Inspired by last Sunday’s Earth Day, I felt it would be fitting to focus on an area that has suffered significantly under the consequences of humanity’s unsustainable ways of living: the Mississippi River Delta. Indeed, the satellite image we will focus on today has a special connection to Earth Day. It was, the oil spill of Santa Barbara, which in 1969 inspired the creation of Earth Day on the 22nd of April. More than 40 years later, a similar event - the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico - caused severe damage to the Mississippi River Delta.
With our posters and art prints of satellite images we want to increase awareness, both for the beauty of our planet as well as its vulnerability. The Mississippi River Delta - with its incredible shapes, amazing nature and exposure to natural and manmade threats - serves as a perfect subject for this purpose.
The Mississippi River Delta is located on the southern coast of the US, in the state of Louisiana. Here, next to the famous city of New Orleans, the Mississippi river meets the Gulf of Mexico. On its long way through the US, the river collects water from 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces, bringing with it millions of tons of sediment. This sediment, carried downriver for thousands of years, settles down and accumulates, building new land and shaping the delta.
The geological history of the Mississippi River Delta began more than 7,000 years ago. Across this time, six different delta complexes – or delta lobes – took shape. As sediments accumulated and new land formed, the way of the Mississippi River through the delta became longer and more difficult. Eventually, the river would find a new, shorter path to the sea, abandoning its original course. This way, a new delta lobe starts to build up, thus restarting the circle of land loss and land gain, in the process forming the bays, and wetlands so characteristic of Louisiana’s coast.
The most recently formed delta lobe (shaped during the last 1500 years) is the Plaquemines-Balize delta. This part of the Mississippi River Delta is also known as the Bird’s Food Delta. Take a look at the satellite image below and you will know why!
Satellite Image of the Bird's Foot Delta. The amazing colours are created by sediment carried downriver. (c) eoVision
The Mississippi River Delta was discovered by the Spaniard Alvarez de Pineda in 1519. The region was later claimed by France and grew in importance due to its strategic location for trade. In 1803, the United States bought the French territory of Louisiana from Napoleon. The delta turned into an important agricultural region of the US. The nutrient rich soil carried downriver makes the Mississippi River Delta a prime location for the farming of sugar cane and cotton. After the transfer of Louisiana to the Americans, the delta’s city of New Orleans grew significantly in importance.
THE PEOPLE OF THE DELTA
Due to its location, the Mississippi River Delta used to serve as a cultural gateway into the US. Many of the people living in the delta can trace their ancestry back to Spanish, French, German, Irish and other European immigrants. Other ethnic groups include Africans and Native Americans.
Two unique groups are the Creoles and the Cajuns. Generally, Creole refers to natives of Louisiana descending from the union various ethnic groups, often categorised based on their heritage. The Cajuns consider themselves descendants of Acadian settlers who were expelled from Nova Scotia by the British, when France lost its North American colonies.
The Mississippi River Delta’s diverse ecological landscape offers a variety of different habitats – open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, wet forests, marshes and wetlands. It provides an important resting place for migratory birds before and after the crossing of the Gulf.
The American alligator can be found in the Mississippi River Delta. (Photo by Ianaré Sévi, Wikimedia Commons)
Amongst the animals that can be found in the delta, the most well-known is probably the American alligator. Generally, wildlife in the Mississippi River Delta is extremely diverse, including coyotes, bobcats, armadillos and bottlenose dolphins. However, much of the nature in the delta is exposed to man-made threats. One of these was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010
THE DEEPWATER HORIZON OIL SPILL
In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore oil rig located off the coast of Louisiana and operated for BP, exploded, leading to the subsequent leakage of about 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. While all the states on the Gulf suffered considerable damage, the state of Louisiana – and the Mississippi River Delta – took the heaviest blow. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is considered the largest marine oil spill to have ever occurred. In 2015, BP agreed to the payment of fines amounting to almost $20 billion, the largest corporate settlement in the history of the US.
Satellite Image of the offshore oil rig "Deepwater Horizon" after its explosion. (c) eoVision / DigitalGlobe
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill had – and is still having – serious ecological impacts in the region, especially on marine wildlife. For example, it is estimated that between 20,000 to 60,000 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles died as a consequence of the oil spill (in 2010 alone). In 2011, one year after the explosion, the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport reported dead dolphin babies washing up on the shores of Alabama and Mississippi at ten times the rate of normal years. Bird have been heavily affected by the disaster as well. By November 2010, of the around 6,800 dead animals collected after the oil spill, around 6,100 were birds.
THREATS TO THE DELTA
While the Deepwater Horizon oil spill had major consequences on the environment of the Mississippi River Delta, the existence of the region’s many ecosystems were already threatened before. One of these threats is land loss. Since 1930, the delta has lost an area of more than 5,000 square kilometres. One of the major causes for this land loss is the leveeing (i.e. building obstacles such as dikes) of the Mississippi River. This is both done to control the river, as well as to protect communities and infrastructure from flooding. However, the negative effect of this is that sediment necessary to naturally build the delta’s wetlands are not depositing, but are being washed into the ocean.
Natural disaster, such as hurricanes, are another threat to the delta. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the coast of Louisiana, killing about 1,300 people and destroying hundreds of square kilometres of wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta. Due to previous land loss, much of the natural flood protection of the past that could have reduced the damage, such as wetlands and reefs, was missing.
If you want to read more about the threats to the Mississippi River Delta and what is being done about them, make sure to check out the website of Restore the Mississippi River Delta: http://mississippiriverdelta.org
OUR LOVE-STORY WITH THE DELTA
The motif of the Mississippi River Delta was a recent addition to our store. The incredible shapes – especially of the Bird Foot delta – and the amazing colours of the sediment flowing into the Gulf of Mexico make the satellite image a beautiful motif for posters and art prints.
Are you from the Mississippi River Delta? Do you have a special connection to it or do you just love the amazing colours and shapes of the Mississippi River Delta as much as we do? If so, make sure to take a look at our poster and art print store!
Satellite Images of the Mississippi River Delta, (c) eoVision