Earth's Crust Beneath Mississippi Delta Sinks Slower Than Previously Thought

The Earth’s crust which lies beneath the Mississippi Delta in North America sinks at a much slower rate than had previously been thought, according to new research published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

The findings were arrived at by comparing detailed sea-level reconstructions from different portions of coastal Louisiana.

Geoscientists report new findings on sea level rise and coastal subsidence in Louisiana.

“The findings demonstrate the value of research on different facets of Earth system dynamics over long time periods,” says Thomas Baerwald, geography and spatial sciences program director at the National Science Foundation (NSF). “The results provide valuable new insights about the factors that affect shorelines and other locations in the Gulf Coast area now and into the future.”

“Our study shows that the basement underneath key portions of the Mississippi Delta, including the New Orleans area, has subsided less than one inch per century faster over the past 7,000 years than the more stable area of southwest Louisiana,” says paper co-author Torbjörn Törnqvist of Tulane University. The difference is much lower than previously believed. “Other studies have assumed that a large portion of the Earth’s crust underneath the Mississippi Delta subsided at least 30 times faster due to the weight of rapidly accumulating sediments in the delta.”

Where is the importance though?

Finding importance in a scientific study like this is not always necessary, as scientific research for the sole benefit of increasing our understanding is often worth the time and effort. However, in this case, there is in fact significant benefit from the findings.

In fact, the findings of the paper reveal good news for residents of the New Orleans area, where large structures such as coastal defense systems can be built in the knowledge that they would be relatively stable, as long as they were anchored in the basement at a depth of 60 to 80 feet below the surface of the land.

Naturally though, the study also presents some not so happy news.

“These subsidence rates are small compared to the rate of present-day sea-level rise from the Florida panhandle to east Texas,” says Törnqvist. “The rate of sea-level rise in the 20th century in this region has been five times higher compared to the pre-industrial millennium as a result of human-induced climate change.”

Sea level has risen more than eight inches during the past century.

“Looking forward 100 years, our main concern is the continued acceleration of sea-level rise due to global warming, which may amount to as much as three to five feet,” says Törnqvist. “We can now show that sea-level rise has already been a larger factor in the loss of coastal wetlands than was previously believed.”

Source: National Science Foundation
Image Source: NOAA

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