The Mississippi River Delta is the confluence of the Mississippi River with the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, southeastern United States. The river delta is a three-million-acre (4,700 sq mi; 12,000 km2) area of land that stretches from Vermilion Bay on the west, to the Chandeleur Islands in the east, on Louisiana's southeastern coast. It is part of the Gulf of Mexico and the Louisiana coastal plain, one of the largest areas of coastal wetlands in the United States. The Mississippi River Delta is the 7th largest river delta on Earth (USGS) and is an important coastal region for the United States, containing more than 2.7 million acres (4,200 sq mi; 11,000 km2) of coastal wetlands and 37% of the estuarine marsh in the conterminous U.S. The coastal area is the nation's largest drainage basin and drains about 41% of the contiguous United States into the Gulf of Mexico at an average rate of 470,000 cubic feet per second (3,500,000 US gal/s; 13,000,000 L/s).
The modern Mississippi River Delta formed over the last approximately 4,500 years as the Mississippi River deposited sand, clay and silt along its banks and in adjacent basins. The Mississippi River Delta is a river-dominated delta system, influenced by the largest river system in North America. The shape of the current birdfoot delta reflects the dominance the river exerts over the other hydrologic and geologic processes at play in the northern Gulf of Mexico. four million acres (6,200 sq mi; 16,000 km2) of coastal wetlands.Prior to the extensive leveeing of the Mississippi River that began in the 1930s, the river avulsed its course in search of a shorter route to the Gulf of Mexico approximately every 1,000–1,500 years. The prehistoric and historic delta lobes of the Mississippi River Delta have influenced the formation of the Louisiana coastline and led to the creation of over
As the river changed course, the natural flow of freshwater and sediment changed as well, resulting in periods of land building and land loss in different areas of the delta. This process by which the river changes course is known as avulsion, or delta-switching, and forms the variety of landscapes that make up the Mississippi River Delta.
The Atchafalaya River is the largest distributary of the Mississippi River and is also considered to be an influential part of the continual land-building processes within the Mississippi River Delta.The river's tributary channel was formed approximately 500 years ago and the Atchafalaya and Wax Lake deltas emerged around the middle of the twentieth century.
Starting with the earliest European settlement, people have struggled with the delta's natural cycle of floods, progradation, and transgression.Increased economic development and human habitation in the region created a desire to protect society from the threats posed by this mighty waterway. Beginning in the 20th century, advances in technology and engineering allowed humans to alter the river in fundamental ways. Although these changes successfully shielded many people from danger and enabled significant economic development in the region, they have proven to have profoundly negative effects on the downstream delta.
|Salé-Cypremort||4,600 years BP|
|Cocodrie||4,600–3,500 years BP|
|Teche||3,500–2,800 years BP|
|St. Bernard||2,800–1,000 years BP|
|Lafourche||1,000–300 years BP|
|Plaquemine||750–500 years BP|
The formation of the Mississippi River Delta can be traced back to the late Cretaceous Period, approximately 100 million years ago, with the creation of the Mississippi embayment. million years ago), which built the foundation of the modern delta region. The modern day Mississippi River Delta plain began to evolve during the Holocene Epoch (around 7,500 to 8,000 years ago) due to the deceleration of sea level rise and the natural shifting of the river's course every 1,000–1,500 years.The embayment began focusing sediment into the Gulf of Mexico, which facilitated the deltaic land-building processes for the future. During the Paleogene Period (approx. 65.5 to 23 million years ago), a series of smaller scale, regional rivers entered present-day southern Louisiana allowing an increase in dispersion of sediment deposition into the delta region. The Mississippi embayment then became a primary focus of sediment deposition during the Miocene Epoch (approx. 23 to 5.3
The delta cycle refers to a dynamic process whereby the river deposits sediment at its outfall, growing a delta lobe, then eventually, seeking a shorter path to the sea, abandons its previous course and associated delta. After the river changes course and abandons the delta headland, the region experiences land loss due to the processes of subsidence, erosion of the marsh shoreline, and the natural redistribution of sands deposited along the delta that create the barrier islands. The delta cycle contains the natural process of land loss and land gain, due to the directionality and discharge of the river. This process formed the bays, bayous, coastal wetlands, and barrier islands that make up the coastline of Louisiana.
The Mississippi River major deltaic cycle began over 7,000 years ago, eventually forming six delta complexes which are major depositional elements of a delta plain. The Mississippi River Delta complexes consist of smaller areas known as delta lobes, which contain the basins and other natural landscapes of the coastline.
The six Mississippi River Delta complexes are as follows:
The history and culture that is linked to the Mississippi River Delta is as unique as its geologic landscape. The mouth of the Mississippi River was found in 1519 by Alvarez de Pineda of Spain. Robert Cavelier de La Salle claimed the territory around the mouth of the Mississippi River for France in 1682, and the region grew with importance with its strategic location for trade and security.
In 1699 the French built their first crude fort at La Balize, on the Southeast Pass in Pass á Loutre, to control passage on the Mississippi. By 1721, they had built the wooden lighthouse-type structure (la balise means seamark in French) that gave the settlement its name. Built in the marshes, the village was vulnerable to hurricane damage. In addition, ships had to deal with the shifting conditions of tides, currents and mudflats through the mouth of the river. From 1700 to 1888, the main shipping channel was changed four times in response to shifting sandbars, mudflats and hurricanes.
In 1803, the United States purchased Louisiana from Napoleon. During this period, the economic and political significance of New Orleans and the mouth of the Mississippi River increased, and it became an integral part of the nation's farming industries. Due to the influx of nutrient-rich soil from the Mississippi River, the delta is a prime area for farming sugar cane, cotton and indigo, crops that were introduced into Louisiana farmlands during the pre-Civil War era.Many of these processes are important resources that the delta still provides today.
The importance of navigation and trade on the Mississippi only increased after the Civil War, and like the river itself, this economic development eventually flowed into the delta. In the 1870s, former delta swamplands were being transformed, via levee construction, into fertile farmland. Timber companies began harvesting lucrative forests and planters followed, taking advantage of the new agricultural opportunities. More railroads entered the area, replacing steamboats as the primary means of transporting the delta's rich natural bounty.
With the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, the Mississippi River Delta became an even more important transportation artery. In addition to shipping, local and commercial fisheries continued to expand. The discovery of vast oil and gas deposits brought further economic and environmental changes to the delta. Despite these profound changes, the delta today remains very much rooted in the vibrant cultural and social traditions of its residents.
The Mississippi River Delta is home to more than two million people. The location of the delta at the mouth of the Mississippi River allowed for the area to be a cultural gateway into the United States, and influenced the mix of nationalities which settled in the area over time, forming the diversity of the region.
Louisiana's first 18th century colonists were French, but they were soon joined by Spanish and Acadian settlers.The region has been home to other European-immigrant ethnic groups, beginning in the 19th century, including German, Sicilian, and Irish. There are also the Africans, West Indians, and Native Americans in the mix. The combination of these groups over time has created the special culture found in the Mississippi River Delta.
Two unique groups are the Creoles and the Cajuns.In general terms, Creole refers to a black, white, or mixed-race native of Louisiana. Creoles descended from the union of various ethnic groups in Louisiana, and they are often categorized according to their heritage. Creole populations before 1803 were typically born of French and/or Spanish parents; as such, they kept their European characteristics and cultures. A sub-group is known as the "Creoles of color," born of the mingling of African, European, and Native American identities. During the colonial period, the mixed-race Creoles were usually free from bondage, obtained an education, and often owned businesses and property.
The Cajuns are another ethnic group in southern Louisiana; they primarily consider themselves to be descendants of the Acadian settlers who were expelled from Nova Scotia by the British after the French and Indian War, when France lost its North American colonies.The Cajuns have intermarried with all ethnicities, profoundly influencing the culture of Louisiana. The Creole and Cajun cultures possessed distinct identities and remain strong influences in the Mississippi River Delta. They continue to shape preferences of food, music, and art, as well as to maintain the unique identities existing in the southernmost parts of the region. Both cultures speak a form of French; but they are considered to be autonomous and distinct dialects.
From 1910 to 1920, New Orleans became the birthplace of jazz and since has continued its legacy of being home to budding musicians and new musical experiences, tying music directly to its unique culture and diverse heritage.The origins of jazz and blues music in the region is closely connected to the Mississippi River and the delta, as the location allowed for an influx of cultural influences, including blues and bluegrass music from upriver, to the African and Latin folk hymns and music from the Caribbean islands. The delta is still synonymous with the sounds of jazz, funk and zydeco and remains to be an important cultural hub for new sounds and music, bringing thousands to the area every year to experience the lifestyle and participate in the natural rhythms of the area.
The region is also home to a unique and renowned culinary tradition. Cajun food is defined by its use of ingredients widely available from the delta. Spices, shellfish, and grains, all provided by the delta's naturally rich environment, define many of these aromatic and flavorful dishes. Cajun culinary techniques and recipes continue to draw thousands of tourists to the region each year and have been exported around the world.
The Mississippi River Delta provides an array of natural habitats and resources that benefit not only the state of Louisiana and coastal region, but also the entire nation. The coastal wetlands have a number of diverse landscapes that connect a variety of habitats to both the land and water.
Louisiana's wetlands are one of the nation's most productive and important natural assets. Consisting of natural levees, barrier islands, forests, swamps, and fresh, brackish and saline marshes, the region is home to complex ecosystems and habitats that are necessary for sustaining its unique and vibrant nature.In addition to the environmental factors, the Mississippi River Delta also provides numerous economic resources and benefits that are unique to the region. These vital resources are at constant risk of being lost with the continual land loss and the decreasing size of the natural coastal area.
The Mississippi River Delta has a strong economy which relies heavily on tourism and recreational activities such as fishing, hunting and wildlife watching as well as commercial fishing, oil, gas, and shipping industries. There are a number of major industries in the Mississippi River Delta that drive the local and national economy, including:
In total, the five Gulf Coast states generate around $34 billion annually in tourism. The recreational wildlife tourism industry is an important component of the tourism sector for the Mississippi River Delta and the Gulf Coast. The report, "Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy," shows how wildlife tourism is a vital industry, bringing in more than $19 billion in annual spending by tourists and generating more than $5 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue.
The Mississippi River Delta has an extremely diverse ecological landscape, consisting of a number of wildlife habitats and vegetation. The coastal landscape of the Mississippi River Delta is rich in resources and contains some of the most unusual areas in the United States. In addition to providing habitats for wildlife living in the region, the Mississippi River Delta's wetlands, marshes and barrier islands also provide the vital protection for coastal residents and communities from storm surge and flooding.
A variety of mammals rely on the habitats that the delta provides, from forests to swamps to estuaries. These areas are home to Louisiana black bears, bottlenose dolphins, minks, beavers, armadillos, foxes, coyotes and bobcats. The region also supports a number of invasive mammals, such as nutria and feral hogs, which destroy native ecosystems – including coastal wetlands – and cause trouble for native species.
The delta is a vital stopping point along the Mississippi Flyway.The flyway stretches from southern Ontario to the mouth of the Mississippi River, and contains one of the longest migration routes in the Western Hemisphere. About 460 bird species have been recorded in Louisiana, with 90% (300 species) found within the coastal wetlands. Many diverse and rare species including indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers, yellow-crowned night herons and bald eagles call Louisiana home. Also found in the Mississippi River Delta are great egrets, glossy ibises, roseate spoonbills, wintering hummingbirds, birds of prey and wood storks.
Throughout its geological history, the Mississippi River Delta experienced natural processes of growth and retraction as a result of sediment deposition from the river. However, in recent history, the processes of land loss have far surpassed the river's land-building properties due to a number of factors. Some of the causes of delta land loss stem from natural causes, like hurricanes and other effects of climate change. However, the Mississippi River Delta also suffers from a lack of sedimentation due to the levee systems, navigation canals and other man-made structures within the region. These structures have proven to be detrimental to the natural land-building power of the river as many of the structures slow or eliminate the river's flow into certain areas, increasing salt-water intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico into freshwater wetlands. The salt water weakens these freshwater ecosystems, making them more vulnerable to destruction by hurricanes and unable to withstand heavy storm surge.
Subsidence: In the absence of riverine sediment inputs to counteract it, net subsidence in the Mississippi River Delta occurs at a much faster rate than in other areas of the United States.Researchers suggest that subsidence may be further exacerbated through fluid extraction by the gas and oil industry.
Hurricanes and storms: Coastal wetlands and barrier islands are the first line of protection for Louisiana communities and cities from hurricanes and storm surge. However, as these landscapes are weakened, they become more vulnerable to strong winds and flooding. For example, following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, approximately 200 square miles (130,000 acres; 520 km2) of wetlands became open water, demonstrating permanent wetland loss.
Sea level rise: A combination of subsidence, hurricanes and storms and sea level rise leads to increases in marsh and wetlands loss. Climate change also has effects on the strength of the coastline. As global sea levels rise, the areas within the Mississippi River Delta that experience subsidence may permanently flood and become open water. Additionally, the lack of sediment into these flooded areas also exacerbates the rate at which sea level rise affects the region.
The Mississippi River took thousands of years to build its delta, but land loss is occurring at a much faster pace. A number of steps have been taken over the past decade to increase the resiliency of coastal Louisiana. Research has been conducted in order to find the most feasible and effective restoration projects to mitigate further land loss and to implement rebuilding processes for the delta. Studies have conservatively estimated that without sediment input, 4,000–5,000 square miles (10,000–13,000 km2) of the Mississippi Delta may be submerged by 2100, indicating a need for directed restoration efforts. Projects to counteract this include:
These projects are authorized through the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (WRDA 2007), which authorizes flood control, navigation, and environmental projects and studies by the Army Corps of Engineers.Some of the important LCA Projects include:
The state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) brought together national and international scientists and engineers to create a $50-billion, 50-year plan to save Louisiana's coast. The plan was unanimously approved by the legislature in May 2012 and outlines 109 projects that intends to bring long-term benefits, resiliency and sustainability to the communities and ecosystems along the coast. Within the plan there are projects that vary in size and impact, including, hydrologic restoration, sediment diversions, barrier island restoration and marsh creation projects.Some of the projects are already underway, but many of them still need further approval and funding authorization.
The Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act) was passed by Congress as part of the Transportation Reauthorization Act on June 29, 2012 and was signed into law by the President Barack Obama on July 7, 2012. This law followed the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 and ensures that 80 percent of the civil Clean Water Act fines paid by BP and the other responsible parties are directed to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and five Gulf Coast states to use for environmental and economic restoration.
A swamp is a forested wetland. Swamps are considered to be transition zones because both land and water play a role in creating this environment. Swamps vary in size and are located all around the world. The water of a swamp may be fresh water, brackish water, or seawater. Freshwater swamps form along large rivers or lakes where they are critically dependent upon rainwater and seasonal flooding to maintain natural water level fluctuations. Saltwater swamps are found along tropical and subtropical coastlines. Some swamps have hammocks, or dry-land protrusions, covered by aquatic vegetation, or vegetation that tolerates periodic inundation or soil saturation. The two main types of swamp are "true" or swamp forests and "transitional" or shrub swamps. In the boreal regions of Canada, the word swamp is colloquially used for what is more correctly termed a bog, fen, or muskeg. Some of the world's largest swamps are found along major rivers such as the Amazon, the Mississippi, and the Congo.
Grand Isle is a town in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, United States, located on a barrier island of the same name in the Gulf of Mexico. The island is at the mouth of Barataria Bay where it meets the gulf. As of the 2010 census, the town's resident population was 1,296, down from 1,541 in 2000; during summers, the population, including tourists and seasonal residents, sometimes increases to over 20,000. Grand Isle is statistically part of the New Orleans−Metairie−Kenner Metropolitan Statistical Area, though it is not connected to New Orleans' continuous urbanized area.
The Pearl River is a river in the U.S. states of Mississippi and Louisiana. It forms in Neshoba County, Mississippi from the confluence of Nanih Waiya and Tallahaga creeks, and has a meander length of 444 miles (715 km). The lower part of the river forms part of the boundary between Mississippi and Louisiana.
The Atchafalaya River is a 137-mile-long (220 km) distributary of the Mississippi River and Red River in south central Louisiana in the United States. It flows south, just west of the Mississippi River, and is the fifth largest river in North America, by discharge. The name Atchafalaya comes from Choctaw for 'long river', from hachcha, 'river', and falaya, 'long'.
Pointe à la Hache is a census-designated place (CDP) and unincorporated community in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, United States. Located on the east bank of the Mississippi River, the village has been the seat for Plaquemines Parish since the formation of the parish. As of the 2010 census, its population was 187, less than half its 1930 population. It suffered severe damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011.
The Old River Control Structure is a floodgate system in a branch of the Mississippi River in central Louisiana. It regulates the flow of water from the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya River, thereby preventing the Mississippi River from changing course. Completed in 1963, the complex was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a side channel of the Mississippi known as "Old River", between the Mississippi's current channel and the Atchafalaya Basin, a former channel of the Mississippi. The Old River Control Structure is a complex containing the original low-sill and overbank structures, as well as the auxiliary structure that was constructed after the low-sill structure was damaged during the Mississippi River Flood of 1973. The complex also contains a navigation lock and the Sidney A. Murray Jr. Hydroelectric Station.
The wetlands of Louisiana are water-saturated coastal and swamp regions of southern Louisiana.
The Atchafalaya Basin, or Atchafalaya Swamp, is the largest wetland and swamp in the United States. Located in south central Louisiana, it is a combination of wetlands and river delta area where the Atchafalaya River and the Gulf of Mexico converge. The river stretches from near Simmesport in the north through parts of eight parishes to the Morgan City southern area.
The Mississippi River System, also referred to as the Western Rivers, is a mostly riverine network of the United States which includes the Mississippi River and connecting waterways. The Mississippi River is the largest drainage basin in the United States. In the United States, the Mississippi drains about fifty-nine percent of the country's rivers.
The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) is a governmental authority created by the Louisiana Legislature in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The organization takes advantage of both federal and state funding of around $1 billion annually. Since its founding, the organization has dredged over 60 miles of sediment into islands and artificial land, as well as 36,000 acres of marshland. CPRA predicts that over the next 50 years, over 1,450 square miles of land in Louisiana could be lost along coastal areas.
The Morganza Spillway or Morganza Control Structure is a flood-control structure in the U.S. state of Louisiana along the western bank of the Lower Mississippi River at river mile 280, near Morganza in Pointe Coupee Parish. The spillway stands between the Mississippi and the Morganza Floodway, which leads to the Atchafalaya Basin and the Atchafalaya River in south-central Louisiana. Its purpose is to divert water from the Mississippi River during major flood events by flooding the Atchafalaya Basin, including the Atchafalaya River and the Atchafalaya Swamp. The spillway and adjacent levees also help prevent the Mississippi from changing its present course through the major port cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans to a new course down the Atchafalaya River to the Gulf of Mexico. The Morganza Spillway, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was opened during the 1973 and 2011 Mississippi River floods.
The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) was passed by Congress in 1990 to fund wetland enhancement. In cooperation with multiple government agencies, CWPPRA is moving forward to restore the lost wetlands of the Gulf Coast as well as protecting the wetlands from future deterioration. The scope of the mission is not simply for the restoration of Louisiana's Wetlands, but also the research and implementation of preventative measures for wetlands preservation.
A mouth bar is an element of a deltaic system, which refers to typically mid-channel deposition of the sediment transported by the river channel at the river mouth.
Pass a Loutre Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is a 66,000-acre (270 km2) protected wetland in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, United States. The WMA is located due south and bordering the 48,000 acre Delta National Wildlife Refuge, accessible only by air or boat, contains the Pass A L'Outre Lighthouse, and Port Eads is within the boundary.
The Sherburne Complex is a joint land management venture of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that began in 1983. The area consists of 44,000 acres (180 km2), and is managed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The complex is located in the Morganza Flood way system of the Atchafalaya Basin about 30 miles (48 km) west of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and actually extends a little south of the I-10 Atchafalaya Basin Bridge at Whiskey Bay, Louisiana. The bridge crosses the Whiskey Bay Pilot Channel. Located on the graveled LA 975, the west boundary is on the east side of the Atchafalaya River with the east boundary being the East Protection Levee. The complex stretches just north of old highway 190, and a short distance to the south of I-10. The nearest town is Krotz Springs to the north off US 190.
The fauna of Louisiana is characterized by the region's low swamplands, bayous, creeks, woodlands, coastal marshlands and beaches, and barrier islands covering an estimated 20,000 square miles, corresponding to 40 percent of Louisiana's total land area. Southern Louisiana contains up to fifty percent of the wetlands found in the Continental United States, and are made up of countless bayous and creeks.
The Mississippi Alluvial Plain is a Level III ecoregion designated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in seven U.S. states, though predominantly in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. It parallels the Mississippi River from the Midwestern United States to the Gulf of Mexico.
Coastal Erosion in Louisiana is the process of steady depletion of wetlands along the state's coastline in marshes, swamps, and barrier islands, particularly affecting the alluvial basin surrounding the mouth of the Mississippi River at the foot of the Gulf of Mexico on the Eastern half of the state's coast. In the last century, Southeast Louisiana has lost a large portion of its wetlands and is expected to lose more in the coming years, with some estimates claiming wetland losses equivalent to up to 1 football field per hour. One consequence of coastal erosion is an increased vulnerability to hurricane storm surges, which affects the New Orleans metropolitan area and other communities in the region. The state has outlined a comprehensive master plan for coastal restoration and has begun to implement various restoration projects such as fresh water diversions, but certain zones will have to be prioritized and targeted for restoration efforts, as it is unlikely that all depleted wetlands can be rehabilitated.
Land loss is the term typically used to refer to the conversion of coastal land to open water by natural processes and human activities. The term land loss includes coastal erosion. It is a much broader term than coastal erosion because land loss also includes land converted to open water around the edges of estuaries and interior bays and lakes and by subsidence of coastal plain wetlands. The most important causes of land loss in coastal plains are erosion, inadequate sediment supply to beaches and wetlands, subsidence, and global sea level rise. The mixture of processes responsible for most of the land loss will vary according to the specific part of a coastal plain being examined. The definition of land loss does not include the loss of coastal lands to agricultural use, urbanization, or other development.
Sedimentation enhancing strategies are environmental management projects aiming to restore and facilitate land-building processes in deltas. Sediment availability and deposition are important because deltas naturally subside and therefore need sediment accumulation to maintain their elevation, particularly considering increasing rates of sea-level rise. Sedimentation enhancing strategies aim to increase sedimentation on the delta plain primarily by restoring the exchange of water and sediments between rivers and low-lying delta plains. Sedimentation enhancing strategies can be applied to encourage land elevation gain to offset sea-level rise. Interest in sedimentation enhancing strategies has recently increased due to their ability to raise land elevation, which is important for the long-term sustainability of deltas.