Land area change in coastal Louisiana (1932 to 2016)

Scientific Investigations Map 3381

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Coastal Louisiana wetlands are one of the most critically threatened environments in the United States. These wetlands are in peril because Louisiana currently experiences greater coastal wetland loss than all other States in the contiguous United States combined. The analyses of landscape change presented here have utilized historical surveys, aerial, and satellite data to quantify landscape changes from 1932 to 2016. Analyses show that coastal Louisiana has experienced a net change in land area of approximately -4,833 square kilometers (modeled estimate: -5,197 +/- 443 square kilometers) from 1932 to 2016. This net change in land area amounts to a decrease of approximately 25 percent of the 1932 land area. Previous studies have presented linear rates of change over multidecadal time periods which unintentionally suggest that wetland change occurs at a constant rate, although in many cases, wetland change rates vary with time. A penalized regression spline technique was used to determine the model that best fit the data, rather than fitting the data with linear trends. Trend analyses from model fits indicate that coastwide rates of wetland change have varied from -83.5 +/- 11.8 square kilometers per year to -28.01 +/- 16.37 square kilometers per year. To put these numbers into perspective, this equates to long-term average loss rates of approximately an American football field’s worth of coastal wetlands within 34 minutes when losses are rapid to within 100 minutes at more recent, slower rates. Of note is the slowing of the rate of wetland change since its peak in the mid- 1970s. Not only have rates of wetland loss been decreasing since that time, a further rate reduction has been observed since 2010. Possible reasons for this reduction include recovery from lows affected by the hurricanes of 2005 and 2008, the lack of major storms in the past 8 years, a possible slowing of subsidence rates, the reduction in and relocation of oil and gas extraction and infrastructure since the peak of such activities in the late 1960s, and restoration activities. In addition, many wetlands in more exposed positions in the landscape have already been lost. Most notable of the factors listed above is the lack of major storms over the past 8 years. The observed coastwide net “stability” in land area observed over the past 6–8 years does not imply that loss has ceased. Future disturbance events such as a major hurricane impact could change the trajectory of the rates. Sea-level rise is projected to increase at an exponential rate, and that would also expedite the rate of wetland loss.

Suggested Citation

Couvillion, B.R., Beck, Holly, Schoolmaster, Donald, and Fischer, Michelle, 2017, Land area change in coastal Louisiana 1932 to 2016: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3381, 16 p. pamphlet,

ISSN: 2329-132X (online)

ISSN: 2329-1311 (print)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Land area change in coastal Louisiana (1932 to 2016)
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Map
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Pamphlet: vi, 16 p.; Map: 80 x 42 inches
United States
Online Only (Y/N):