New Orleans, Louisiana, is visibly affected by the world’s changing atmosphere. The coastline around the city is becoming engulfed by water from the Gulf of Mexico; the salt water from the Gulf is taking over the fresh water bayou, negatively affecting the flora and fauna of the area. Organizations dedicated to the environment and habitat reconstruction are on the scene attempting to restore the area and save it from further destruction. Awareness of the issue is spreading, helping groups on the scene become more effective at slowing changes; however, despite efforts global warming may still drown New Orleans.
Since Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans coast in August of 2005, the area has been hit by four more hurricanes. The city of New Orleans is losing its coastline faster than any other city in comparable size; the coastline disappears at an alarming rate of 25 square miles every year. Experts estimate that 700 square miles worth of Louisiana coastline will be underwater by the year 2064.
Global warming has a profound effect on weather patterns of the New Orleans area. As the atmosphere warms, even slightly, ocean-based storms- such as hurricanes- become more powerful and occur more frequently. The Atlantic Ocean has frequent hurricanes, many that do not reach the shore. Recently, however, there have been many hurricanes that do reach the shore, causing the once fresh water of the bayou to become overrun by salt water from the Gulf of Mexico.
The area of New Orleans was once thriving with Cyprus tree forests. A tourist in the bayou today will see graveyards of what once were Cyprus tree forests; the area is littered with stumps that have been defeated by encroaching salt water. Flora that have evolved to exist in fresh water are no match for the mingled salt water. The disappearance of the coast line is not only a problem for the fresh-water plants of the area, but for the people who live in the area as well. If global warming continues to drown the coastline, evacuation routes will be submerged and New Orleans may soon follow.
A full evacuation of New Orleans takes sixty plus hours, due to congestion on evacuation routes and stubborn locals who do not want to leave their homes. The main evacuation route spreads directly over the diminishing coastline and rising water. If the encroaching waters are not stifled, the evacuation route will no longer be accessible, causing 100,000 people to become stranded in New Orleans during an emergency. This would mean a much higher death toll in the event of a hurricane.
Local organizations and volunteers are not leaving these possibilities to chance. A non-profit organization, Common Ground Relief, has planted countless marsh grasses and suitable trees along the coastline to inhibit the intrusion of the Gulf water. Every mile of marsh grass planted will reduce water surge by one foot. By planting marsh grasses the coastline has a fighting chance to stay healthy and strong in order to combat erosion. Trees act as an excellent wind break for the area, stopping strong winds from enacting more damage further into the coast.
The Louisiana coastline has been hit mercilessly with many climate and man-made disasters. If global warming continues at the aggressive rate it is down in the bayou, New Orleans may be drowned before many more generations can enjoy it. The coastline is creeping towards its breaking point; however, with help from a continued surplus of concerned volunteers, New Orleans could have a fighting chance.
By Courtney Heitter