Effects of hydrologic modifications on salinity and formation of hypoxia in the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet and adjacent waterways, southeastern Louisiana, 2008 to 2012

Scientific Investigations Report 2014-5077

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
DOI: 10.3133/sir20145077



The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) was constructed between 1958 and 1968 to provide a safer and shorter route between the Gulf of Mexico and the Port of New Orleans for ocean-going vessels. In 2006, the U.S. Congress directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to develop and implement a plan to deauthorize a portion of the MRGO ship channel from its confluence with the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2009, in accordance with plans submitted to Congress, the USACE built a rock barrier across the MRGO near Hopedale, Louisiana. Following Hurricane Katrina, Congress also authorized the USACE to implement the Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS) by building structures in the MRGO and adjacent surface waters, to reduce vulnerability of this area to storm surge. The HSDRRS includes the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway-Lake Borgne Surge Barrier and Gate Complex near mile 58 of the deauthorized portion of the MRGO and the Seabrook Gate Complex on the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC). By blocking or limiting tidal exchange in the MRGO, these barriers could affect water quality in the MRGO and nearby waters including Lake Pontchartrain, the IHNC, and Lake Borgne. In 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the USACE, began a study to document the effects of the construction activities on salinity and dissolved oxygen in these surface waters. Data were collected from August 2008 through October 2012.

Completion of the rock barrier in the vicinity of mile 35 in July 2009 reduced hydrologic circulation and separated the MRGO into two distinct salinity regimes, with substantially fresher conditions prevailing upstream from the rock barrier. The rock barrier also contributed to a zone of hypoxia (dissolved oxygen less than 2 milligrams per liter) that formed along the channel bottom during the warmer summer months in each year of this monitoring; the zone was much more developed downstream from the rock barrier. The most extensive hypoxic zone was measured in October 2009 when it extended at least 34 miles in the MRGO, from mile 20 to mile 54. Construction of the surge barrier and flood gates did not affect salinity or dissolved oxygen in any comparable manner.

The factors that contributed the most to hypoxia in the MRGO were the reductions in tidal water movement there after completion of the rock barrier combined with the channel depth in the MRGO, in places 10 to 30 feet deeper than surrounding surface water bodies. These factors helped to stratify salinity by reducing vertical mixing in the water column.

Geospatial Extents

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Effects of hydrologic modifications on salinity and formation of hypoxia in the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet and adjacent waterways, southeastern Louisiana, 2008 to 2012
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Louisiana Water Science Center
vi, 21 p.
Number of Pages:
Time Range Start:
Time Range End:
United States
Other Geospatial:
Mississippi River-gulf Outlet
Online Only (Y/N):