NASA To Study Mississippi Delta Subsidence

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced February 20 that it is launching a new program to use overflights to study the causes and possible remedies of the shrinking of the Mississippi River delta.

The project, dubbed Delta-X, project will mount two field campaigns, in April and the fall, and will focus on two areas: the Atchafalaya Basin, which has gained land, and northwest of Terrebonne Bay, which has lost land.

Beginning in April, the Delta-X team, led by principal investigator Marc Simard of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., will collect data by air to better understand why some parts of the delta are sinking while others are not. Each campaign will consist of four overflights, collecting data at both high and low tides. Other teams will collect water samples by boat.

During each campaign, the team will fly over the region with three aircraft specially equipped with remote sensors. The sensors will measure how much water flows through river channels and how much of it flows onto wetlands. They will detect the amount of sediment and where it gets deposited.

NASA said processing the data should take about 9 months, after which it will be available for model-building. “These models will empower local communities and resource managers with the information and prediction capabilities they need to make the necessary decisions to save and restore the delta,” said Simard.

Over the past 80 years, coastal Louisiana has lost an estimated 2,000 square miles of wetlands, an area about the size of the state of Delaware. It’s been estimated that the coast loses the equivalent of a football field per day of land.

More information on Delta-X can be found at https://deltax.jpl.nasa.gov/.

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