LA - Louisiana could lose 5,000 square miles of wetlands within 78 years. How do we stop it?
Louisiana could lose 66% of its coastal wetlands by the end of the century under a moderate climate change and land conservation scenario, according to a peer-reviewed paper published in the journal of Environmental Research Communications.
The paper outlines different scenarios for the future of U.S. wetlands based on cuts in carbon dioxide emissions – the driver of climate change – land conservation practices, sea-level rise projections and the ability for wetlands to adapt to the changes.
The projections don't take into account Louisiana’s subsidence issue, which gives the state a higher relative sea-level rise, meaning that these projections are relatively conservative for the state.
The study demonstrates that the future of Louisiana coastal wetlands, which provide an array of benefits for the state, depend in part on how quickly economies can transition away from burning fossil fuels which lead to warming of the planet and sea level rise, as well as land conversion practices.
It also shows that even in the most optimistic scenarios, the state will experience significant land loss in the coming decades.
The paper outlines two extreme scenarios. In the most optimistic projection, where all land is conserved, carbon emissions are cut rapidly and wetlands quickly adapt to the changes, the U.S. would actually see its wetlands grow by about 25%. Louisiana would be the only state to still see wetland loss in this scenario.
In a worst-case scenario, in which carbon emissions are not cut, sea levels rise faster than expected, no land is conserved and wetlands don’t respond well to the changes, the U.S. would lose 97% of its wetlands and $732 billion in ecosystem services.
Though both of these scenarios are unlikely, they are helpful for researchers to create boundaries for projections – things certainly won’t get better or worse than either of the extremes.
“I am optimistic that the most pessimistic scenario in the paper is now quite unlikely. It assumes that little further effort is made to reduce climate pollution, but in fact action has been accelerating,” said Benjamin Strauss, co-author of the study. “The pessimistic scenario also assumes complete development of the coastline – quite unlikely – and polar ice sheets more quickly sensitive to warming than most scientists currently believe.”
The Middle Ground
The moderate and more likely projections still paint a grim picture for Louisiana, home to a third of the country’s wetlands.