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Special Issue "Resilience and Sustainability of the Mississippi River Delta as a Coupled Natural-Human System"

A special issue of Water (ISSN 2073-4441).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 November 2015)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Y. Jun Xu

School of Renewable Natural Resources, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA
Website | E-Mail
Phone: +1-225-578-4168
Fax: +1-225-578-4227
Interests: surface hydrology, water quality, hydrologic and biogeochemical processes and modeling, sediment and nutrient transport, land use and climate change effects on water resources and biogeochemical cycles, isotopic tracer techniques, and GIS/Remote Sensing applications in surface hydrology
Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Nina S.-N. Lam

Department of Environmental Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA
Website | E-Mail
Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Kam-biu Liu

Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: Paleoecology; paleoclimatology; extreme events; storm deposits; paleotempestology; coastal environmental changes; lake sediments; wetlands; biogeography

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

River deltas in the world are vibrant economic regions, serving as transportation hubs, energy nodes, population centers, and commercial hotspots. However, today, many of these deltas face a host of daunting challenges, ranging from land subsidence, sea level rise, increased tropical cyclone activity, to saltwater intrusion. The future of the river deltas and their economies will be affected by interactions between nature and society. The coupled natural and human systems (CNH) are highly dynamic as their behaviors are intertwined with physical (e.g. water, sediment), chemical (e.g., non-point and point-source pollutants), biological (e.g., species, ecosystems), and socioeconomic (e.g., energy production, infrastructure, cultural assets) domains. Assessments of such complex systems require interdisciplinary research.

This Special Issue aims at bringing together the latest endeavors of research on the Mississippi River Delta as a complex dynamical system between the natural and human environments. The goal is to identify the recent advances in research and methodological development, major discoveries, and new understanding of the Mississippi River Delta, which represents one of the most challenging cases in finding the pathways for coastal resilience and sustainability because of the complex array of environmental and socioeconomic conflicts. We encourage submissions reporting the results from empirical, experimental, modeling, and synthetic studies concerning river hydrology, sediment transport, sedimentation, coastal wetlands, energy infrastructure, population dynamics, real estate development, and policy making in the vulnerable Mississippi River Delta.

Prof. Dr. Y. Jun Xu
Prof. Dr. Nina Lam
Prof. Dr. Kam-biu Liu
Guest Editors

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Published Papers (13 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle Drivers of Barotropic and Baroclinic Exchange through an Estuarine Navigation Channel in the Mississippi River Delta Plain
Water 2016, 8(5), 184; doi:10.3390/w8050184
Received: 26 February 2016 / Revised: 18 April 2016 / Accepted: 26 April 2016 / Published: 30 April 2016
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Abstract
Estuarine navigation channels have long been recognized as conduits for saltwater intrusion into coastal wetlands. Salt flux decomposition and time series measurements of velocity and salinity were used to examine salt flux components and drivers of baroclinic and barotropic exchange in the Houma
[...] Read more.
Estuarine navigation channels have long been recognized as conduits for saltwater intrusion into coastal wetlands. Salt flux decomposition and time series measurements of velocity and salinity were used to examine salt flux components and drivers of baroclinic and barotropic exchange in the Houma Navigation Channel, an estuarine channel located in the Mississippi River delta plain that receives substantial freshwater inputs from the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River system at its inland extent. Two modes of vertical current structure were identified from the time series data. The first mode, accounting for 90% of the total flow field variability, strongly resembled a barotropic current structure and was coherent with alongshelf wind stress over the coastal Gulf of Mexico. The second mode was indicative of gravitational circulation and was linked to variability in tidal stirring and the horizontal salinity gradient along the channel’s length. Tidal oscillatory salt flux was more important than gravitational circulation in transporting salt upestuary, except over equatorial phases of the fortnightly tidal cycle during times when river inflows were minimal. During all tidal cycles sampled, the advective flux, driven by a combination of freshwater discharge and wind-driven changes in storage, was the dominant transport term, and net flux of salt was always out of the estuary. These findings indicate that although human-made channels can effectively facilitate inland intrusion of saline water, this intrusion can be minimized or even reversed when they are subject to significant freshwater inputs. Full article
Open AccessArticle Decline of the Maurepas Swamp, Pontchartrain Basin, Louisiana, and Approaches to Restoration
Water 2016, 8(3), 101; doi:10.3390/w8030101
Received: 14 November 2015 / Revised: 22 February 2016 / Accepted: 24 February 2016 / Published: 15 March 2016
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (7924 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The Maurepas swamp is the second largest contiguous coastal forest in Louisiana but it is highly degraded due to subsidence, near permanent flooding, nutrient starvation, nutria herbivory, and saltwater intrusion. Observed tree mortality rates at study sites in the Maurepas swamp are very
[...] Read more.
The Maurepas swamp is the second largest contiguous coastal forest in Louisiana but it is highly degraded due to subsidence, near permanent flooding, nutrient starvation, nutria herbivory, and saltwater intrusion. Observed tree mortality rates at study sites in the Maurepas swamp are very high (up to 100% tree mortality in 11 years) and basal area decreased with average salinities of <1 ppt. Habitat classification, vegetation productivity and mortality, and surface elevation changes show a clear trajectory from stagnant, nearly permanently flooded forests with broken canopy to degraded forests with sparse baldcypress and dominated by herbaceous species and open water to open water habitat for most of the Maurepas swamp without introduction of fresh water to combat saltwater intrusion and stimulate productivity and accretion. Healthy forests in the Maurepas are receiving fresh water containing nutrients and sediments from urban areas, high quality river water, or secondarily treated municipal effluent. Currently, two proposed diversions into the swamp are via Hope Canal (57 m3·s−1) and Blind River (142 m3·s−1). These diversions would greatly benefit their immediate area but they are too small to influence the entire Maurepas sub-basin, especially in terms of accretion. A large diversion (>1422 m3·s−1) is needed to deliver the adequate sediments to achieve high accretion rates and stimulate organic soil formation. Full article
Open AccessArticle Restoration and Management of a Degraded Baldcypress Swamp and Freshwater Marsh in Coastal Louisiana
Water 2016, 8(3), 71; doi:10.3390/w8030071
Received: 10 November 2015 / Revised: 25 January 2016 / Accepted: 2 February 2016 / Published: 24 February 2016
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Abstract
The Central Wetlands Unit (CWU), covering 12,000 hectares in St. Bernard and Orleans Parishes, Louisiana, was once a healthy baldcypress–water tupelo swamp and fresh and low salinity marsh before construction of levees isolated the region from Mississippi River floodwaters. Construction of the Mississippi
[...] Read more.
The Central Wetlands Unit (CWU), covering 12,000 hectares in St. Bernard and Orleans Parishes, Louisiana, was once a healthy baldcypress–water tupelo swamp and fresh and low salinity marsh before construction of levees isolated the region from Mississippi River floodwaters. Construction of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), which funneled saltwater inland from the Gulf of Mexico, resulted in a drastic ecosystem change and caused mortality of almost all trees and low salinity marsh, but closure of the MRGO has led to decreases in soil and surface water salinity. Currently, the area is open water, brackish marsh, and remnant baldcypress stands. We measured hydrology, soils, water and sediment chemistry, vegetation composition and productivity, accretion, and soil strength to determine relative health of the wetlands. Vegetation species richness is low and above- and belowground biomass is up to 50% lower than a healthy marsh. Soil strength and bulk density are low over much of the area. A baldcypress wetland remains near a stormwater pumping station that also has received treated municipal effluent for about four decades. Based on the current health of the CWU, three restoration approaches are recommended, including: (1) mineral sediment input to increase elevation and soil strength; (2) nutrient-rich fresh water to increase productivity and buffer salinity; and (3) planting of freshwater forests, along with fresh and low salinity herbaceous vegetation. Full article
Open AccessArticle Influences on Adaptive Planning to Reduce Flood Risks among Parishes in South Louisiana
Water 2016, 8(2), 57; doi:10.3390/w8020057
Received: 16 November 2015 / Accepted: 27 January 2016 / Published: 6 February 2016
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (864 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Residents of south Louisiana face a range of increasing, climate-related flood exposure risks that could be reduced through local floodplain management and hazard mitigation planning. A major incentive for community planning to reduce exposure to flood risks is offered by the Community Rating
[...] Read more.
Residents of south Louisiana face a range of increasing, climate-related flood exposure risks that could be reduced through local floodplain management and hazard mitigation planning. A major incentive for community planning to reduce exposure to flood risks is offered by the Community Rating System (CRS) of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The NFIP encourages local collective action by offering reduced flood insurance premiums for individual policy holders of communities where suggested risk-reducing measures have been implemented. This preliminary analysis examines the extent to which parishes (counties) in southern Louisiana have implemented the suggested policy actions and identifies key factors that account for variation in the implementation of the measures. More measures implemented results in higher CRS scores. Potential influences on scores include socioeconomic attributes of residents, government capacity, average elevation and past flood events. The results of multiple regression analysis indicate that higher CRS scores are associated most closely with higher median housing values. Furthermore, higher scores are found in parishes with more local municipalities that participate in the CRS program. The number of floods in the last five years and the revenue base of the parish does not appear to influence CRS scores. The results shed light on the conditions under which local adaptive planning to mitigate increasing flood risks is more likely to be implemented and offer insights for program administrators, researchers and community stakeholders. Full article
Open AccessArticle Assessing Community Resilience to Coastal Hazards in the Lower Mississippi River Basin
Water 2016, 8(2), 46; doi:10.3390/w8020046
Received: 29 October 2015 / Revised: 24 January 2016 / Accepted: 26 January 2016 / Published: 30 January 2016
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (4770 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
This paper presents an assessment of community resilience to coastal hazards in the Lower Mississippi River Basin (LMRB) region in southeastern Louisiana. The assessment was conducted at the census block group scale. The specific purpose of this study was to provide a quantitative
[...] Read more.
This paper presents an assessment of community resilience to coastal hazards in the Lower Mississippi River Basin (LMRB) region in southeastern Louisiana. The assessment was conducted at the census block group scale. The specific purpose of this study was to provide a quantitative method to assess and validate the community resilience to coastal hazards, and to identify the relationships between a set of socio-environmental indicators and community resilience. The Resilience Inference Measurement (RIM) model was applied to assess the resilience of the block groups. The resilience index derived was empirically validated through two statistical procedures: K-means cluster analysis of exposure, damage, and recovery variables to derive the resilience groups, and discriminant analysis to identify the key indicators of resilience. The discriminant analysis yielded a classification accuracy of 73.1%. The results show that block groups with higher resilience were concentrated generally in the northern part of the study area, including those located north of Lake Pontchartrain and in East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, and Lafayette parishes. The lower-resilience communities were located mostly along the coastline and lower elevation area including block groups in southern Plaquemines Parish and Terrebonne Parish. Regression analysis between the resilience scores and the indicators extracted from the discriminant analysis suggests that community resilience was significantly linked to multicomponent capacities. The findings could help develop adaptation strategies to reduce vulnerability, increase resilience, and improve long-term sustainability for the coastal region. Full article
Open AccessArticle Sediment Deposition at the Caernarvon Crevasse during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927: Implications for Coastal Restoration
Water 2016, 8(2), 38; doi:10.3390/w8020038
Received: 4 November 2015 / Revised: 14 January 2016 / Accepted: 15 January 2016 / Published: 25 January 2016
Cited by 7 | PDF Full-text (1894 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
During the 1927 Mississippi flood, the levee was dynamited downstream of New Orleans creating a 2 km wide crevasse that inundated the Breton Sound estuary and deposited a crevasse splay of about 130 km2. We measured sediment deposition in the splay
[...] Read more.
During the 1927 Mississippi flood, the levee was dynamited downstream of New Orleans creating a 2 km wide crevasse that inundated the Breton Sound estuary and deposited a crevasse splay of about 130 km2. We measured sediment deposition in the splay that consisted of a silty-clay layer bounded by aged peat below and living roots above. Based on coring, we developed a map of the crevasse splay. The clay layer ranged from 2 to 42 cm thick and occurred 24 to 55 cm below the surface. Bulk density of the clay layer decreased and soil organic matter increased with distance from the river. 210Pbexcess and 137Cs dating an age of ~1926–1929 for the top of the layer. During the flood event, deposition was at least 22 mm·month−1—10 times the annual post-1927 deposition. The crevasse splay captured from 55% to 75% of suspended sediments that flowed in from the river. The 1927 crevasse deposition shows how pulsed flooding can enhance sediment capture efficiency and deposition and serves as an example for large planned diversions for Mississippi delta restoration. Full article
Open AccessArticle Implications of Texture and Erodibility for Sediment Retention in Receiving Basins of Coastal Louisiana Diversions
Water 2016, 8(1), 26; doi:10.3390/w8010026
Received: 15 November 2015 / Revised: 8 January 2016 / Accepted: 12 January 2016 / Published: 20 January 2016
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (7544 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Although the Mississippi River deltaic plain has been the subject of abundant research over recent decades, there is a paucity of data concerning field measurement of sediment erodibility in Louisiana estuaries. Two contrasting receiving basins for active diversions were studied: West Bay on
[...] Read more.
Although the Mississippi River deltaic plain has been the subject of abundant research over recent decades, there is a paucity of data concerning field measurement of sediment erodibility in Louisiana estuaries. Two contrasting receiving basins for active diversions were studied: West Bay on the western part of Mississippi River Delta and Big Mar, which is the receiving basin for the Caernarvon freshwater diversion. Push cores and water samples were collected at six stations in West Bay and six stations in Big Mar. The average erodibility of Big Mar sediment was similar to that of Louisiana shelf sediment, but was higher than that of West Bay. Critical shear stress to suspend sediment in both West Bay and Big Mar receiving basins was around 0.2 Pa. A synthesis of 1191 laser grain size data from surficial and down-core sediment reveals that silt (4–63 μm) is the largest fraction of retained sediment in receiving basins, larger than the total of sand (>63 μm) and clay (<4 μm). It is suggested that preferential delivery of fine grained sediment to more landward and protected receiving basins would enhance mud retention. In addition, small fetch sizes and fragmentation of large receiving basins are favorable for sediment retention. Full article
Open AccessArticle Identifying the Vulnerabilities of Working Coasts Supporting Critical Energy Infrastructure
Water 2016, 8(1), 8; doi:10.3390/w8010008
Received: 11 November 2015 / Revised: 16 December 2015 / Accepted: 18 December 2015 / Published: 26 December 2015
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Abstract
The U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is an excellent example of a working coast that supports a considerable degree of critical energy infrastructure across several sectors (crude oil, natural gas, electric power, petrochemicals) and functionalities (production, processing/refining, transmission, distribution). The coastal communities of
[...] Read more.
The U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is an excellent example of a working coast that supports a considerable degree of critical energy infrastructure across several sectors (crude oil, natural gas, electric power, petrochemicals) and functionalities (production, processing/refining, transmission, distribution). The coastal communities of the GOM form a highly productive and complicated human, physical, and natural environment that interacts in ways that are unlike anywhere else around the globe. This paper formulates a Coastal Infrastructure Vulnerability Index (CIVI) that characterizes interactions between energy assets and the physical and human aspects of GOM communities to identify and prioritize, using a multi-dimensional index, coastal vulnerability. The CIVI leads to results that are significantly different than traditional methods and serves as an alternative, and potentially more useful tool for coastal planning and policy, particularly in those areas characterized by very high infrastructure concentrations. Full article
Open AccessArticle Evaluating Land Subsidence Rates and Their Implications for Land Loss in the Lower Mississippi River Basin
Water 2016, 8(1), 10; doi:10.3390/w8010010
Received: 5 November 2015 / Revised: 9 December 2015 / Accepted: 17 December 2015 / Published: 26 December 2015
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (1978 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
High subsidence rates, along with eustatic sea-level change, sediment accumulation and shoreline erosion have led to widespread land loss and the deterioration of ecosystem health around the Lower Mississippi River Basin (LMRB). A proper evaluation of the spatial pattern of subsidence rates in
[...] Read more.
High subsidence rates, along with eustatic sea-level change, sediment accumulation and shoreline erosion have led to widespread land loss and the deterioration of ecosystem health around the Lower Mississippi River Basin (LMRB). A proper evaluation of the spatial pattern of subsidence rates in the LMRB is the key to understanding the mechanisms of the submergence, estimating its potential impacts on land loss and the long-term sustainability of the region. Based on the subsidence rate data derived from benchmark surveys from 1922 to 1995, this paper constructed a subsidence rate surface for the region through the empirical Bayesian kriging (EBK) interpolation method. The results show that the subsidence rates in the region ranged from 1.7 to 29 mm/year, with an average rate of 9.4 mm/year. Subsidence rates increased from north to south as the outcome of both regional geophysical conditions and anthropogenic activities. Four areas of high subsidence rates were found, and they are located in Orleans, Jefferson, Terrebonne and Plaquemines parishes. A projection of future landscape loss using the interpolated subsidence rates reveals that areas below zero elevation in the LMRB will increase from 3.86% in 2004 to 19.79% in 2030 and 30.88% in 2050. This translates to a growing increase of areas that are vulnerable to land loss from 44.3 km2/year to 240.7 km2/year from 2011 to 2050. Under the same scenario, Lafourche, Plaquemines and Terrebonne parishes will experience serious loss of wetlands, whereas Orleans and Jefferson parishes will lose significant developed land, and Lafourche parish will endure severe loss of agriculture land. Full article
Open AccessArticle Wetland Accretion Rates Along Coastal Louisiana: Spatial and Temporal Variability in Light of Hurricane Isaac’s Impacts
Water 2016, 8(1), 1; doi:10.3390/w8010001
Received: 3 November 2015 / Revised: 14 December 2015 / Accepted: 16 December 2015 / Published: 22 December 2015
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (5800 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The wetlands of the southern Louisiana coast are disappearing due to a host of environmental stressors. Thus, it is imperative to analyze the spatial and temporal variability of wetland vertical accretion rates. A key question in accretion concerns the role of landfalling hurricanes
[...] Read more.
The wetlands of the southern Louisiana coast are disappearing due to a host of environmental stressors. Thus, it is imperative to analyze the spatial and temporal variability of wetland vertical accretion rates. A key question in accretion concerns the role of landfalling hurricanes as a land-building agent, due to their propensity to deposit significant volumes of inorganic sediments. Since 1996, thousands of accretion measurements have been made at 390 sites across coastal Louisiana as a result of a regional monitoring network, called the Coastal Reference Monitoring System (CRMS). We utilized this dataset to analyze the spatial and temporal patterns of accretion by mapping rates during time periods before, around, and after the landfall of Hurricane Isaac (2012). This analysis is vital for quantifying the role of hurricanes as a land-building agent and for understanding the main mechanism causing heightened wetland accretion. The results show that accretion rates averaged about 2.89 cm/year from stations sampled before Isaac, 4.04 cm/year during the period encompassing Isaac, and 2.38 cm/year from sites established and sampled after Isaac. Accretion rates attributable to Isaac’s effects were therefore 40% and 70% greater than before and after the event, respectively, indicating the event’s importance toward coastal land-building. Accretion associated with Isaac was highest at sites located 70 kilometers from the storm track, particularly those near the Mississippi River and its adjacent distributaries and lakes. This spatial pattern of elevated accretion rates indicates that freshwater flooding from fluvial channels, rather than storm surge from the sea per se, is the main mechanism responsible for increased wetland accretion. This significance of riverine flooding has implications toward future coastal restoration policies and practices. Full article
Open AccessArticle Assessment of Suspended Sand Availability under Different Flow Conditions of the Lowermost Mississippi River at Tarbert Landing during 1973–2013
Water 2015, 7(12), 7022-7044; doi:10.3390/w7126672
Received: 28 August 2015 / Revised: 5 December 2015 / Accepted: 9 December 2015 / Published: 15 December 2015
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (4587 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Rapid land loss in the Mississippi River Delta Plain has led to intensive efforts by state and federal agencies for finding solutions in coastal land restoration in the past decade. One of the proposed solutions includes diversion of the Mississippi River water into
[...] Read more.
Rapid land loss in the Mississippi River Delta Plain has led to intensive efforts by state and federal agencies for finding solutions in coastal land restoration in the past decade. One of the proposed solutions includes diversion of the Mississippi River water into drowning wetland areas. Although a few recent studies have investigated flow-sediment relationships in the Lowermost Mississippi River (LmMR, defined as the 500 km reach from the Old River Control Structure to the river’s Gulf outlet), it is unclear how individual sediment fractions behave under varying flow conditions of the river. The information can be especially pertinent because the quantity of coarse sands plays a critical role for the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River deltaic development. In this study, we utilized long-term (1973–2013) records on discharge and sediments at Tarbert Landing of the LmMR to assess sand behavior and availability under different river flow regimes, and extreme sand transport events and their recurrence. We found an average annual sand load (SL) of 27.2 megatonnes (MT) during 1973 and 2013, varying largely from 3.37 to 52.30 MT. For the entire 41-year study period, a total of approximately 1115 MT sand were discharged at Tarbert Landing, half of which occurred during the peak 20% flow events. A combination of intermediate, high and peak flow stages (i.e., river discharge was ≥18,000 cubic meter per second) produced about 71% of the total annual SL within approximately 120 days of a year. Based on the long-term sediment assessment, we predict that the LmMR has a high likelihood to transport 4 to 446 thousand tonnes of sand every day over the next 40 years, during which annual sand loads could reach a maximum of 51.68 MT. Currently, no effective plan is in place to utilize this considerably high sand quantity and we suggest that river engineering and sediment management in the LmMR consider practices of hydrograph-based approach for maximally capturing riverine sediments. Full article
Open AccessArticle Sediment Trapping by Emerged Channel Bars in the Lowermost Mississippi River during a Major Flood
Water 2015, 7(11), 6079-6096; doi:10.3390/w7116079
Received: 18 September 2015 / Revised: 28 October 2015 / Accepted: 30 October 2015 / Published: 4 November 2015
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (2284 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The formation of channel bars has been recognized as the most significant sediment response to the highly trained Mississippi River (MR). However, no quantitative study exists on the dynamics of emerged channel bars and associated sediment accumulation in the last 500-kilometer reach of
[...] Read more.
The formation of channel bars has been recognized as the most significant sediment response to the highly trained Mississippi River (MR). However, no quantitative study exists on the dynamics of emerged channel bars and associated sediment accumulation in the last 500-kilometer reach of the MR from the Gulf of Mexico outlet, also known as the lowermost Mississippi River. Such knowledge is especially critical for riverine sediment management to impede coastal land loss in the Mississippi River Delta. In this study, we utilized a series of satellite images taken from August 2010 to January 2012 to assess the changes in surface area and volume of three large emerged channel bars in the lowermost MR following an unprecedented spring flood in 2011. River stage data were collected to develop a rating curve of surface areas detected by satellite images with flow conditions for each of the three bars. A uniform geometry associated with the areal change was assumed to estimate the bar volume changes. Our study reveals that the 2011 spring flood increased the surface area of the bars by 3.5% to 11.1%, resulting in a total surface increase of 7.3%, or 424,000 m2. Based on the surface area change, we estimated a total bar volume increase of 4.4%, or 1,219,900 m3. This volume increase would be equivalent to a sediment trapping of approximately 1.0 million metric tons, assuming a sediment bulk density of 1.2 metric tons per cubic meter. This large quantity of sediment is likely an underestimation because of the neglect of subaqueous bar area change and the assumption of a uniform geometry in volume estimation. Nonetheless, the results imply that channel bars in the lowermost MR are capable of capturing a substantial amount of sediment during floods, and that a thorough assessment of their long-term change can provide important insights into sediment trapping in the lowermost MR as well as the feasibility of proposed river sediment diversions. Full article

Review

Jump to: Research

Open AccessReview Can Continental Shelf River Plumes in the Northern and Southern Gulf of Mexico Promote Ecological Resilience in a Time of Climate Change?
Water 2016, 8(3), 83; doi:10.3390/w8030083
Received: 17 November 2015 / Revised: 30 January 2016 / Accepted: 18 February 2016 / Published: 4 March 2016
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (6387 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Deltas and estuaries built by the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River (MAR) in the United States and the Usumacinta/Grijalva River (UGR) in Mexico account for 80 percent of all Gulf of Mexico (GoM) coastal wetlands outside of Cuba. They rank first and second in freshwater discharge
[...] Read more.
Deltas and estuaries built by the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River (MAR) in the United States and the Usumacinta/Grijalva River (UGR) in Mexico account for 80 percent of all Gulf of Mexico (GoM) coastal wetlands outside of Cuba. They rank first and second in freshwater discharge to the GoM and owe their natural resilience to a modular geomorphology that spreads risk across the coast-scape while providing ecosystem connectivity through shelf plumes that connect estuaries. Both river systems generate large plumes that strongly influence fisheries production over large areas of the northern and southern GoM continental shelves. Recent watershed process simulations (DLEM, MAPSS) driven by CMIP3 General Circulation Model (GCM) output indicate that the two systems face diverging futures, with the mean annual discharge of the MAR predicted to increase 11 to 63 percent, and that of the UGR to decline as much as 80 percent in the 21st century. MAR delta subsidence rates are the highest in North America, making it particularly susceptible to channel training interventions that have curtailed a natural propensity to shift course and deliver sediment to new areas, or to refurbish zones of high wetland loss. Undoing these restrictions in a controlled way has become the focus of a multi-billion-dollar effort to restore the MAR delta internally, while releasing fine-grained sediments trapped behind dams in the Great Plains has become an external goal. The UGR is, from an internal vulnerability standpoint, most threatened by land use changes that interfere with a deltaic architecture that is naturally resilient to sea level rise. This recognition has led to successful efforts in Mexico to protect still intact coastal systems against further anthropogenic impacts, as evidenced by establishment of the Centla Wetland Biosphere Preserve and the Terminos Lagoon Protected Area. The greatest threat to the UGR system, however, is an external one that will be imposed by the severe drying predicted for the entire Mesoamerican “climate change hot-spot”, a change that will necessitate much greater international involvement to protect threatened communities and lifeways as well as rare habitats and species. Full article
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