The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) analyzed changes in the configuration of land and water in coastal Louisiana by using a sequential series of 14 data sets summarizing land and water areas from 1956 to 2006. The purpose of this study is to provide a spatially and temporally consistent source of quantitative information on land area across coastal Louisiana, broken into three physiographic provinces (the term 'coastal Louisiana' is used to present data on the collective area).
The land-water data sets used in this study are interpreted through spatial analysis and by linear regression analysis. The spatial depictions of land area change reveal a complex and interwoven mosaic of loss and gain patterns caused by natural and human-induced processes operating at varied temporal and spatial scales, resulting in fluctuating contributions to coastal loss. The linear regression analysis provides a robust estimate of recent change trends by comparing land area over time for all data sets from 1985 to 2004 and from 1985 to 2006 by physiographic province across coastal Louisiana.
The 1956 to 2006 map showing multidecadal changes, along with the linear regressions of land area change presented in this study, provide a comprehensive and concise presentation of historical trends and rates of land area change in coastal Louisiana. Taking a broad historical view provides an in-depth understanding of land area changes over time. For example, one observation provided by our historical review is that the majority of the widespread, nontransitory land gains depicted on the map over the past 50 years, with the exception of the progradation of the Atchafafalaya River and Wax Lake deltas, are primarily related to sediment placement and landward migration of barrier islands. Another point revealed by our historical approach is that recent land losses caused by hurricanes sometimes commingled with or exacerbated older losses formed during the 1956 to 1978 period. Furthermore, our analyses also show how the immediate impacts of extreme storms can alter the long-term, time-averaged trends of landscape change, thus limiting the range of projections for the future. For this reason, this study does not include trend projections beyond 2015 because of uncertainties related to recovery from the 2005 hurricane season and the potential for other episodic events that could skew future rates of change.