LSU and Ohio State University will battle for the BCS National College Football Championship in the Superdome early next week, but if the game was held in the Louisiana wetlands instead, the entire field would disappear before halftime.
Louisiana’s wetlands are being lost at the rate of approximately one football field every 38 minutes. To fight against this rapid destruction, the two universities joined forces in 2003, forming an ongoing research partnership with the goal of rebuilding the vanishing coastal wetland ecosystem that makes up 30 percent of the nation’s total coastal marsh.
Researchers also aim to reduce the flow of nitrogen and other chemicals that pour into the Mississippi River each spring from America’s heartland. This causes an overabundance of nutrients that rob the water of oxygen, creating a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico – more than 975 square miles of low-oxygen water that limits the sustainable fisheries of the region.
“This is a multi-billion-dollar problem that affects our entire nation,” said LSU Chancellor Sean O’Keefe. “While we battle on the football field, we collaborate in the research field to tackle the issue of coastal wetlands loss.”
Louisiana’s wetlands help to make the state the nation’s leader in crude oil production and second in natural gas production, according to America’s Wetland Foundation. These fragile ecosystems also support 25 percent of the nation’s total commercial fishing haul and provide storm protection to five of the country’s largest ports. Wetlands are essential because of their capability to filter the nutrients that would contribute to the dead zone before they get carried into the Gulf; they’re also vital for hurricane protection in storm-sensitive areas like New Orleans.
“Louisiana has both the largest amount of wetland loss and the largest dead zone in the country,” said Robert Twilley, associate vice chancellor of research and economic development at LSU, director of the Coastal Systems and Society Agenda, professor of coastal sciences and leader of the Shell Coastal Environmental Modeling Laboratory, or CEML. “We’re working hard to rebuild our wetlands and reduce nutrients to the Gulf of Mexico, but we can’t do it alone.”
That’s where OSU comes in.
While LSU scientists focus on Louisiana, addressing the issues of dramatic wetland loss and the continuously growing dead zone, OSU researchers are developing wetlands upstream so that nutrient loads in the Mississippi that would increase the size of the dead zone will be dramatically reduced by the time they reach the delta region.
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