Louisiana is in the midst of a land loss crisis that has claimed nearly 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s, and scientists say, without action, Louisiana could lose up to another 4,120 square miles over the next 50 years.
Barrier islands, marshes and swamps throughout Louisiana’s coast reduce incoming storm surge, helping to reduce flooding impacts. If the state continues to lose those habitats, the vulnerability of communities and infrastructure will increase substantially, state officials and environmentalists say.
Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan calls for approximately 5 to 11 billion cubic meters of sediment to offset projected future land losses.
University of New Orleans earth and environmental sciences professor Mark Kulp is helping search for suitable sediment to counteract the projected losses.
“Five to 11 billion cubic meters is a lot of sediment and Louisiana needs it to help maintain critical land in areas where coastal erosion is rampant,” Kulp said. “Also, specific types of sediment have to be used for specific types of restoration projects. You really need to know where the sediment is and its composition, so you don’t have any engineering mistakes and put the wrong sediment in the wrong place and then it becomes a wasted resource.”
Kulp, whose research emphasis is on the sedimentary framework of the Mississippi River delta system and evolution of the Louisiana coastal plain in response to changes in sediment supply, sea-level rise and subsidence, has been awarded a $118,697 grant from The Water Institute of the Gulf to contribute to a state sediment database.
The sediment database is part of the Louisiana Sediment Management Plan created to help reach goals included in the state’s master plan to combat coastal erosion.
“Because the type of sediment that is needed is so valuable to this effort, the state has developed this program, along with the development of a detailed sediment base to identify the types and distribution of sediment for use in future restoration projects,” Kulp said.
The Water Institute of the Gulf is working with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) to survey areas of the coast, collect sediment data, catalogue and archive this information into a consistent database.
UNO is providing services to the Water Institute that include collection of sediment cores, analysis of the cores, grain size analysis and geological interpretation as part of a team that includes The Water Institute, CPRA, LSU and the Baton Rouge-based company APTIM Inc., Kulp said.
UNO’s involvement will not only include contributing to a final report and database, but there will be involvement in the project of UNO undergraduate and graduate students, Kulp said.
“We will be collecting sediment cores, bringing them to UNO for analysis and then do detailed examination of the sediment to characterize the exact grain size of the sediment,” he said.
“This will go into a database of seismic data being developed by the Water Institute to create 3-D models of the Louisiana subsurface to show where and how different types of sediment are located across the subsurface of the coast and locally on the seafloor.”