’s energy supplies, economic security, and environmental integrity.

Over the past two decades, the USGS, working in partnership with other scientists in universities and State agencies, has led the research effort to document barrier erosion and wetland loss and understand the natural and manmade causes responsible. Some products resulting from this research, included in this DVD, are providing the baseline data and information being used for Federal-State wetlands restoration programs underway and being planned.

Charles G. Groat
U.S. Geological Survey

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