Lake Pontchartrain Basin:  Bottom Sediments and Related Environmental Resources

USGS Professional Paper 1634
Chapter B

New Field Sampling Techniques and Data Description

By James G. Flocks1
With technical contributions from 
Marci Marot1, Phil McCarty2, Dana Weise1, Paul Connor, Jr.2,
and Scott Noakes3

University of New Orleans
3 University of Georgia, Center for Applied Isotope Studies



In 1994, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) began a multidisciplinary evaluation of the geology, geomorphology, coastal processes, and environmental quality of the Pontchartrain Basin. The primary issues involved in the study include the environmental quality of the sediments and wetland loss. The sediments in Lake Pontchartrain have a long history of contamination from surface runoff. More recently, the northern and western shorelines of the lake are undergoing erosion, along with subsidence and loss of diversity in vegetation. To adequately assess the impact of these issues, various field investigations were employed (see table 1 below). 


The following field investigations were conducted between 1994 and 1997 in Lakes Pontchartrain, Maurepas, Borgne and the surrounding waterways, excluding the Mississippi River. An outline of the survey techniques, their task objective, and accomplishments to date will be followed by detailed descriptions of the methods involved in the techniques.

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Figure 1

Table 1. Field investigations used in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin study.

Field Investigation Technique Task Objectives
Geophysical Surveys
Seismic profiling
(>650 line-km)
Data interpretation for geologic framework; modeling
Side-scan surveys Geomorphology
Bathymetric surveys
(3 surveys, >100 km)
Modeling temporal change
Sediment Sampling Vibracores (102)
High resolution sedimentation patterns; post-Pleistocene geologic framework
Boreholes (>100) Regional sedimentation patterns; Pleistocene geologic framework
Box cores (>80) Downcore geochronology; contaminant history; palynological studies
Grab samples (>100) Regional surficial contaminant survey
Underway surficial sediment sampling
(2 surveys, 800 sites each)
Regional surficial contaminant survey
Oceanographic and
atmospheric flux and
circulation measurements

Wind measurements
Current measurements
Turbidity measurements
Satellite imagery
Tide gauge

Circulation modeling;
shoreline mapping


To properly address the issues associated with sediment quality and shoreline dynamics of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, it is necessary to understand the geologic evolution of the region as well as recent changes in the characteristics of the lake bottom and subsurface. To develop this understanding, a variety of field investigative techniques must be employed. Remote sensing provides a noninvasive, multi-dimensional survey of the lake bottom and subsurface that provides data for geologic framework interpretations, computer models of lake bottom and water column dynamics, and identification of features such as relic barriers, beach trends, fault lines and manmade structures. Subsurface sampling techniques such as vibracore, borehole drilling, and box cores provide a means to directly sample the sediments at depths and resolutions dependent on the type of investigation. Sediments obtained by these techniques yield information on Quaternary geologic framework, regional sedimentation patterns, downcore geochronology, palynology, and sediment contamination history. Finally, surficial sediment sampling such as grab samples and underway sampling are necessary to determine regional sedimentation and contaminant distribution and temporal changes in distribution during the length of the study.



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