Coastal Land Loss in Southeast Louisiana

- Center for Human-Environmental Research (CHER)

- Department of Anthropology, Tulane University

This primer discusses land loss along the Mississippi River Delta Gulf Coast in the state of Louisiana (see Figure 1). It examines the environmental and geological causes of an enormous set of problems facing this region. This book also examines how past human activities have caused problems for the MRDGC, how humans have adapted to coastal landscapes, and some ways in which we might approach the current set of problems related to coastal land loss. It assumes a little prior knowledge of basic concepts in the environmental sciences, though it assumes very little knowledge about the specifics of climate change models, alluvial geology, human prehistory and history, and engineering.

Foreword to the 2nd Edition


This primer is concluded by a glossary of important terms and each section includes some suggestions for further reading, as well as research exercises that involve the use of Google Earth©. You can download a free copy of Google Earth for your personal computer or smart phone at the following url:

In 2018, with support from the RosaMary Foundation and the Clif Bar Family Foundation, we produced 1,000 copies of the first edition of this textbook. It has now been used as resource in Orleans, Jefferson, Terrebonne Parish high schools, and has been distributed to a wide range of local, state, and federal agencies. But a lot can change in a year: writing now in September of 2019, we have already had to deal with protracted Mississippi River flooding and a record-long opening of the Bonnet Carre spillways—with disastrous consequences for the region’s coastal ecosystems. In addition, controversy continues to swirl around many of the Louisiana’s coastal restoration projects, especially the sediment diversions. Other problems abound but progress has also been made. For these reasons, I felt that it was a good idea to update the second edition of this textbook in light of what has happened since 2018. While these developments illustrate some of the central concepts of this book, they also point to the seriousness and immediacy of many of the problems facing Louisiana’s coast.

Table of Contents


Part 1: Causes of Land Formation and Land Loss in Coastal Southeastern Louisiana

Section 1.1: The Mississippi River and the Formation of the Gulf Coast of Louisiana

Section 1.2: Sea Level Rise and Land Loss Along the Louisiana Coast

Section 1.3: Coastal Erosion in Southeastern Louisiana

Section 1.4: Geological Subsidence and Land Loss in Southeastern Louisiana

Section 1.5: Exercises

Section 1.6: References and Further Reading

Part 2: Human Interactions with Mississippi Delta and the Gulf Coast of Southeastern Louisiana

Section 2.1: Prehistoric Native American Activities in the Lower Mississippi Valley

Section 2.2: Early Colonial Settlements in the Mississippi Delta

Section 2.3: The Mississippi River Levee System

Section 2.4: Impacts on the Ecology and Geology of the Gulf Coast

Section 2.5: Other Human Impacts on Land Loss in Southeast Louisiana

Section 2.6: Exercises

Section 2.7: References and Further Reading

Part 3: Potential Solutions to Coastal Land Loss Problems

Section 3.1: Mississippi River Sediment Diversion

Section 3.2: Ridge Restoration, Dredging, and Structural Breakwaters

Section 3.3: Levees and Flood Walls

Section 3.4: Community Relocation

Section 3.5: Confronting Sea Level Rise

Section 3.6: Exercises

Section 3.7: References and Further Reading

Part 4: Glossary

About this Book Coastal Land Loss in Southeast Louisiana was produced and published by the Center for Human Environmental Research (CHER) with generous support from the RosaMary Foundation and the Clif Bar Family Foundation. About the Author Dr. Grant S. McCall has taught in the Department of Anthropology at Tulane University since 2007 and has served as the Executive Director of the Center for Human-Environmental Research (CHER) since 2016. He is the author of four books and over thirty peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. McCall has conducted archaeological and ethnographic research around the world for more than 20 years. McCall's interests and expertise include prehistoric human technologies, human behavioral ecology, prehistoric art, the identification of animal bone remains, geoarchaeology, and statistical methods. McCall is also currently the editor of the journal Lithic Technology.