Louisiana’s Moon Shot ~ @TheLensNOLA @ProPublica

Posted on January 4, 2015 By

The state hopes to save its rapidly disappearing coastline with a 50-year, $50 billion plan based on science that’s never been tested and money it doesn’t have. What could go wrong?

By Bob Marshall, Al Shaw and Theodoric Meyer

Head of Passes is where the main stem of the Mississippi River branches off into three distinct directions at its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico: Southwest Pass (west), Pass A Loutre (east) and South Pass (centre). They are part of the "Bird's Foot Delta", the youngest lobe of the evolving Mississippi River Delta.

Head of Passes is where the main stem of the Mississippi River branches off into three distinct directions at its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico: Southwest Pass (west), Pass A Loutre (east) and South Pass (centre). They are part of the “Bird’s Foot Delta”, the youngest lobe of the evolving Mississippi River Delta.

As Brig. Gen Duke DeLuca wrapped up his 32-year career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in August, he contemplated the key to Louisiana’s massive, 50-year, $50 billion effort to prevent the southeastern portion of the state from being swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico.

DeLuca, an expert on the many threats facing the coast, said: “It will take a moon-shot type of investment in the science.”

Many in Louisiana’s coastal scientific community believe DeLuca’s description is right on the mark, capturing the undertaking’s daunting uncertainties. The mission could not have been set on a more challenging landscape, at a more inopportune time.

If anything, DeLuca’s moon-shot analogy may be an understatement. NASA had to surmount historic scientific and engineering challenges to land a man on the moon. But the existence of towns and cities didn’t rest on the outcome.

“We’ll have to start that on a small scale, and there will be missteps along the way,” said coastal geologist Paul Kemp, a Louisiana State University researcher who has written extensively about the Mississippi River delta. “But we have to succeed, because this, really, is our only hope.” Read more.

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