Southern Louisiana's Subsidence Problem: Geologic Contributions and Post-Katrina Geophysical Research Opportunities
Dr. Tip Meckel, Research Associate, Bureau of Economic Geology
The future of Louisiana's coastal wetlands has never been so uncertain. Coastal environments and communities devastated by the 2006 hurricanes Katrina and Rita have recovered slowly, if at all. Many feel that now is the time to usher in a new era of thinking regarding human occupation of the coastal zone. Discussion over the last year has ranged from abandoning settlements in low-lying parishes in Louisiana to a state-wide levee program similar to the Dutch effort to a full scale diversion of the Mississippi River. If this sounds familiar, it is because these options have been discussed for decades. Controversy has overwhelmed action, and much of the coastal zone and its infrastructure remain as vulnerable as ever. There is an immeasurable need for assistance from the research community and for unconventional solutions.
Quantitative estimates of the relative contributions and rates of geologic and anthropogenic processes to subsidence of coastal Louisiana are largely unknown. This inhibits discussion and effective design and implementation of regional coastal restoration efforts. This presentation will outline the current state of knowledge of various geologic processes (lithospheric flexure, growth faulting, oil and gas withdrawal), with particular focus on sediment compaction rates, which are given more significance than my research suggests is warranted in many places throughout the coastal plain. The role that geophysics can play in advancing Louisiana's subsidence dialogue will be presented, with emphasis on current research opportunities.
The last segment of the presentation will provide an overview of current BEG research in subsurface geologic storage of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2 Sequestration, Carbon capture and storage), again highlighting current and emerging opportunities for pioneering geophysical research. What might happen when CO2 is injected adjacent to a regional growth fault in Louisiana? This is a topic I am actively researching for a reservoir at 3 km depth east of Baton Rouge, where high-volume and economically-significant CO2 Enhanced Oil Recovery / sequestration activities will commence in 2007.