…a football field every hour

Edmund D. Fountain, Special to ProPublica/The Lens

Louisiana…”is washing away at a rate of a football field every hour, 16 square miles per year.” Back in July of 2013 I did a post called, “Miami is Doomed”. I mentioned towards the end of that post the problems facing Louisana’s Highway 1. “Highway 1 is facing a relative, sea-level rise of 9 millimeters per year–one of the highest rates on the U.S. Gulf Coast,” he said. “It’s subsiding at a rapid rate of 7 millimeters a year and is subject to sea-level rise of 2 millimeters yearly.”

The flooding of our coastal states from the sea is largely a local issue ignored and unreported by the national media. It generates very little attention except in times of huge storms. Recently ProPublica “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest” published a report written by Bob Marshall of The Lens and Brian Jacobs and Al Shaw of ProPublica called, “Losing Ground“. It documents in a very visual way the lost of wetlands in coastal Louisana. Grist featured it on their website. The Grist site was were I first read about “Losing Ground”. Two Fridays ago MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on his show, “All In With Chris Hayes” featured the report. It was the Friday before Labor Day. The Rachel Maddow Show was a rerun and it was just before MSNBC sent the audience to prison (just a little programming humor for those of you who follow MSNBC). I’m sure a couple of people saw Chris’ show.

The sinking of Louisana isn’t just about climate change’s rising sea levels. There are many reasons both on the federal and state level. The first impact was the solution to the Great Flood of 1927, the Flood Control Act of 1928. By the mid-1930s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had put the Mississippi River in a straitjacket of levees preventing sediment from reaching the Delta.

Next came the oil and gas industry. “Eventually, some 50,000 wells were permitted in the coastal zone. The state estimates that roughly 10,000 miles of canals were dredged to service them, although that only accounts for those covered by permitting systems. The state began to require some permits in the 1950s, but rigorous accounting didn’t begin until the Clean Water Act brought federal agencies into play in 1972.”

“Saltwater creeped in killing trees and plants–Shorelines crumbled–Spoil levees buried and trapped wetlands.”

“Researchers eventually would show that the damage wasn’t due to surface activities alone. When all that oil and gas was removed from below some areas, the layers of earth far below compacted and sank. Studies have shown that coastal subsidence has been highest in some areas with the highest rates of extraction.”

Next the oil and gas industry moved off the coast.  “To carry that harvest to onshore refineries, companies needed more underwater pipelines. So they dug wider, deeper waterways to accommodate the large ships that served offshore platforms.”

By 2000, coastal roads that had flooded only during major hurricanes were going underwater when high tides coincided with strong southerly winds. Islands and beaches that had been landmarks for lifetimes were gone, lakes had turned into bays, and bays had eaten through their borders to join the Gulf.”

“This land being swallowed by the Gulf is home to half of the country’s oil refineries, a matrix of pipelines that serve 90 percent of the nation’s offshore energy production and 30 percent of its total oil and gas supply, a port vital to 31 states, and 2 million people who would need to find other places to live.”

Louisana has a solution to their problem. They need $50 billion for a 50 year unproven solution and it seems to be let the taxpayers pay for it. The state has fought the idea of making the oil and gas industry pay for their share of the damage. 

                                      Mississippi River Delta in 2000.


                                   What researchers predict the delta may look like in 2100.
 Courtesy of M. Blum, original image from NASA’s GeoCover Data


If you need more convincing on sea level rise, Reuters is doing a series called, The crisis of rising sea levels. I briefly mentioned it this last July. It was in my post called, Studies, Reports, Studies, Reports. Part one of the series can be found here.

Since 2001, water has reached flood levels an average of 20 days or more a year in Annapolis, Maryland; Wilmington, North Carolina; Washington, D.C.; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Sandy Hook, New Jersey; and Charleston, South Carolina. Before 1971, none of these locations averaged more than five days a year. Annapolis had the highest average number of days a year above flood threshold since 2001, at 34. On the Delmarva Peninsula, the annual average tripled to 18 days at the Lewes, Delaware, tide gauge.”

The wait list is symptomatic of a larger problem hindering efforts to deal with rising seas: the U.S. government’s inability to confront the issue head-on.

Engineers say there are three possible responses to rising waters: undertake coastal defense projects; adapt with actions like raising roads and buildings; or abandon land to the sea. Lacking a national strategy, the United States applies these measures haphazardly.

Sea level rise has become mired in the debate over climate change. And on climate change, the politically polarized U.S. Congress can’t even agree whether it’s happening.”

Let’s throw in another report that relates to sea levels. Greenland And West Antarctic Ice Sheet Loss More Than Doubled In Last Five Years. That’s the title of this ThinkProgress.org article.

“Comparing the current CryoSat-2 data with “those from the ICESat satellite from the year 2009, the volume loss in Greenland has doubled since then.” Coauthor and glaciologist Prof. Dr. Angelika Humbert further explained in the news release:

“The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has in the same time span increased by a factor of 3. Combined the two ice sheets are thinning at a rate of 500 cubic kilometres per year. That is the highest speed observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago.”


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