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Fact Sheet 2013–3017

Trends and Causes of Historical Wetland Loss in Coastal Louisiana

By Julie Bernier

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Wetland losses in the northern Gulf Coast region of the United States are so extensive that they represent critical concerns to government environmental agencies and natural resource managers. In Louisiana, almost 3,000 square kilometers (km2) of low-lying wetlands converted to open water between 1956 and 2004, and billions of dollars in State and Federal funding have been allocated for coastal restoration projects intended to compensate for some of those wetland losses. Recent research at the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center (SPCMSC) focused on understanding the physical processes and human activities that contributed to historical wetland loss in coastal Louisiana and the spatial and temporal trends of that loss.

The physical processes (land-surface subsidence and sediment erosion) responsible for historical wetland loss were quantified by comparing marsh-surface elevations, water depths, and vertical displacements of stratigraphic contacts at 10 study areas in the Mississippi River delta plain and 6 sites at Sabine National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR) in the western chenier plain. The timing and extent of land loss at the study areas was determined by comparing historical maps, aerial photographs, and satellite imagery; the temporal and spatial trends of those losses were compared with historical subsidence rates and hydrocarbon production trends.

First posted March 26, 2013

For additional information contact:
St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
600 Fourth Street South
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701–4846

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Suggested citation:

Bernier, Julie, 2013, Trends and causes of historical wetland loss in coastal Louisiana: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2013–3017, 4 p.,

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