A Response to The Lens/ProPublica Publication ‘Losing Ground: Southeast Louisiana Disappearing Quickly‘ By Chris McLindon, ?Exploration Geologist
ProPublica produced a visually stunning piece that captured the changes that have been occurring on the Louisiana wetlands. Unfortunately they coupled this breakthrough with a rehash of the same old tired explanations for wetlands loss that have been in the media for decades.
In many ways this situation reminds me of the issue of dietary fat consumption. Based on some initial flawed studies the science community concluded that the consumption of fat was bad. This was picked up by the media, and it soon became entrenched in the public consciousness. An industry grew up based on the public perception of some initially bad science. Health officials are now trying to undo the effects of the early flawed science and the agenda that was pushed by the industry.
The same is true for coastal Louisiana. Some early flawed studies decided that land loss was due to erosion. This was picked up by the media and entrenched into the public consciousness. An industry has built up on the original flawed science and its public support. It is the coastal restoration industry that is pushing the agenda for massive spending on restoration projects.
The truth is that coastal wetlands loss is primarily due to natural processes. There is nothing we can realistically do about it, but in order to promote the agenda, the restoration industry must make promises that it cannot keep. The people that suffer are those that are making life decisions based on the promise of restoration.
Any story that wants to create the impression that “Southeastern Louisiana is rushing toward and early grave” will focus attention on the birdfoot delta of the Mississippi River. It is the site of the most dramatic rates of land loss that have been experienced since measurement began in 1932. Rarely do these stories examine actual scientific causes of land loss and the logical explanations for the rate of loss. An accurate scientific examination would start with the observation that this delta is in fact the most recently abandoned delta of the set of historic deltas that built the coast. As Dr. Paul Kemp said in his 2013 study “… the river is contracting hydraulically. Since the lowermost Mississippi River has been constrained to stay within a channel that it would have abandoned in favor of the Atchafalaya under natural conditions, a back-stepping from the shelf-edge position of the Balize toward the former Plaquemines delta outlet of 1 ky ago is in progress “
The rate of submergence of historical deltas has been documented by a study of the St. Bernard Delta by Rogers, et.al. in 2009 at U.N.O. During the time of the Roman Empire this delta built out onto the shallow marine clays of Breton Sound. This delta was completely submerged within a period of 300 years after the peak of its formation, and its remnant deposits are now found more than 30 feet below sea level. The rate of subsidence that can be inferred for this delta is very consistent with the rates of subsidence seen today on the most recently abandoned delta. The birdfoot delta reached the peak of its growth almost 80 years ago, and it is on track to entirely submerge below the surface in a slightly faster timeframe than the St. Bernard Delta did. (reasons to be discussed)
Chris McLindon received a B.S. in Geology degree from L.S.U. in 1979. He has been employed as an exploration geologist in the oil and gas industry in New Orleans since graduation, including eight years of self-employment.
Throughout the course of his career Mr. McLindon maintained a very strong interested in the processes of the Mississippi River and its current and historical delta. He has actively researched the subject throughout his career with periods of scientific investigation and evaluation.