Sinking delta? Yes it is but the rising sea levels thing? Not so much
Most South Louisianians understand the need to restore the coast, not only as our first line of defense against storm surge but also as a vital resource for our economy. The urgency of restoration efforts, however, was underscored by a recent Tulane University study on sea level rise.
Geologists at the university said the sea level along the Gulf Coast accelerated greatly in the last century. Co-author Torbjörn Törnqvist, chairman of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said the Gulf’s sea level rose 8 inches in modern times, five times the rate of sea level rise in the 1,000 years that preceded the country’s industrialization.
Mr. Törnqvist said the current sustained rate of sea level rise has not occurred in this region for more than 7,000 years — the period in which a relatively slow increase in sea levels allowed the Mississippi River sediment to accumulate and build the current delta that includes South Louisiana. Researchers attributed the faster sea level rise to the warming of ocean temperatures and melting of polar ice caps accelerated by climate change.
The finding on the Gulf’s level highlights one of the factors contributing to the loss of Louisiana’s coast. As Mr. Törnqvist said, public discussions on Louisiana’s coast often include factors such as levees blocking river sediment from wetlands, canals that allowed saltwater intrusion and sinking ground caused by the extraction of underground oil and gas, among other factors.
But the one thing seldom mentioned is the faster rate of rising sea levels. “Well, it has accelerated,” said Mr. Törnqvist, “and made things worse.”