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The Decline of Louisiana

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The loss of the Louisiana marshes is not only an ecological disaster of truly horrible implications, but also seriously threatens the future of New Orleans. And it’s probably too late now to stop its loss.

Rising seas are likely to overwhelm the wetlands that line the coast of Louisiana, destroying the protection they offer the city of New Orleans as well as the fisheries and tourism that contribute heavily to the state’s economy, a new study says.

The imperiled wetlands at the base of the Mississippi River have crossed a critical tipping point, according to the new research, which was published in Science Advances and is based on hundreds of measurements that revealed the fate of ancient marshes in this region.

Researchers found that the type of wetlands that exist in present day coastal Louisiana have rarely persisted when rates of sea level rise surpassed 3 millimeters per year over long periods of time. Current sea levels are rising at rates that already slightly exceed that, and those rates are increasing.

f sea level rise exceeds 6 to 9 millimeters per year, the wetlands could be overcome by ocean water within 50 years, according to Torbjörn Törnqvist, a professor of geology at Tulane University in New Orleans who led the study.

As the world emerged from an ice age into the present Holocene era 8,500 years ago, seas rose at those high rates and the wetlands tended to vanish, the study found. Now, as climate change continues, sea levels may rise that quickly again.

“We are, if you believe this study, past the tipping point,” Törnqvist said.

Sometimes, there’s not much to say except that it would have been better for 99% of the species on the planet if humans had not developed into the dominant species.

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