Introduction – Changing Conditions in the Mississippi Delta from 1700 to 2100 and Beyond: Avoiding Folly

Part of the Estuaries of the World book series (EOTW)


The Mississippi River delta developed over the past several 1000 years after sea level stabilized at the end of the last glaciation. Native Americans lived in the delta during this time but had almost no impact on its functioning. This all changed with the arrival of European colonialists at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Over the ensuing two centuries, human impact multiplied. This included levee construction, closing of distributaries, and reclamation. But it was not until the twentieth century that human intervention had a major impact, culminating in the loss of about a quarter of the wetlands of the Mississippi delta by the end of the twentieth century. Recent studies have documented how profoundly the delta has changed and what the future portends if nothing is done. Currently there is an ambitious plan to restore the sustainability of the Mississippi delta. This book contributes to this effort to define sustainable pathways for the restoration of the delta. The book grew out of two efforts. One is an earlier volume in the Estuaries of the World Series entitled Perspectives on the Restoration of the Mississippi delta. This effort was supported by environmental organizations to provide independent advice to the philanthropic community and non-governmental organizations on how best to support the restoration of one of North America’s premier ecological assets, the Mississippi delta. The second effort, called Changing Course, was a design competition that sought to bring teams of some of the world’s best delta engineers, scientists, and planners to address the question of the future of the Lower Mississippi River Delta and its dependent resources and communities. This Initiative specifically sought to understand how the Mississippi River’s water and sediment can be used to maximize rebuilding the delta wetlands while meeting or even enhancing the needs of navigation, flood protection, industries and coastal communities. In the current book, we investigate possible future pathways for sustainable management of the Mississippi delta. We consider current conditions as well as future trajectories of climate and energy and resource scarcity. We conclude that without profound changes of how humans live in and manage the delta, sustainability of the delta will be profoundly compromised.


Mississippi River history New Orleans Changing course Coastal land loss Wetland restoration 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Oceanography and Coastal SciencesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.Coastal Sustainability Studio, and Department of ArchitectureLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

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