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Wetlands and Watershed Videos

Turning the Tide

In 2011, Louisiana Public Broadcasting premiered its internationally acclaimed documentary, “Turning the Tide,” as an in-depth examination of proposed solutions, proven strategies and engineering that can “turn the tide” on the national crisis unfolding at the mouth of America’s largest and most productive river delta. This award-winning documentary provides information on what the state of Louisiana could look like if scientific and public consensus isn’t soon reached. According to scientists, 10,000 to 13,000 square kilometers of land could be lost by the year 2100. Nearly 40% of all coastal wetlands in the United States are concentrated along Louisiana’s coast, yet they experience 90% of the nation’s wetland loss and place critical resources in jeopardy. What is happening at the mouth of the Mississippi River and in Louisiana’s coastal wetlands affects us all, and requires immediate attention and tough decisions about what can be protected and what cannot. Having an educated populace is key to making the difficult choices necessary to protect the region. Turning the Tide is the winner of the International CINE Golden Eagle Award and the Governor’s Award-Conservationist of the Year by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation.

Turning the Tide

Chasing the Mud: The Mississippi River Flood of 2011

The 2011 Mississippi River flood was among the largest and most damaging to occur along this waterway in the past century. This major flood event dramatically increased the flow of water and sediment down the main channel of the Mississippi River and its tributary, the Atchafalaya River. To alleviate pressure on the levee system and control structures, water and sediment were diverted from the river into swamps and marshes in the Atchafalaya basin and Lake Pontchartrain. In contrast to negative impacts to human communities, the flood potentially delivered nourishing sediment to wetlands in the Mississippi River delta plain. This video follows one group of scientists as they investigate sediment deposition in the wetlands of the Mississippi River delta plain. The results of this investigation will lead to a better understanding of how extreme flood events influence sedimentation in wetlands and also will inform efforts to restore the deteriorating marshes of the Mississippi River Delta.

Chasing the Mud: The Mississippi River Flood of 2011

The Floating Marshes of Louisiana: A Unique Ecosystem

Extensive floating marshes occur in a few locations around the world. Papyrus swamps of tropical Africa occur along the White Nile, the Okavango and Niger deltas, and along the shoreline of Lake Victoria. There are extensive Phragmites swamps in the Danube Delta in Romania. Seasonal and permanent floating meadows are found in the middle Amazon flood plain. In the Mississippi River Delta Plain, there are large expanses of floating marsh, which are the focus of this video. This unique ecosystem is dominated by a variety of grasses and forbs, which can create a buoyant mat that floats on a layer of water. How these marshes form and some of their unique features are described.

The Floating Marshes of Louisiana: A Unique Ecosystem

Land Area Change in Coastal Louisiana (1932 to 2010)

Coastal Louisiana wetlands make up the seventh largest delta on Earth, contain about 37 percent of the estuarine herbaceous marshes in the conterminous United States, and support the largest commercial fishery in the lower 48 States. These wetlands are in peril because Louisiana currently undergoes about 90 percent of the total coastal wetland loss in the continental United States. Documenting and understanding the occurrence and rates of wetland loss are necessary for effective planning, protection, and restoration activities. USGS land change analyses show that coastal Louisiana has undergone a net change in land area of about -1,883 square miles (mi2) from 1932 to 2010, or an area equivalent to the size the of State of Delaware. This net change in land area amounts to a decrease of about 25 percent of the 1932 land area. Trend analyses from 1985 to 2010 show a wetland loss rate of 16.57 mi2 per year. If this loss were to occur at a constant rate, it would equate to Louisiana losing an area the size of one football field per hour, or an area greater than the size of the Island of Manhattan every year.

Land Area Change in Coastal Louisiana (1932 to 2010)

USGS Measures Flooding at Morganza Spillway and Across Louisiana

U.S. Geological Survey crews are measuring flooding across Louisiana, including the Morganza and Bonnet Carre Spillways. Jennifer LaVista reports on USGS flood efforts along the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers.

USGS Measures Flooding at Morganza Spillway and Across Louisiana

Potential Effects of Elevated CO2 and Climate Change on Coastal Wetlands

This video provides an overview of direct and indirect effects of increases in atmospheric CO2 on coastal wetlands using a salt marsh-mangrove community as an example. A short background is given summarizing past, present, and future predicted changes in CO2 concentrations based on ice core data and direct measurements conducted at monitoring stations such as the Mauna Loa Observatory. Responses of plants utilizing different photosynthetic pathways (C3 vs. C4 species) are used as a starting point to explain potential responses of a coastal plant community containing Avicennia germinans (C3 mangrove) and Spartina alterniflora (C4 grass) to changes in CO2 and associated climate change (temperature, rainfall). Experimental methods used to study effects of CO2 on plants are described, and results of peer-reviewed studies are summarized to illustrate the complexity of potential effects of CO2 and climate change on coastal wetlands. Conceptual models are also used to illustrate direct effects of environmental change and interactions among various climate drivers and the plant community.

Potential Effects of Elevated CO2 and Climate Change on Coastal Wetlands

Sea-Level Rise, Subsidence, and Wetland Loss

This video describes causes of wetland loss in the Mississippi River Delta. Rapid land subsidence due to sediment compaction and dewatering increases the rate of submergence in this deltaic system. The construction of levees along the lower Mississippi River also has reduced delivery of sediments to coastal wetlands, which have been deteriorating as soil surfaces sink and wetland plants are subjected to excessive flooding. Other factors that have contributed to land loss include construction of canals and periodic hurricanes. Sea-level rise can lead to movement of saltwater inland, but coastal plants tolerate salinity through several morphological and physiological mechanisms. The causes of wetland loss are complex and not the result of any single factor. Natural and anthropogenic factors have combined with global processes such as sea level rise to cause wetland loss in the Mississippi River Delta.

Sea-Level Rise, Subsidence, and Wetland Loss

The Mississippi Embayment - Declining Water Levels in a Deep Aquifer

The USGS recently constructed a computer model of groundwater in the Mississippi embayment. This model was used to simulate the rise or decline of water level in a deep aquifer. Water from this deep aquifer is utilized to meet the industrial and public supply needs in the area. In the animation, groundwater levels decline more than 400 feet from 1870 to 2007 in some areas of the deep middle Claiborne aquifer in Arkansas and Louisiana. When pumping is forecast to 2038, based on trends of past pumping amounts and climatic variations, areas of water level declines from 100 to 200 feet expand throughout Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

The Mississippi Embayment - Declining Water Levels in a Deep Aquifer

Effects of Sea-Level Rise on Coastal Wetlands in the Mississippi Delta

This video describes research being conducted by Dr. Karen McKee, USGS Research Ecologist, and her university partner, Dr. Julia Cherry. Their goal is to better understand the effects of sea-level rise and other global change factors on coastal wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta. This region contains over 40% of the U.S. wetlands in the lower 48 states These wetlands support commercial fisheries, provide habitat for waterfowl and wildlife, and act as storm buffers, protecting several important ports and cities such as New Orleans McKee and Cherry are conducting field and greenhouse experiments to quantify how plant productivity contributes organic matter to vertical soil building, which helps to counterbalance sea-level rise. They are also investigating how elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may stimulate plant production and help marshes build vertically and avoid submergence. Their research is contributing to a better understanding of how coastal wetlands persist in the face of changing sea levels and how they may respond in the future.

Effects of Sea-Level Rise on Coastal Wetlands in the Mississippi Delta

Coastal Louisiana: Impacts of Hurricanes on Salt Marsh and Mangrove Wetlands

This video describes research conducted by Dr. Karen McKee, USGS Research Ecologist, and her university partners, Dr. Irv Mendelssohn (Louisiana State University) and Dr. Mark Hester (University of Louisiana). They are studying the effects of hurricanes on marsh and mangrove wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta, which contains over 40% of the U.S. wetlands in the lower 48 states. Although hurricanes can have devastating effects on human communities, they may provide nourishing sediment to subsiding wetlands. This video describes an investigation to determine how much storm sediment from Hurricane Gustav (2008) was deposited in marsh and mangrove stands and if these different types of vegetation influence sediment capture. McKee and colleagues carried out their research by helicopter, which is the only way to sample the vast wetlands in coastal Louisiana. The results of their investigation will lead to a better understanding of how hurricanes may benefit coastal wetlands.

Coastal Louisiana: Impacts of Hurricanes on Salt Marsh and Mangrove Wetlands

What Lies Beneath: Using Mangrove Peat to Study Ancient Coastal Environments and Sea-Level Rise

This video describes how scientists study past changes in sea-level and coastal environments by analyzing mangrove peat. Mangrove islands located off the coast of Belize are underlain by deep deposits of peat (organic soil), which retain a record of past sea level, vegetation, and climate. By studying past changes in sea level and how intertidal ecosystems, such as mangroves, have responded to these changes, we can better predict what will happen in the future as sea levels increase. The information generated by such research is critical to geophysical modeling efforts as well as to management and conservation of coastal ecosystems.

What Lies Beneath: Using Mangrove Peat to Study Ancient Coastal Environments and Sea-Level Rise

Wade into Wetlands Research

Slideshow of images related to USGS wetlands research.

Wade into Wetlands Research

Nutrient Impacts on Wetlands: Field Studies New Zealand

This video describes how scientists are studying freshwater wetlands on the North Island of New Zealand and how nutrients from pasture runoff may alter the vegetation and peat formation in these important ecosystems. Much of what is known about wetlands comes from research conducted in the Northern Hemisphere. In contrast, much less is known about wetland ecosystems in the Southern Hemisphere. Because New Zealand has been geographically isolated, it has unique species of plants and animals found nowhere else. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey are collaborating with counterparts in New Zealand to study nutrient effects on plant production and decomposition processes. The peat-forming plants in freshwater wetlands are identified and methods used to study effects of nutrients on peat formation are illustrated. By studying how nutrients affect wetlands in New Zealand, scientists will gain a much broader understanding of how eutrophication affects their structure and function globally. Such information will lead to better methods of wetland conservation and protection worldwide.

Nutrient Impacts on Wetlands: Field Studies New Zealand

Ecosystem Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay Headwaters, Severn River Tributary, Anne Arundel County Maryland

Faith Fitzpatrick (U.S. Geological Survey), Hala Flores (Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works), Ronald Bowen (Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works), and Keith Underwood (Underwood and Assoc.) talk about stream restoration projects associated with Anne Arundel County's new office complex. A 0.5- mile long series of sand seepage berms and bog wetlands were constructed instead of traditional stormwater ponds. This unique site had a degraded and eroded outfall system and ephemeral gully that was rehabilitated into a perennial stream and floodplain system starting with enhanced infiltration in the headwaters. Pollutant load reductions also are met through stormwater redevelopment using sand bedded systems.

Ecosystem Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay Headwaters, Severn River Tributary, Anne Arundel County Maryland

Recreating Wetland-Stream Complexes in Urban Watersheds, Howards Branch, Baltimore, Maryland

Faith Fitzpatrick (U.S. Geological Survey), Ronald Bowen (Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works), Kevin Smith (Maryland Department of Natural Resources), and Keith Underwood (Underwood and Assoc.) talk about recreating an Atlantic White Cedar wetland at an old millpond setting along a highly urban section of Howards Branch. This project looked for opportunities to restore endangered vegetation species by spreading out stormwater into multiple types of wetland complexes.

Recreating Wetland-Stream Complexes in Urban Watersheds, Howards Branch, Baltimore, Maryland

Recreating Baseflow Channels, Howards Branch, Baltimore, Maryland

Faith Fitzpatrick (U.S. Geological Survey) and Joe Berg (BioHabitats, Inc.) describe base-flow channels and sand seepage wetlands in a wetland complex at an old millpond setting along a highly urban section of Howards Branch. Recreated baseflow channels enhance changes in width with increased stormwater flow. These channels maximize the effectiveness of floodplain vegetation and nutrient/sediment uptake.

Recreating Baseflow Channels, Howards Branch, Baltimore, Maryland

Early Communication Helps to Streamline Rehabilitation Projects that Combine Stream and Wetland Techniques, County G I-94 Interchange, Wisconsin

Faith Fitzpatrick (U.S. Geological Survey), Shelley Warwick (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources), and Karla Leithoff (Wisconsin Department of Transportation) discuss coordination among WI DOT and WI DNR, connections between wetland scientists and engineers.

Early Communication Helps to Streamline Rehabilitation Projects that Combine Stream and Wetland Techniques, County G I-94 Interchange, Wisconsin

Protection of Urban Headwaters During Residential Development, Jabaz Branch, Severn, Maryland

Faith Fitzpatrick (U.S. Geological Survey), Keith Underwood (Underwood and Assoc.), and Joe Berg (BioHabitats, Inc.) discuss regenerative stormwater conveyance, sand seepage berms, and swales used in new "green" residential developments to protect important trout habitat in downstream areas.

Protection of Urban Headwaters During Residential Development, Jabaz Branch, Severn, Maryland

Design Considerations for More Natural Channel Reconstructions, Villa Mann Creek, Wisconsin Freeway Reconstruction Project

Faith Fitzpatrick (U.S. Geological Survey) Tom Slawski (Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission) talk about design challenges related to finding reference characteristics for reconstruction more natural channels from stormwater-derived cement lined channels. Stream and wetland construction goes hand-in-hand with roadway construction.

Design Considerations for More Natural Channel Reconstructions, Villa Mann Creek, Wisconsin Freeway Reconstruction Project
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