C3.4 Case study of Hurricane Katrina
C3.4.1 Hurricane Katrina and coastal ecosystem services in the Mississippi delta (Chapter 6, Box 6.4)
Whereas an individual hurricane event cannot be attributed to climate change, it can serve to illustrate the consequences for ecosystem services if the intensity and/or frequency of such events were to increase in the future. One result of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in coastal Louisiana on 29 August 2005, was the loss of 388 km2 of coastal wetlands, levees and islands that flank New Orleans in the Mississippi River deltaic plain (Barras, 2006) (Figure C3.2). (Hurricane Rita, which struck in September 2005, had relatively minor effects on this part of the Louisiana coast which are included in this estimate.) The Chandeleur Islands, which lie south-east of the city, were reduced to roughly half of their former extent as a direct result of Hurricane Katrina. Collectively, these natural systems serve as the first line of defence against storm surge in this highly populated region. While some habitat recovery is expected, it is likely to be minimal compared to the scale of the losses. The Chandeleur Islands serve as an important wintering ground for migratory waterfowl and neo-tropical birds; a large population of North American redhead ducks, for example, feed on the rhizomes of sheltered sea grasses leeward of the Chandeleur Islands (Michot, 2000). Historically the region has ranked second only to Alaska in U.S. commercial fisheries production, and this high productivity has been attributed to the extent of coastal marshes and sheltered estuaries of the Mississippi River delta. Over 1,800 people lost their lives (Graumann et al., 2005) during Hurricane Katrina and the economic losses totalled more than US$100 billion (NOAA, 2007). Roughly 300,000 homes and over 1,000 historical and cultural sites were destroyed along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts (the loss of oil production and refinery capacity helped to raise global oil prices in the short term). Post-Katrina, some major changes to the delta’s management are being advocated, most notably abandonment of the ‘bird-foot delta’, where artificial levees channel valuable sediments into deep water (EFGC, 2006; NRC, 2006). The aim is to restore large-scale delta building processes and hence sustain the ecosystem services in the long term. Hurricane Katrina is further discussed in C3.4.2 and Chapter 14.
Figure C3.2. The Mississippi delta, including the Chandeleur Islands. Areas in red were converted to open water during the hurricane. Yellow lines on index map of Louisiana show tracks of Hurricane Katrina on the right and Hurricane Rita on the left. (Figure source: U.S. Geological Survey, modified from Barras, 2006.)