Seventy miles south of New Orleans, on the eastern end of Grand Isle, a small tide gauge records the Gulf of Mexico rising against the surrounding land. The monthly increases are microscopic, narrower than a single strand of hair.
Climate scientists recording those results think they add up to something huge. The gauge, they say, may be quietly writing one of the first big stories in the age of global warming: the obituary for much of southeast Louisiana.
The series is exceptional in every way – so language rich that two paragraphs into Part 2 that it begins to feel like you’re watching a movie as you engage every sense while reading the story and that’s before you get to the equally remarkable graphics.
From atop the bridge soaring over Bayou Lafourche, a sweeping panorama of the southeast Louisiana coast unfolds. Scattered strings of green marsh break up wide expanses of open water. Pelicans swing on the breezes. Fish jump across the waves as crabbers and oyster harvesters pursue their livelihoods in a postcard scene of a rich life close to nature.
But Windell Curole, whose family has lived here for five generations, can’t find the beauty in it. He sees tragedy. “When my grandfather was a boy, there were cotton fields here,” he said waving his hand in a 180-degree arc that took in mostly water. “But in just 50 years, it became marsh, then it became open water.”
The culprit: subsidence of soft marsh soils, combined with coastal erosion.
Part 3 published today and my heart began to break at the thought of what may be lost without swift and certain action.
On a hot summer afternoon, as laughing gulls, terns and brown pelicans glided above, two front-end loaders dredged sediment from a channel through rapidly eroding marsh, piling it high onto a newly created barrier island.
The island, just north of Port Fourchon on Louisiana’s central coast, is part of a strategy aimed at protecting the nationally significant port, which is the jumping-off point for supplies to most of the 600 offshore oil platforms nearby. Those supplies come south to the port via Louisiana 1, a skinny highway bisecting a thin mesh of disappearing marshland.
In the coming years, Port Fourchon will become an island.
And Louisiana 1 will become a 20-mile-long bridge…
Links to the stories and related graphic illustrations are listed below – but there is much more to the series and you really need to see the interactive graphics. Make this series your holiday reading and saving this land that was made for you and me one of your resolutions for the new year.
- • Because of subsidence and global warming, Louisiana is slowly disappearing
- • Sea levels have been rising for thousands of years
- • Changing coastline (PDF graphic)
- • We are not alone (PDF graphic)
- • Evidence behind sea rise (PDF graphic)PART TWO
- • Southeast Louisiana is sinking under its own weight
- • Sinking in (PDF graphic)
- • Subsidence in the city (PDF graphic)PART THREE
- • Protecting southeast Louisiana will be extraordinarily expensive
- • Indian community faces prospect of losing homes and land to the Gulf
- • Pushing back the sea (PDF graphic)
- • Photo galleries
- • Interactive Graphic