subscribe: Posts | Comments

October 2012 Coastal Scuttlebutt (cont.)



Former FEMA head Michael Brown is still alive and still speaking nonsense.

Brownie calls Obama too political

In HuffPost yesterday Michael McUrliff posted about a bizarre incident in which the highly discredited Michael Brown, W’s empty suited head of FEMA, as criticizing President Obama for, of all things, responding too quickly to Hurricane Sandy. Here are the key quotes:

“Here’s my concern,” Brown told Denver’s Westword on Monday, suggesting that the official response was actually making people complacent. “It’s premature [when] the brunt of the storm won’t happen until later this afternoon.”

Another account of this story was posted in Politico by Bobby Cervantes. Here are key quotes:

“In the context of the election, I simply said he should have waited,” Brown told POLITICO Tuesday afternoon. “The storm was still forming, people were debating whether it was going to be as bad as expected, or not, and I noted that the president should have let the governors and mayors deal with the storm until it got closer to hitting the coastal areas along the Washington, D.C.-New York City corridor.”

Amanda Terkel presented Fugate’s great response to his critic in HuffPost. Here’s his description of how FEMA works:

“We’re a federal government; we’re not a national government,” he said “Disasters are local. Through state constitutions, the governors are the primary incident commanders for the entire state response in support of that. And the role of the federal government is to support the states when the disaster exceeds their capabilities. And when it’s this bad, we work as one team. But we are in support of the governors, as they are in support of the local officials. It’s a federal system of government.”


Gulf Hypoxia described once more without the delta

Scientists measured the Gulf of Mexico dead zone in July as part of the annual monitoring cruise aboard the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium?s ship Pelican. Pictured here are Nancy Rabalais of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and her husband, Eugene Turner of Louisiana State University.

The DesMoines Register just published two important articles on gulf hypoxia by Perry Beeman.

The first article describes the problem and presents the views of Iowa corn farmers and Louisiana shrimpers and Louisiana scientist Nancy Rabalais who has studied the issue since 1985.

To his credit, reporter Beeman interviewed a wide number of officials, including Bobby Jindal, as quoted here:

In an interview with the Register, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he’d like to see more progress more quickly. But he stopped short of calling for tough regulations in farm states upstream.

Jindal said restoring the Gulf will take cooperation among the states.

“I think it’s a national treasure we all need to be worried about,” he said. “We all have to work together on using the best science, the best techniques when it comes to soil management. That’s good for farmers as well. There are things we all can do.”

Jindal’s counterparts in Iowa, even those of different political stripes, also oppose mandatory measures that might limit fertilizer use.

The second article involves the contentious subject of fertilizer regulation. It includes the following note that a state report on hypoxia that comes out next month:

Iowa State University researchers last month released a study detailing cropping practices that could cut fertilizer runoff by as much as 90 percent. And a federal hypoxia task force joined farmers from across the U.S. at ISU’s Boone research farm, where GPS-assisted fertilizer application systems and other devices demonstrated how technology could help farmers save money and minimize pollution.

In the next month or so, Iowa’s natural resources and agriculture departments will release a long-awaited report detailing plans to reduce fertilizer runoff as well as nitrate and phosphorus pollution from sewage treatment plants.

These articles are well researched and worth reading. Nevertheless, as in most reports on the dead zone, they miss the big picture, totally ignoring the global context in which gulf hypoxia is merely an important subset. The largest and most intractable coastal issue in the entire western hemisphere is the rapid decline of the largest delta in North America…America’s Delta.

Addressing both issues requires far more than fertilizer application. It requires a new management paradigm for the entire Mississippi River system.

The author interviewed Nancy Rabalais, Ph.D., and her husband Gene Turner, Ph.D., both of whom are famously disinclined to discuss the need to address hypoxia in the broader deltaic context. In the real world we must better accommodate navigation needs, upriver habitat restoration (including dam removal) and re-establishing the hydrologic connection between the river and its delta.


Material Girl promotes FEMA

Romney to FEMA: Go to heck!

John Wirt reported today in The Advocate that Madonna was loudly booed by members of her Louisiana concert audience yesterday after she recommended voting for Barack Obama. Keep in mind that she was performing, not in Bogalusa but in New Orleans, the latest stop of her current MDNA tour.

This is a coastal story and here’s why.

Hurricane Sandy is expected to impact at least eight states and FEMA has mounted a massive recovery effort that will involve and impact millions of people…and cost billions. Apparently even Chris Christie has praised the administration for getting ahead of the disaster, with Craig Fugate at the helm of FEMA.

Those folks who disagreed with ‘Ms, Donna’s’ politics are presumably supporters of Mitt Romney and they presumably still bear hurricane memories of Katrina, if not other storms. What they probably don’t know is that their candidate has listed FEMA among government agencies that should be eliminated.

As the entire northeast braces for this Frankenstorm, the likes of which no one has ever seen, Ryan Grim reported yesterday in HuffingtonPost that one of the two candidates for POTUS is on record this year having recommended either doing away with or privatizing FEMA all of which is shown on the videoclip.Perhaps Mr. Romney thinks that we should deal with hurricanes,  earthquakes, wildfires and other disasters on a volunteer basis with, with untrained volunteers bringing coffee and donuts.


The ABCs of the election outcome

Three fundamental political issues (A, B and C) are riding on the outcome of the presidential election on November 6, each of which I take extremely personally. Let me explain.

A will largely determine the probability of success or failure of coastal protection/restoration in Louisiana. B and C will markedly affect the lives of my daughter and my life partner’s daughter and granddaughters.

A involves climate change. Neither candidate has been willing to broach the subject during the debates, which, as described by Bruce Alpert in today’s The Times-Picayune, has many coastal advocates deeply concerned. This bizarre hybrid storm is setting new levels of hyperbole in terms of dire warnings. Note this subheading in Huffpost:

Freak Storm Hurtles Towards East Coast… Millions at Risk… NHC: ‘Life Threatening’,,, Widespread Power Outages Feared… All NYC Mass Transit Suspended… Thousands of Flights Canceled…Destruction Could Be Worse Than Katrina…  On Track To Become Record Storm.

It’s particularly ironic that Sandy, which is changing campaign plans for both parties, may ultimately be shown to have been another symptom of climate change.

B is the implementation in 2014 of the major portion of the Affordable Care Act, ‘Obamacare,’ or its repeal, which will either establish basic universal health care for the country…or set health care back for generations. I was particularly impressed by Ezra Klein’s assessment of this issue in his

Finally, C is the fact that the 2013-16 Oval Office resident will nominate from 1-3 Supreme Court justices for life, establishing the right of women to control their own bodies against misogynists, or returning the country to those glorious days of backyard abortions. See this article by Virginia Choi, Katie Kilhenny, Chris Kirk, and Jeremy Stahl in about the difficulty of distinguishing the philosophies between Christian social conservatives, such as Richard Mourdock and Islamic fundamentalists, such as Abu Hamza.


President Obama finally asked about climate change…on MTV!

Sway Calloway

Will Oremus reported in that an MTV DJ known as Sway Calloway accomplished what none of his other interviewers have been able to do…force the POTUS to comment on climate change and his second term.

I’m taking the liberty of quoting Sway’s questions, some of Oremus’ comments and all of the President’s answers:


“Until this year, global climate change has been discussed in every presidential debate since 1988,” Sway said, sitting with Obama in the White House’s Blue Room. “It was a big part of your previous campaign but has been pushed back on the back burner. Given the urgency of the threat, do you feel that we’re moving quickly enough on this issue, number one? And number two, Samatha from New Jersey wants to know, what will you do to make it a priority?”


The short answers: No, we’re not moving quickly enough. And no, I’m not really going to do anything in particular to make it a priority.

President Obama:

Well the answer is, number one, we’re not moving as fast as we need to. And this is an issue that future generations, MTV viewers, are going to have to be dealing with even more than the older generation is. And so this is a critical issue. And there’s a huge contrast in this campaign between myself and Governor Romney. I’m surprised it didn’t come up in one of the debates.

Governor Romney says he believes in climate change. That’s different than a lot of the members of his own party who just deny it completely. But he says he’s not sure that man-made causes are the reason. I believe scientists, who say that we’re putting too much carbon emissions into the atmostphere, and it’s heating the planet, and it’s going to have a severe effect.

So there are a couple things that we have already done over the last four years. Number one, we doubled fuel-efficiency standards on cars and trucks. That’s the first increase in 30 years in the fuel-mileage standards. And as a consequence we’ll be taking huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, even as we’re also saving folks money at the pump and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. We’ve doubled clean-energy production: wind, solar, biofuels. And that means that increasingly people are getting—you know, electricity companies are generating power without the use of carbon-producing fuels. And that’s helping as well. The next step is to deal with buildings and really ramp up our efficiency in buildings. You know, if we had the same energy efficiency as Japan, we would cut our energy use by about 20 percent. And that means we’d be taking a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere. And if we do those things, we can meet the targets that I negotiated with other countries in Copenhagen to bring our carbon emissions down by about 17 percent, even as we’re creating good jobs in these industries.

In order for us to solve the whole problem, though, we’re going to have to have some technological breakthroughs. Because countries like China and India, they’re building coal-fired power plants. You know, they feel that they have to prioritize getting people out of poverty ahead of climate change. So what we have to do is help them and help ourselves by continuing to put money into research and technology about how do we really get the new sources of power that are going to make a difference.


Candidate responses to science questions that we’ll never hear from the campaigns

Sadly for coastal voters around the country, climate change is being totally ignored by the two candidates for president. Don’t despair!

An old friend, colleague and fellow coastal scientist in Florida shared a link to a September 4 article posted in on parallel official responses from the two campaigns on 14 high priority science questions, including climate change, which is shown here ver batim:

2. Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?
Barack Obama:Climate change is the one of the biggest issues of this generation, and we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits. Since taking office I have established historic standards limiting greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles for the first time in history. My administration has made unprecedented investments in clean energy, proposed the first-ever carbon pollution limits for new fossil-fuel-fired power plants and reduced carbon emissions within the Federal Government. Since I took office, the U.S. is importing an average of 3 million fewer barrels of oil every day, and our dependence on foreign oil is at a 20-year low. We are also showing international leadership on climate change, reaching historic agreements to set emission limits in unison with all major developed and developing nations. There is still more to be done to address this global problem. I will continue efforts to reduce our dependence on oil and lower our greenhouse gas emissions while creating an economy built to last.   Mitt Romney:I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.Ultimately, the science is an input to the public policy decision; it does not dictate a particular policy response. President Obama has taken the view that if global warming is occurring, the American response must be to slash carbon dioxide emissions by imposing enormous costs on the U.S. economy. First he tried a massive cap-and-trade bill that would have devastated U.S. industry. When that approach was rejected by Congress, he declared his intention to pursue the same course on his own and proceeded through his EPA to impose rules that will bankrupt the coal industry.Nowhere along the way has the President indicated what actual results his approach would achieve — and with good reason. The reality is that the problem is called Global Warming, not America Warming. China long ago passed America as the leading emitter of greenhouse gases. Developed world emissions have leveled off while developing world emissions continue to grow rapidly, and developing nations have no interest in accepting economic constraints to change that dynamic. In this context, the primary effect of unilateral action by the U.S. to impose costs on its own emissions will be to shift industrial activity overseas to nations whose industrial processes are more emissions-intensive and less environmentally friendly. That result may make environmentalists feel better, but it will not better the environment.So I oppose steps like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system that would handicap the American economy and drive manufacturing jobs away, all without actually addressing the underlying problem. Economic growth and technological innovation, not economy-suppressing regulation, is the key to environmental protection in the long run. So I believe we should pursue what I call a “No Regrets” policy — steps that will lead to lower emissions, but that will benefit America regardless of whether the risks of global warming materialize and regardless of whether other nations take effective action.For instance, I support robust government funding for research on efficient, low-emissions technologies that will maintain American leadership in emerging industries. And I believe the federal government must significantly streamline the regulatory framework for the deployment of new energy technologies, including a new wave of investment in nuclear power. These steps will strengthen American industry, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and produce the economically-attractive technologies that developing nations must have access to if they are to achieve the reductions in their own emissions that will be necessary to address what is a global issue.


Fish robots

Icthyos robotacus

The Advocate published a report by Janet McConnaughey with AP that the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is funding marine and coastal scientists and engineers at universities around the country to create robotic ‘fish’ as remote collectors of coastal data.

This reminded me that back in the day when I was an associate professor and research scientist at what was then called the LSU Center for Wetland Resources I was primarily on a soft money contract, meaning that I had to pursue funding sources to pay 75% of my salary and overhead.

Finding the bucks to study why and how rapidly the coast was disintegrating became more and more difficult during the 1980s, until the Old War Skule and I parted company in 1984.

I remember at the time that folks on contracts with large energy companies and the Navy did considerably better than those of us who attempted to document and quantify coastal damage from oil exploration canals and spoil banks, marsh buggy tracks, shell dredging, and etc.

Who knows, the fish robots may ultimately provide important applied ecological information critical for non-military restoration purposes, although that seems a little fishy.


The black dots mark the spots where Anthopogenic Sea Level Rise Denial is so popular.

Climate change deniers face a challenge November 1 in Thibodaux

Last evening I purposely changed channels to avoid the frustration of seeing a depressing documentary on PBS Frontline about the industry scumbags who have successfully cast doubt on the science of climate change. One of the primary impacts of anthropogenic sea level rise (ASLR)…in this case in North Carolina.

In Louisiana, political ground zero for anthropogenic sea level rise denial (ASLRD) in Louisiana is the fourth floor of the State Capitol, the governor’s floor. The planar coordinates are 30.4581° N, 91.1402° W and Bobby Jindal’s Office is about ~140 ft above MSL.

Technical ground zero for ASLRD is the Houma office of Reggie Dupre, executive director, Terrebonne Parish Levee Board. The planar coordinates are 29.5875° N, 90.7161° W, and Reggie’s office, west of the Houma airport is roughly 12 feet above MSL (two feet above Houma’s 10 foot elevation above MSL).

On October 22 Nikki Buskey reported in The Daily Comet that an Oscar-nominated documentary about sea level rise will be aired on November 1 in Thibodaux. Here’s a quote:

The documentary will be screened at 6 p.m. Nov. 1 in Peltier Auditorium at Nicholls State University…The (free) screening is being hosted by Catholic Charities of Houma-Thibodaux, Nicholls State and the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program.

I don’t know whether or not I’ll be able to attend what could be an historic gathering of folks who are sincerely and correctly concerned that the gulf is rising ever more rapidly, along with some deniers and a few political figures who may have the courage to show up.

I congratulate Rob Gorman, with Catholic Charities of Houma and Kerry St. Pe, executive director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuaries Program. I wonder whether Garret Graves will be there. I also wonder whether Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry will show, five days before their showdown election for the District 3 congressional seat.


Boustany recommended for coastal congressional seat District 3

Boustany and Landry compete for coastal seat.

Jordan Blum reported today in The Advocate on the status of the District 3 congressional seat that was put up for grabs by the elimination of one of our congressional seats following the 2010 census. The race now has five candidates, in addition to Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry.

On May 15 2012 I posted the following thoughts on the race, and I endorsed Dr. Boustany. Based on Blum’s article and what I’ve picked up from other sources about the three new candidates I see no reason to change my view, as expressed here:

Louisiana lost a coastal congressional seat after the 2010 census, which forced the merging of former district 7 with district 3. Jonathan Tilove reported in today’s The Times-Picayune and Jordan Blum reported in The Advocate that this has forced a showdown between two of our five sitting coastal congressmen.*

Brash freshman congressman Jeff Landry (R-New Iberia) announced that he will challenge Charles Boustany (R-Lafayette) for the newly-expanded district 3 seat.

The political styles of Boustany and Landry, two conservative candidates stand in stark contrast, with Boustany representing the more genteel and traditional GOP style and Landry representing the upstart Tea Party, take-no-prisoners style of governance.

The coastal implications of this race will depend in part on whether Barack Obama is re-elected on November 6, whether the GOP retains control of the House and whether John Boehner remains speaker.

If all three outcomes are positive it seems to me that Boustany has a much better chance than Landry to garner support for Louisiana’s coastal protection and restoration programs, including the Gulf coast restoration program announced by the president.

If Mitt Romney is elected all bets are off, in that so far as I know he has no environmental record and I’m certain that he knows nothing about the plight of America’s Delta.

Landry voted with Michelle Bachmann against increasing the government debt limit to prevent an economic catastrophe. Like Bachmann he’s a drill-baby-drill supporter, against any and all regulations restricting big oil. He’s a radical opponent of compromise, sworn like the rest of his tea party colleagues to oppose all taxes and cut all non-defense related government services, no matter what. These services obviously include saving the coast.

For these reasons I support Boustany as the most reasonable GOP member of our coastal representatives. In the spirit of full disclosure I’m on good terms with Dr. Boustany’s younger brother Ron, a coastal advocate employed by the federal department of agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and directly involved with coastal planning.

I’m sure that Ron Boustany will likely share insights on coastal policy and funding needs with his Bro during the next two years. Good luck, Dr. Boustany.

*The other three being Steve Scalise (R-Metairie) Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans) and William Cassidy (R-Baton Rouge).



Jim Stone and his child bride Pam are taken aback by the birtday cake conflagration. Photo by Guille Novelo.

Joe Suhayda reports ongoing BP oil leak at 80th birthday party for Jim Stone 

On a beautiful fall afternoon in downtown Baton Rouge yesterday, friends and former professional colleagues of retired coastal ecologist Jim Stone watched him blow out an impressive 80 candles squeezed together on a birthday cake without a square inch to spare..

Witnesses to this auspicious event included seven folks who have worked professionally with Dr. Stone over the years. This motley krewe included:

Michael Beck, one time Peace Corps volunteer, statistician and formerly a restoration project analyst with the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR).

John Day, professor emeritus with the LSU Department of Oceanography and Coastal Science and head of the Science and Engineering Research Team (SERT).

Karen Gautreaux, now representing The Nature Conservancy (TNC) of Louisiana, formerly executive assistant to Mike Foster in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities (GOCA), deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and once a leg of the milking stool of coastal policy…along with Jim Stone and me in the GOCA.

Joel Lindsay, ‘coastal sociologist,’ former deputy secretary of DEQ and right hand man to DEQ secretary Paul Templet under Gov. Buddy Roemer.

Joe Suhayda, seasoned oceanographer and hurricane expert, formerly an engineering professor and coastal modeler with LSU’s Coastal Studies Institute (CSI); currently a consultant on coastal protection projects to Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser, among other clients. Joe is the only member of this group with a Wikipedia page.

Andy Wilson, attorney specializing in marine law, who successfully defended Louisiana in the infamous $2 billion class action lawsuit brought by oyster leaseholders against the state and described in this fascinating May 4, 2003 report by Jeffery Meitrodt and Aaron Kuriloff in The Times-Picayune.

Finally, your humble servant and coastal scribe who over 38 years has spent many, many hours with each of these folks in formal, informal and social settings doing our best against all odds to save the coast.

Among the notable coastal tidbits that I heard yesterday was an account by Joe Suhayda of a field trip this past week to the spot directly over the site of the Macondo well blowout. Joe reported seeing a steady stream of oil globules rising to the surface and erupting into  a large sheen. Joe is a very experienced oceanographer, not known for hyperbole so this story continues.


Green groups differ over whether to call out Obama for campaign silence on climate

Graphic from July 1 2010 post "Silence of the Eco-lambs"

On July 1, 2010 I posted a politically incorrect article called Silence of the Eco-lambs, in which I criticized spokesfolks for environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for not challenging Governor Jindal’s $250 million campaign to build sand berms to intercept BP oil. In addition to my green friends’ silence on sand berms they have also failed to call out Louisiana pols and industry reps over their consistent denial of anthropogenic climate change.

Sea level rise, drought/flood extremes, ocean acidification, northward shift of tropical disease pathogens, outbreaks of invasive species and other climate related processes can cancel out the benefits of coastal restoration efforts. Nevertheless the NGOs have pretty much been biting their tongues, presumably in order to earn a seat at the policy table with Garret Graves, Kyle Graham* and Bobby Jindal.

This phenomenon of strategic silence is also playing out at the national level, as shown by an insightful article by Ben Geman in TheHill.Com called Environmental groups divided on whether to hit Obama on climate change.

I would very much like to see an objective assessment of the major national NGOs and their political aggressiveness, vs. their political effectiveness.

*Deputy director for planning and programs in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities (GOCA), deputy director of the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR). Strangely enough, Mr. Graham’s name is not listed on the GOCA web site but he’s clearly a player, who frequently stands in for his boss Garret Graves.


Iron production, levees and coastal forests

Here's where iron processing and flood protection could be complementary...or not.

Economic development makes coastal parish presidents happy, while increasing flood risk keeps them up at night.

On September 22, 2010 I posted a feature article on the $3.4 billion Nucor iron processing plant being built near Convent by the Nucor Corporation, which has coastal implications.

I proposed that state and parish officials ask the company to grant an easement to create a channel across their property to convey river water to swamps surrounding the northwest portion of Lake Maurepas. This very modest favor could help save a large area of dying coastal forest, providing hurricane surge protection to an area that becomes more and more flood prone as the gulf moves inland and future Isaacs come along.

Kate Stephens reported on October 19 in The Advocate that construction of the Nucor facility is well underway. This obviously delights parish officials.

Hurricane Isaac moved across the coast as if in slow motion last month, causing extensive flooding in parts of St. James and other river parishes. These same officials became highly vocal about what they see as a need for more artificial flood protection in the form of levees. For example, according to an article by David J. Mitchell on September 5 in The Advocate, both Presidents Timmy Roussel of St. James and Tommy Martinez of Ascension have expressed concern about possible induced flooding in their parishes caused by levee improvements in the New Orleans area following Hurricane Katrina.

Jeff Adelson reported on September 12 in The Times-Picayunethat the presidents of St. John, St Tammany and Plaquemines Parishes have complained that their constituents lack the flood protection upgrades provided to the greater New Orleans area following Hurricane Katrina.

Caption: Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Leaders from the throughout southeast Louisiana gather Tuesday in Jefferson Parish to make a regional push for flood protection. They are, from left, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, St. Bernard President David Peralta, St. John President Natalie Robottom, Westwego Council member Ted Munch, Jefferson Parish President John Young, Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere, St. Tammany President Pat Brister, St. Charles Presidnet V.J. St. Pierre, Pontchatoula Mayor Bob Zabbia and Garret Graves, Chair of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana.

Yesterday The Advocate carried an article by Allen Powell II on the formation of a six-parish coalition in southeast Louisiana to lobby for more levee protection in the form of levees. The group includes Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Charles, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. John.

I’m very curious why this lobbying group, which was the brainchild of St. Tammany President Pat Brister, does not include St. James and Ascension Parishes.


Yankee scientist Linda Deegsn, Ph.D.

Nitrogen and salt marshes

Two former or current Louisiana coastal scientists were interviewed this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition as part of a report on dysfunctional and disappearing coastal wetlands. The issue involves Spartina alterniflora, a salt marsh plant commonly known as cord grass or oyster grass that occurs naturally from New England down the east coast to Cape Canaveral, Florida and along the northern gulf coast.

Joyce interviewed a former LSU grad student and colleague Linda Deegan, who now carries out her research in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Dr. Deegan just published a paper in Nature in which she explained why Massachusetts salt marshes flushed with water high in nitrogen are disappearing. The short answer is that the fertilizer stimulates growth of the aboveground portion (shoots) of the plant but reduces the belowground root growth.

This phenomenon, which has also been observed in some marshes in Louisiana, is being used by a small number of scientists to oppose the construction of sediment diversion projects in Louisiana, the keystone projects without which coastal restoration cannot work. Diversion projects are designed to reconnect the river to its delta by conveying river sediments and muddy water…which happens to have high nitrogen concentrations…into fresh and saltwater wetlands.

A major difference between the Massachusetts and Louisiana settings is that the former is characterized by highly organic soils with low bulk density. Salt marshes in Louisiana occupy mineral-rich soils. IMHO the risk of eutrophication from river diversion projects has occupied an inordinate amount of the limited time and energy of the science community and it has created confusion on the part of the public and outright hostility on the part of some oyster growers.

Joyce also interviewed LSU geologist Sam Bentley, a featured speaker at the recent workshop at LSU to discuss the principal elements of the just completed Mississippi River Delta Report. During his interview Dr. Bentley implied that delaying and holding the Louisiana Master Plan hostage because of a potential risk of reducing root production of some coastal marshes, pales in comparison to the ongoing loss of south Louisiana.


R. King Milling, Chair, America's Wetland Foundation

R. King Milling promotes river meetings

On October 13 the Commercial Appeal in Memphis published an editorial by R. King Milling, Chair of the America’s Wetland Foundation (AWF), appealing for interstate cooperation to address environmental/economic problems that should be of mutual interest to each and every state within the Mississippi River watershed. Here’s how AWF described King’s editorial:

In an editorial published last week in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, AWF Chair R. King Milling argues that the nation must move toward more cooperative management of the Mississippi River or the entire system will continue to degrade, hastening the deterioration of the delta and threatening the massive environmental and economic benefits the nation has come to depend upon.

The foundation is hosting a Mississippi River initiative (Big River Works), which apparently consists of a series of public awareness meetings up and down the river.

This initiative is one more attempt to achieve a political critical mass among disparate state interests that would be necessary to achieve serious buy-in by governors, state legislatures and residents for action on river-wide restoration. King’s arguments feel good, they’re familiar, cogent and non-controversial but the sale has not been made and time ticks away.

Forgive my cynicism but rallying public support throughout the Mississippi River watershed with sufficient clout to result in action is not enhanced by the formation of multiple independent efforts with competing missions. I’m thinking of the Water Institute of the Gulf, for example.

I’m curious about whether the Big River Works is redundant with the Mississippi River Delta Restoration effort mounted by the Science and Engineering Special Team (SERT) that met in Baton Rouge last week to discuss the science of restoring the Mississippi River Delta.


Coastal cardboard

Baz Ratner /Reuters /Landov Israeli inventor and his cardboard bicycle.

Global population now tops 7 billion, hell-bent on its sad, sorry way to 9 billion souls within the 50 year time frame envisioned to implement the Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. During this time, increased fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas generation invested just to transport folks with traditional means will further exacerbate climate change and sea level rise.

A premium will thus be placed on revolutionizing personal transportation and third world folks living right at the edge should be particularly in the transportation market, so to speak.

On that point, I was intrigued to discover an inspiring news item and video by Mark Memmott on NPR. The piece describes an Israeli engineer/entrepreneur/visionary named Izhar Gafni, who has invented what he maintains is a durable, inexpensive, practical bicycle constructed almost completely of cardboard. Mr. Gafni plans to produce his bike soon on a mass scale.

Cardboard has always fascinated me as a light, strong, cheap building material and alternative to petroleum-based plastic. My life partner Guile tells me that in her native Mexico many poor people have become ‘parachutists’ (squatters) who stake claims on land and build houses out of cardboard covered with tar.

In a former time of my life I was an avid cyclist working in a coastal setting in Georgia who spent considerable spare time trying to design a practical bicycle-powered catamaran. My dream was never realized but the hero of this story says on the videoclip that his bike meme was inspired by seeing a practical cardboard canoe.

More than half of the world’s population is coastal and this pattern is unlikely to change during the remainder of the century. Transporting increasing billions of increasingly depauperate people in increasingly wet surroundings will be increasingly important. In other words, there should now be a growing market for cheap aquatic transportation…including bike-powered watercraft.

OK, I’m a dreamer, but watch this vimeo and tell me you aren’t similarly engaged and inspired.


Coastal science paradise

Coastal science philanthropist

Those of us who care passionately about global environmental issues are extremely limited in terms of what we can do to raise the odds that the next generation will inherit something other than the wind. We watch helplessly as the Koch Brothers and their ilk blatantly purchase technical opinion, for example on climate change, to support their righteous allegiance to the God of Profit.

In contrast I discovered an article by Jude Isabella in that describes a research scientist who has the means and inclination to use his influence to advance ecological knowledge, untainted by politics. For ten years a Canadian scientist named Eric Peterson has been sponsoring critical ecological research with a strong coastal emphasis that is absolutely independent of grants from agencies or foundations.

I strongly encourage you to read the article. Here’s Isabella’s introduction:

Eric Peterson is a biologist who once held research posts at Harvard and McGill University in Montreal. Having made his money in medical imaging, in 2002 he set up the philanthropic Tula Foundation, which supports research at the Hakai Institute and healthcare initiatives in Guatemala. He explains why he created his own institute on a remote Canadian island.

The island that Peterson purchased occupies the dynamic coast of British Columbia, an area that I had the great pleasure of visiting a few years back while I was still ungainfully employed by Bobby Jindal. My trip was hosted by marine geologist, friend and former LSU colleague Dr. John Harper.

John Harper, Ph.D.

Be Sociable, Share!
  1. Kelly Haggar says:

    Cutting FEMA as seen from my side of the political divide:

    Note that Williamson has a higher view of Jindal than either Len or I have and he also underestimates the extent to which Louisiana is Louisiana . . . but then “imputed development” resulting in the classic “moral hazard” problem is common to all 50 states.

  2. Len,

    President Obama did talk about the seriousness of climate in his convention address, and Gov Romney mocked the issue in his – those are the public statements they’ve made before their largest national audiences in their maximum moment of individual exposure. The Obama administration has been fighting the climate issue in its most difficult area – enforcement of EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Rightwing and industry forces have exaggerated the costs of these actions and fought their legal basis. Louisiana’s Governor and GOP delegation have been at the forefront of these distortions – refusing to mention the coast at all when they accuse Obama of trying to destroy the economy. That is the national voice of Louisiana – and it’s a central way that Jindal and Co. are sinking our chances to save the coast. As for the Obama campaign’s decision not to talk about climate, that’s understandable given the fact that half the population is unable (or perhaps worse, uninterested) to see through Romney and Ryan’s bald-faced lying about their own plans, not to mention a wide range of issues.

  3. Len,
    I think we’re not serving science well by dismissing Dr. Deegan’s recent article simply because it raises questions which might be relevant to the efficiency of some diversion applications. More important, the implications of this nine year research project points to liabilities regarding nutrient enrichment and its global impact on wetland break-up and decomposition rates. These implications weigh heavy on the potential shift, in wetlands with an organic base, from sequestering carbon towards being a source of greenhouse gases. We should be thanking Dr. Deegan for giving us justification to demand better water quality before it’s released into the natural environment. Given enough nutrients and warm temperatures, many decomposing bacteria colonies can double in size within an hour or less. Freshwater vegetation decomposes significantly faster than saltwater species. With this in mind, Dr. Deegan’s study of Spartina in the cool climate of Massachusetts may be an understatement of the potential damage excessive nutrients may have on wetlands around the world.

    • Ed-
      I’m a friend of Linda’s and in no way inclined to dismiss her research. That said, I’m also a friend and great admirer of the work of Jim Morris, who I consider to be the world’s expert on the effects of nitrogen enrichment of coastal marshes. His work is more extensive than Linda’s and it includes Louisiana research. I heard Dr. Morris’ presentation at the SEST workshop at LSU and he answered to my satisfaction the questions you allude to.
      Finally, opponents of diversion projects who base their arguments on the theoretical and controversial risk of ‘top heavy’ marsh plants ignore the absolute risk of what’s happening out there.

      • Len, Thanks for your comment. I heard the presentation Jim Morris gave at SEST and talked to him after the meeting. I was favorably impressed with him and would like to look at his work in more detail. I’m sure I could learn a lot from Dr. Morris. He raised some very important questions regarding nutrient enrichment which I’m still pondering. I could have missed it, although, I don’t think Jim’s presentation covered the specific issues relating to my concerns about nutrient enrichment and corresponding decomposition rates.

        I see no need to foster opinions about which scientist is the best expert. Linda’s work is available for critical review. So far, the only comments I’ve read about it have indeed been dismissive relative to the politics of diversions. The fate of diversions depends on inorganic sediments. The implications of nutrient enrichment in wetlands with a thick organic base is a very different discussion. Linda’s focus was on the potential global impacts of wetlands receiving nutrient enriched water. Perhaps there is some secondary overlap regarding diversions, but the big question has to do with wether or not nutrient enrichment directly or indirectly weakens wetlands and accelerates decomposition rates. It’s not a simple or single issue of ‘top heavy’ marsh plants. If greenhouse gases (methane and etc.) are released prematurely because of nutrient induced decomposition, we had better do our scientific homework, before we endorse or set a general president for using nutrients to intentionally fertilize wetlands. This is a very important and complex issue and deserves an inquisitive approach. If critical science is overly relegated to the sideline by others who want to promote public opinion and secure funding, we will be acquiescing the higher ground of scientific objectivity. I’m amazed by the number of well intended and kindred sprits who have said they want to discuss these issues but don’t have the time to dig into the details.

        Len, I appreciate very much your work and trust we both have a genuine love for nature. I regret that my rough edges make me sound argumentative, but I truly think there are some gross assumptions about the benefits of nutrient enrichment that have been overstated, under evaluated and which will unnecessarily set us back for many years to come. If you would like to have lunch, I would be most happy to see you and talk about why I have come to this position.

  4. Don Boesch says:


    Regarding the screening of the sea level rise documentary in Thibodaux on November 1 (your October 24 blog), I am sure that Mr. Landry and Mr. Boustany will be busy campaigning in their new 3rd district, which, as the map presented in your October 23 posting shows, is in St. Mary’s Parish and points west. The incumbent running to represent Thibodaux now is Bill Cassidy (6th congressional district). The adjacent 1st district starts just below Hollywood Road in Houma. Incumbent Steve Scalise is running to represent the 1st district, the most cartographically endangered in the US. Suggest that my old friend Rob Gorman send Dr. Cassidy and Mr. Scalise invites.


  5. Anonymous says:

    Just wanted to bring to your attention an essay by Campanella, worth a read.


    • Kelly Haggar says:

      My initial take on Campenella’s article was that it does a really nice job of dealing with a broad picture . . . if you allow for the exclusion of the geology factors actually driving the train. But, after allowing for a static, two dimensional only analysis, it’s very good.

      “Bottom: LaPlace, Louisiana, after Hurricane Isaac, 2012. [Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection] cbpphotos/7936749002/”

      Was that picture from 2012 or 2008? Gustav did exactly the same thing years before the barrier in the top photo was finished.

      Also,there’s a few other points to contest in the article.

      1. “Following the heavy Midwestern rains of early 2011, exceedingly high water flowed down the Mississippi River system from April through July, and the intricate network of spillways, floodways, easements, levees, weirs, control structures and armoring installed after the Great Flood of 1927 worked flawlessly in keeping the number of flood victims to a minimum.”


      2. “following the Army Corps’ perfectly executed control of the Mississippi River Flood of 2011”

      Those two statements would be hotly disputed by many upstream folks who think both Morganza and the Bonnet Carre should have been opened much earlier than they were.

      3. “that the Army Corps of Engineers is not legally responsible for flooding caused by the failure of federal flood-control devices, but rather only when navigation projects lead to flooding.”

      The Campanella article was posted Oct 11th yet Fifth Circuit held on Sep 24th (In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation, 5th Cir., No. 10-30249) that the Corps was immune even for navigation projects via the discretionary function exemption. I think the 5th (and the trial court) is wrong; all three opinions incorrectly hold that the 1928 Flood Act immunity does not control. I think it does . . . which further means that the Corps is not liable for Laplace or Braithwaite even if the Risk Reduction System did cause them to flood.

      P.S. Legal point to ponder: why is the same thing called “anti-skid” when it’s in a military jet but called “anti-lock” when it’s in the brakes of a civilian car? Hint: military flight manuals say, roughly, “Brakes don’t stop the jet; they merely prevent the wheels from turning. Whether or not jet stops depends on the friction between the tires and the runway.”

  6. Thank you for bringing Eric Peterson and Hakai Institute to our attention!

Leave a Reply