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Is Louisiana falling into the sea, or is the sea inundating Louisiana? It’s actually a bit of both. And to the inhabitants of a tiny island on the bayou, an island getting tinier by the day, it hardly matters. They just know their home is gradually becoming uninhabitable.

A USGS report estimates that Louisiana, which experiences more coastal wetland loss than all other states in the conterminous United States combined, lost 5,197 square kilometers (2,006 square miles) of land from 1932 to 2016. Places are actually being removed from maps—NOAA is deleting labels from its maps for bays, islands, streams, and other features that are now underwater.

A combination of factors is causing this coastal land loss. Marshland, which historically served as protection against storms, has been carved up for oil and gas production activities. The marshland is then open to saltwater intrusion. The low elevation of the region makes it especially vulnerable to sea level rise.

These factors have an immediate effect on the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw community on Isle de Jean Charles, about 75 miles south of New Orleans. The island has lost 98% of its landmass since the 1950s. Once 5 miles wide and filled with lush cypress groves and cow pastures, barely a half square mile of the island remains above water.

The saltwater intrusion and loss of land have made it impossible for residents to continue the tradition of growing their own produce. They can no longer grow their own herbs for medicine. The increased cost of living from having to shop for food they once provided for themselves is a struggle.

A variety of images from the EROS archive shows how the island, and the surrounding delta, has changed. A combination of different types of imagery is needed in this location to accurately track the changes over time. High resolution is needed to see the small island, but a frequent repeat cycle reveals the larger changes taking place across the delta.


Every picture has a story to tell
Apr. 9, 1985, Landsat 5 (path/row 22/40) — southern Louisiana, USA
May 4, 2023, Landsat 8 (path/row 22/40) — southern Louisiana, USA


Additional story information


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