“Louisiana has one of the highest rates of relative sea level rise in the world. Fifty years from now, New Orleans could well have a smaller footprint and a higher levee. The city is trying to develop more water features to prevent flooding.” Dave is concerned we may not have the political will required to rebuild our city if it gets flooded again.
Dave Culpepper is a geoscience consultant who specializes in groundwater issues. His clients include government agencies, such as an NOAA, as well as oil companies, including BP after the oil spill. Dave often serves as an expert witness in lawsuits involving geoscience issues. Since he started in 1981, there are more geoconsulting firms. “I used to do work all over, now I mostly work in Louisiana.”
Fortunately for Dave, if not the rest of us, there are plenty of geological challenges in the Pelican State. “The deltas have giant faults; perhaps 80% of our coastal land loss is from subsidence and development can accelerate subsidence. As organic matter deteriorates, the land compacts. It’s gradual in some areas, others are losing several inches per decade.”
“If we look at a map of the United States with one or two feet of sea level rise, we lose a lot of land and a lot of cities. One study from NASA shows more soil absorption in the mainland. Another shows ice caps melting faster due to warm water beneath ice flows. What will the United States look like? Much of the sediment in the Mississippi River is now flowing off the continental shelf. Ile de Jean Charles recently got a grant to move the entire village to higher ground. We are going to fortify and retreat. Are the financing mechanisms taking this into account?
Dave was in Amsterdam when Katrina hit; he questions the idea that hard barriers, like the dykes that protect that tiny country, are applicable here without a better understanding of the geology beneath us. “They don’t get hurricanes. We’ve done a lot of good work since Katrina, but we can’t control the area we now try to keep dry. We have a 100 year flood risk area that will get less protective every decade.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I think we’re going to have to live with a lot more changes. I have grandkids. What will it be like for them 100 years from now? It’s the most drastic change in recorded history. I have no doubt humans will adapt, but at what cost? We survived the Ice Age. We will survive high water.”
Note: This profile was first published on May 19, 2016 and revised on June 11, 2016 in conjunction with Dave Culpepper.