ECO-ATMO: What ecosystems in this setting are depended on, protected, or compromised, and how is this recognized (or not)? How are global warming and other atmospheric currents stressing local landscapes?


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Alberto E Morales's picture
August 28, 2019

While some actors see it as a futile effort, there have been many proposals to restore the Mississippi River Delta. For instance, the aerial planting of mangrove seeds has even been recommended to help protect the struggling marshes and Louisiana’s coastal region. Tierra Resources, a wetland’s restoration company, proposed that bombing Lousiana’s coast with mangrove seeds could save it. Mangrove root systems are especially useful in providing structures to trap sediments and provide habitats for countless species. Additionally, mangroves have been touted as highly efficient species in carbon sequestration, thus taking carbon dioxide out of the biosphere.

Species diffusion into new environments has been of great concern for the different lifeways these soggy localities sustain, whether human or non-human. Many so-called “invasive species” have been identified throughout the river delta by researchers at the Center for Bioenvironmental Research hosted by Tulane and Xavier University. Such species have disrupted local ecological relations and practices and have had profound economic effects. Some plants have even entirely blocked waterways in the swamps and estuaries where salt and freshwater mix. 

Louisiana’s humid subtropical climate, and the diverse ecosystems therein, also warrant attention in that they can incubate some of the world’s deadliest parasites and other microbes. Of particular concern would be some of today's Neglected Tropical Diseases (i.e., Chagas, Cysticercosis, Dengue fever, Leishmaniasis, Schistosomiasis, Trachoma, Toxocariasis, and West Nile virus) often perceived as only affecting tropical regions of Latin America and revealing the enduring legacies of colonial health disparities.

How and when are seemingly quotidian events and upsets understood as not isolated but rather as produced in conjunction with other anthropocenics worldwide? What roles will interspecies relations and forms of care play as we cope with further anthropocenic agitation?

NOLA’s oldest tree, McDonogh Oak in City Park, 800 years old:

Other trees in New Orleans:

Kim Fortun's picture
August 25, 2019

With impressive maps showing change over time, Propublica’s “Losing Ground.” provides a sobering description of current and expected climate change impacts in southeastern Louisiana.  Open passages tell us that 

Louisiana is drowning, quickly.  In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy….  And it’s going to get worse, even quicker...

In 50 years, most of southeastern Louisiana not protected by levees will be part of the Gulf of Mexico. The state is losing a football field of land every 48 minutes — 16 square miles a year — due to climate change, drilling and dredging for oil and gas, and levees on the Mississippi River. At risk: Nearly all of the nation’s offshore oil and gas production, much of its seafood production, and millions of homes.


Neak Loucks's picture
August 14, 2019

I found a document produced by FEMA that details the history of "building" elevation in New Orleans (can be found here). Raising structures above ground was a necessary response to the eco/atmo/geo conditions of the space--it has been a site of major flooding during the past coulpe centuries of European, then Euro-American, inhabitance. Through the 19th century, a lack of adequate drainage is reflected in descriptions of the city that include details of cesspools and trash-filled gutters, with residents collecting drinking water off their roofs. In the early 20th century, these conditions were responded to in the requirements that became part of building code, laying out specifications for how high above ground buildings needed to be built and so on. While elevating buildings was primarily the responsibility of the owner throughout the past 150 years, this document describes how in recent decades federal funding through FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program has been used to elevate homes beyond just the New Orleanean elite.

As I learn more about the history of this place, I imagine that I may gain a better sense of how this document's narrative is shaped by its source (FEMA), but I found this document interesting to think with regarding the impacts of the anthropocene. Flooding and its effects on structures and infrastructure is simultaneously an old/ongoing feature of this low-lying coastal space and a new feature as patterns of storms/flooding shift and sea level rises. With this long history of building in response to these conditions, what features of New Orleans structures/infrastructure are a model for adapting to the anthropocene? How will changing anthropocenics limit the effectiveness of or make vulnerable some of these systems?

Tim Schütz's picture
April 24, 2019

During our visit, I was struck by the landscape around the mound. Vast prairie, with woods in the distance, together with the remote location of the site made space feel empty. This notion of emptiness or insignificance came up occasionally in our discussions as we walked through or looked at artworks of the landscape. However, Kim, in particular, resisted the idea that these ecosystems have nothing to show, but are beautiful in their own way.

I had to think of these conversations again when I looked through the slide show and found this image of the bird house. In contrast to the ongoing dispute about the clean-up at West Lake Landfill, the Weldon Springs mound is emblematic of the idea of remediation/restoration. During our tour, I remember being told that certain species were returning to the site or the surrounding woods (is that correct? what did they say exactly?). Birds are also interesting actors in regards to opening up and cleaning the landfill, which might increase their presence. They have been discussed as both a threat to the nearby airport traffic and a species to be protected from the radioactive wast itself by adding additional measures.