A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that land loss in Louisiana has slowed from the often-cited rate of a football field of land every hour to a football field every 100 minutes.
Since 1932, the first year that reliable photographic images are available, Louisiana has lost approximately 2,000 square miles of land, nearly the size of Delaware.
But the rate of that loss, which peaked in the 1970s, has slowed, according to the USGS. Since 2010, the rate has decreased even more, according to a new USGS report on land loss.
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"The lack of a major hurricane strike since 2008 is probably the main reason we have seen a decrease in the rate of land loss," said Brady Couvillion, a USGS researcher and one of the authors of the new report. "Ongoing government and private efforts to conserve the state's coastal wetlands are also a contributing factor."
Other causes include a possible slowing of subsidence, a natural process by which land sinks; the removal of some oil and gas facilities from the area; and the fact that many of the most vulnerable wetlands already have been lost.
The report was hailed by Restore the Mississippi Delta, a coalition of conservation groups that advocate for coastal restoration.
"The state has made great progress in starting to restore Louisiana's coastal areas, and thankfully, our region has seen decreased hurricane activity in recent years," the group said in a statement. "While we celebrate the small victories, we cannot become complacent in our efforts to put more land on the map quickly."
Based on satellite imagery and computer models that took into account factors that could skew the analysis, researchers concluded that Louisiana has lost about 58 square miles of wetlands since 2010. At the peak of the land loss, the state lost as much as 32 square miles per year, while in slower periods, it lost 10 square miles per year, the report says.
That means, they said, that instead of the oft-cited "football field every hour" of land loss, on average, Louisiana lost about a football field of land every 100 minutes. They noted that the rate of land loss is not constant, however.
The calculations were made based on an estimate created by studying satellite imagery from last year.
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Overall, about half of U.S. wetlands have been lost over the past 200 years, the report says. Louisiana has seen the worst loss, it says.
Despite the slowing rate of land loss, the report warns that rising sea levels or a major hurricane could once again have a major impact on the rate of loss. The report "does not indicate that coastal wetland loss has ceased to be a serious issue," its authors wrote.