Tulane University researchers and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are planning to develop an “environmental observatory” in the lower delta of the Mississippi River to study the impacts of climate change on this region of wetlands and waterways that is vulnerable to devastating storms such as 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
One potential site for the environmental observatory is along the Mississippi River levee in New Orleans’ lower Ninth Ward.
Researchers from the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research (CBR), an interdisciplinary organization bringing together biologists, geologists, historians, chemists, doctors, public health researchers, and others, have been working with the USGS for several years to develop such a lower delta research site.
“This ecosystem has been providing for the people who lived here for centuries,” says Douglas Meffert, Deputy Director for the Center for Bioenvironmental Research. “It provided resources, like food and energy and a means of travel. It also provided services like storm-surge protection and rainwater retention.”
In modern times the lower Mississippi delta is of importance not just to the inhabitants of the immediate region, but also to the country as a whole. New Orleans is one of America’s top port cities, and the lower river region has a dense concentration of energy industry facilities that serve the entire nation.
Restoring the coast and the ecosystems of the delta’s wetlands are vital to protecting these assets. “To restore this ecosystem we really need to understand its complexities and have a system to monitor its changes,” says Meffert.