Watch the Delta Grow: Discovering a New Ecosystem through Science Research

Scientists are studying the Wax Lake Delta to learn how natural, self-maintaining deltas grow and evolve into healthy and mature ecosystems.  Because most deltas were formed hundreds or thousands of years ago, it is a rare opportunity that in today’s world we are witnessing the growth of a brand new delta. 

By studying Wax Lake Delta, we will have a better understanding of the natural delta systems, and this knowledge can be applied to efforts to restore the Mississippi River Delta.  The state of Louisiana is proposing to allow the Mississippi River to flow in specified areas, so that sediment can once again be distributed throughout coastal Louisiana to create new land.

 
 

Imagine a hurricane is barreling toward the shores of Louisiana and you are a scientist studying the Wax Lake Delta.  You want to understand if the hurricane is going to significantly alter the delta.  Will the hurricane destroy the land that has been building at the delta’s edge?  Will the hurricane bring salt water to the delta and kill the freshwater plants that cannot tolerate salt? 

Image: Hurricand Gustave from NASA

Usually to collect data to learn about the delta, you take a boat and make measurements yourself using instruments that you carry on the boat.  However, with the dangerous risks of a hurricane, you must get as far away from the coast as possible for safety.  So is it possible to study what goes on at the delta as the hurricane passes through? This is where automated technology comes in handy

 
tumblr_mn8b8sLRb61rkz363o1_1280.jpg

To study the constantly changing conditions at Wax Lake Delta, scientists use highly specialized equipment that can automatically measure properties of the water and the weather. By placing equipment in several different areas on one of the delta’s islands, the network of devices called

“The Wax Lake Delta Observatory”

is a powerful tool to understand the important factors and processes that influence the delta.

Just like a TV can be programmed to record shows at specific times, the equipment is programmed to take measurements every 15 minutes and effectively “monitor” environmental conditions.  This continuous monitoring allows scientists to capture the effects that storms, changing seasons, river floods, and climate change have on the delta.