Natural hurricane protection for New Orleans could be doomed
When I visited New Orleans for a wedding in April, 2005–four months before Hurricane Katrina–I took my daughter to the local aquarium. Yes, there are better things to do in New Orleans but it was hot out, it was there, and she’d never been to one before, so in we went.
If memory serves, the aquarium was located, interestingly, right next to, and beneath the water level of, the Mississippi River. This should have raised some alarm in my mind about what would happen if the area were to be hit by a major hurricane, but didn’t.
What did stimulate my mind was an exhibit at the aquarium about the deterioration of wetlands south of the city and how this reduced the city’s protection from a hurricane: the wetlands, which used to be called swamps, absorb much of a storm surge in these conditions, diminishing the brunt of the storm’s force and preventing the ocean from, as my friend Jonah Lehrer has memorably phrased it, swallowing the city. The aquarium was urging visitors to support the restoration of these wetlands, which had been damaged by decades of dredging, pollution, dams and other offenses to the ecosystem.
Well, it looks like the good people at the aquarium in New Orleans are going to be disappointed:
…in a new analysis, scientists at Louisiana State University say inland dams trap so much sediment that the river no longer carries enough to halt marsh loss, especially now that global warming is speeding a rise in sea levels. As a result, the loss of thousands of additional square miles of marshland is “inevitable”…
So restoration efforts notwithstanding, reviving the natural hurricane protection for the once-great city–to say nothing of the great and beautiful cypress forests and their wildlife that make up much of Louisiana’s marshes–is not in the cards.
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