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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

Environmental Geosciences (DEG)


Environmental Geosciences, V. 10, No. 2 (2003), P. 71-80.

Copyright copy2003. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists/Division of Environmental Geosciences. All rights reserved.

DOI: 10.1306/eg100202007

Causes of hot-spot wetland loss in the Mississippi delta plain

Robert A. Morton,1 Ginger Tiling,2 Nicholas F. Ferina3

1U.S. Geological Survey, Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies, 600 4th St. S., St. Petersburg, Florida; [email protected]
2ETI Professionals, Inc., 600 4th St. S., St. Petersburg, Florida
3Environmental Careers Organization, 600 4th St. S., St. Petersburg, Florida


Bob Morton is a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist. He was employed previously as a senior research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin Bureau of Economic Geology and as a petroleum geologist at Chevron Oil in New Orleans, Louisiana. Throughout his career, Bob has conducted subsurface studies of the Gulf Coast Basin and surficial changes in coastal Texas and Louisiana.

Ginger Tiling received a B.S. degree in environmental science in 1999 and is an M.S. candidate in geology at the University of South Florida. She is employed by ETI Professionals and is working, under contract, at the U.S. Geological Survey Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Nicholas F. Ferina received his B.A. degree in environmental geography in 1997 and his M.S. degree in geology from the University of New Orleans in 2002. He is employed by Environmental Careers Organization and is working, under contract, at the U.S. Geological Survey Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.


We thank Del Britsch and the New Orleans District Army Corps of Engineers for collecting the vibracores in Madison Bay. Betsy Boynton prepared the report illustrations and layout. Scientific and editorial reviews were provided by Don Cahoon, Jeff Williams, Dave Bush, David King, and Robert Fakundiny.


Field surveys and sediment cores were used to estimate marsh erosion and land subsidence at Madison Bay, a well-known wetland loss hot spot in coastal Louisiana. Former marshes of Madison Bay are under about 1 m of water. Nearly two-thirds of the permanent flooding was caused by rapid subsidence in the late 1960s, whereas the other third was caused by subsequent erosion. Subsidence rates near Madison Bay since the 1960s (sim20 mm/yr) are an order of magnitude greater than deltaic subsidence rates averaged for the past 400ndash4000 yr (sim2 mm/yr).

The rapid acceleration and unexpected decline in wetland losses in the Mississippi delta plain are difficult to explain on the basis of most physical and biogeochemical processes. There are, however, close temporal and spatial correlations among regional wetland loss, high subsidence rates, and large-volume fluid production from nearby hydrocarbon fields. The decreased rates of wetland loss since the 1970s may be related to decreased rates of subsidence caused by significantly decreased rates of subsurface fluid withdrawal.

Annual fluid production from the Lapeyrouse, Lirette, and Bay Baptiste fields that encompass Madison Bay accelerated in the 1960s, peaked about 1970, and then declined abruptly. Large decreases in pore pressure in the Lapeyrouse field have likely altered subsurface stresses and reactivated a major fault that coincides with the wetland loss hot spot. Therefore, wetland losses at Madison Bay can be closely linked to rapid subsidence and possible fault reactivation induced by long-term, large-volume hydrocarbon production.

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