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Published on Sep 4, 2013
The natural history of the southeastern coastlands of Louisiana 'below' New Orleans is short in time and to fully understand requires attention to the region's subtle geological features. There were no dramatic geological focal periods of crashing mountain rock falls, erupting volcanoes, nor thunderous waterfalls to excite or create dramatic topography but just a lazy river and its tributaries countless times breaching natural levees as they meandered down a seemingly perfectly flat landscape. A good sense of direction, or now a GPS; aerial photography; a boat; wet shoes or waders; love of mud; tolerance of bugs, humidity, and heat; a respect of snakes and alligators; are all necessary to fully explore, appreciate and study this region. This talk in this land of subtleties will describe Louisiana's coast with particular consideration of the 'delta-plain' of alluvial inlands created by the dynamic Mississippi River. To best understand the botanical and ecological wonder of the delta-plain, a 'Landscape of Scale' approach will first describe the common geological and ecological events and patterns on small local scales (a single delta lobe) to then apply to the entire river-delta scale. To contextualize the delta-plain of the full Louisiana coast one must realize that this plain is bracketed between two different other geological landscapes -- the 'chenier- plain' along the central-west Louisiana coast to the Texas border and the 'flood-plain' of the Pearl River to the east along Louisiana's border with Mississippi. These three remarkable and unique coastal plain wetland landscapes bordering the Gulf of Mexico have historically been generally in flux with two opposing aquatic forces; rivers (Mississippi and Pearl) with their freshwater and flood carrying sediments, and the Gulf with it's saltwater and intrusions from tropical storms. Overlaid onto this mixture of natural and geological histories comes the very recent human intrusions of great consequence from oil and gas exploration/extraction, invasive species, climate change, overharvest, and the BP oil spill. Additionally, there was Hurricane Katrina in 2005; an event significantly exacerbated by the human 'condition'. This region of the world is an amazing microcosm of stresses centered on geology, ecology, and human presence that should be elevated to this country's foremost case study on environmental challenges of the 21st century to create the knowledge for an easier time ahead than what seems now on the horizon. Throughout the talk an emphasis will be on the plants and vegetation of coastal Louisiana