NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
15 Sep 2005
LouisianaEast Baton Rouge County
- Baton Rouge; Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, South Ramp; Louisiana Aircraft LLC
- 30.525 -91.148
Show: Louisiana Swamps
HR = Harry Roberts
CJ = Chris Joyce
[CJ: Tests audio.]
HR: Well, we passed a number of oil platforms small ones and I have seen a couple that are listing. I'm sure the damage is really extensive out here because this storm-- Ivan came father to the east and did a tremendous amount of damage to this part of Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama's offshore oil production.
[CJ: are these small platforms, are they drilling or production?]
HR: They're production. They're wellheads is what they are.
[CJ: and is each one connected to a pipeline?]
HR: Yeah, actually, if you could see the bottom here, it looks like a spider web, there are so many pipelines and that's part of the problem. The pipelines take a very substantial hit during a storm like this. Because you can imagine you know your cyclically loading the bottom with these big storm waves one after another after another and the pipes sometimes fail as well as the sediment that they're sitting on so you get big submarine landslides that move the pipelines, sometimes move the platforms, and even bury the platform. In Camille there was a platform, a Shell platform and Gulf Oil platform in block 70 off Southpass that both of them went down- the Shell platform completely fell over. And these are big multi- multi- million dollar platforms and the Gulf platform was completely buried in sediment and transported downslope. So these events, strong hurricanes like Katrina and Camille have a tremendous effect that very few people ever see because it's under the water surface but it has a really strong impact on the front of the delta especially. And in the shallow water areas of the continental shelf that have lots of pipelines and production platforms.
[Sound of Engine]
HR: You see that patch of brown material out there? That's storm debris that's floating around out in Chandeleur sound. Now were just about to i think encounter the ch islands [informal talking about pilots course.]
HR: I saw Breton Island back behind us we just passed over it. There's no sand visible. So all of the beach and sand around the marshy part of the interior of that island has been transported away. Eroded. And the only thing left was the marsh area that was anchoring some of that unconsolidated sand.
HR: There's a debris lying right there, you see? Material that washed out of the marshlands, and you can see pieces of manmade debris. I tell ya, I have never seen devastation like that. I can't imagine what Nagasaki looked like, but I can't imagine that it couldn't have been much worse that what we saw back there around Venice.
[CJ: The other thing that's interesting is that this area is so much controlled by water...it's an H2O dominated landscape.
HR: It's a saturated landscape, for sure.
[CJ: All the cities that are respositories for all sorts of stuff, is now come out of this pulse and it's all over.]
HR: Yeah, that's true. As we talked about before this flight we have a team of people at LSU, in fact many teams of people who are now looking at the effects of pumping this water from the city of New Orleans out into Lake Pontchartrain. Lake Pontchartrain has very limited exchange with the open ocean, so the residence time for this toxic water will be quite a long time. And no one knows what the effect will be on Lake Pontchartrain's sediments and Lake Pontchartrain water, and Lake Pontchartrain's fish and other organic and organisms that live with in the lake.
[HR: informal conversation with pilot.]
HR: Now this is an interesting thing - during Camille this long chain of islands, barrier islands called the Chandeleur island arc. And that is tens of miles long prior to Camille, this was a consistent arc, with very few breaks in it. After Camille it was broken into a hundred or more pieces and it took a long time to recover.
HR: We're flying over the southern end of the Chandeleurs now. We can't see anything. And the pilots have just spotted maybe a remnant of the island but gee, this storm, it looks like has been much more devastating than Camille was on the Chandeleur Island arc. So we're just coming up on the southern end now, actually we've been flying over the Southern end, and it's open water. So Katrina rather than breaking up the island arc, has just obliterated the island arc.
HR: So I think if we fly a little bit more to the north. We'll see some remnants of the Chandeleurs because that's the highest part of the island arc, and the part of the arc that has most of the sediment. So if you'd expect part of it to disappear, you'd expect the southern end to disappear first.
[Sound of Engine.]
HR: Well, we're starting to see some remnants, but like brenton island you don't see anything but these overwash loaves that were vegetated and no sand. You see absolutely no sand, all you see are some remnant marshlands that once were in the position of being on the backside of the barrier island chain. That's amazing. So all the sand from this part of the Chandeleur arc is just absolutely gone.
[CJ: It's not an arc.]
HR: It's not an arc. It's just a bunch of patches of marshland now. But no sand you can't see any sand associated with this barrier island.
[Sound of Engine.]
[Faint informal talking]
HR: I say this is just really amazing. I bet I've been out here about a hundred times when we used to run a lot of field trips for the oil companies they wanted to see the barrier islands and really this is the most picturesque one and I have never seen anything like this. There are huge gaps between these marsh remnants, and all these marsh remnants were on the backside of the barrier. So all of the sand has been removed from this barrier except for the sand that's been anchored by these marsh plants. Amazing but it does show you what marsh plants can do and some of our barrier islands are being replanted so that they will be more resilient to storm waves like Katrina.
[Sound of Engine]
HR: That is amazing. No beach, no sand, just patches of marshland. Now this was a barrier that was just picturesque.
[CJ: How big was it?]
HR: How big was the¿ oh it was about 40 miles long in total. And it was at times connected. Now, as I think I mentioned before we took the flight. During periods of constructive wave activity like will come after the storm. We will start to rebuild this island and these marsh remnants will be connected again and maybe we'll start to build a consistent beachline and start to connect these little remnants. But in a storm like this, when you have removed all of the sand, much of the sand is not retrievable in this reconstructive process. It's gone too far out of the system to be retrieved. So, I don't know. The reconstruction of this may happen, it may not, but it's going to be a long recovery period for sure.
HR: That really is amazing. You can see the channels that go through these marsh remnants. These are old channels that were bridged during previous hurricanes and previous winter storms that breached the arc and then pushed sediment back into the back barrier region. And sort of went around the marsh remnants. Well this storm took all of the sediment, it didn't just breach the island, it just took all of the sediment so much of the sediment is in the back barrier region, but it is going to take a long, long time. Part of it goes offshore, part of it goes to the back barrier region but I suspect it will take several years to build a beachline back on this Chandeleur arc.
[CJ: There weren't any structures, there, right?]
HR: No structures, no. This is not an inhabited island but it is a uh wildlife preserve, and it is a nesting area for the state bird which is the brown pelican. And at one time the brown pelican was endangered and I'm sure that many nesting sites disappeared here during Katrina. All of them that were here disappeared.
[CJ: It's like a chain here of patches. You're saying this was originally just one island.]
HR: Yeah this was originally fronted by a beautiful beach. But now you can see that there's nothing out front, the waves are breaking on the marsh remnants now, that are all that are left of a once really beautiful barrier island chain.
[HR: Informal remark about route to CJ]
HR: We're going to go back towards New Orleans over the St Bernard marshes.
HR: Not much here.
[CJ: What did you say?]
Pilot[?]: There's a lot less than there used to be. We used to fly over these all the time, and there's not nearly as much as there used to be.
HR: OK Chris, I think now we'll take a turn to the northwest and go back towards New Orleans and fly over the St Bernard marshes that were hit very hard by Katrina's path because the eyewall went right over the- those northern St Bernard marshes. Now I haven't seen exactly what happened there. We saw a little snippet of those marshlands as we were flying down the river but I suspect that we'll see quite a lot of damage in that area.
HR: Look at this. What used to be that beautiful island arc, you see now a linear stretch of marsh patches. And that's all there is to it. All the sand's gone.
HR: Chris, if you look down, we're looking at the distal ends of the St. Bernard marshes now.
[CJ: use a word other than distal]
HR: Yeah, the seaward side [laughs] of the St Bernard marshes, and you can see these channels running through here. These were the old feeder systems from that original delta that fed this delta that went all the way out to the Chandeleurs where we just took a look at those remnants of the barrier islands out there. Now we're flying back toward New Orleans and toward Chalmette, that got hit very hard by Katrina. We saw some of the damage coming down but I'm interested in looking at the marshes near New Orleans, where the storm crossed the marshlands out here in the seaward ends of these marshlands I don't see a lot of damage. I mean, on the ground we might see some damage, but it sure doesn't look like these marsh remnants are damaged very much. I do see some rosocane [sp?] that's been blown down, but that's about it.
HR: These are salt water marshes out here primarily spartina [sp?] that we're seeing now. And again, I don't see a lot of damage to the marsh surface, you do see some things that look maybe like eroded areas in the interior of the marshes, but they're pretty consistent out here on the seaward side of the St. Bernard marshlands. We're flying up towards the city of New Orleans now and we'll fly up along the southern shore of Lake Borne [sp?] and then across into Lake Pontchartrain. And we'll have New Orleans on the left side of the aircraft, but in doing that in taking that flight path, we ought to see some of the worst hit marshland areas in the St Bernard area.
[CJ: faint talking, inaudible]
HR: Well, I would think you would see a lot of floating marsh organic debris in the water - we don't see that. You would see sediment and marsh debris thrown up on the more consistent marsh surface. I don't see that. You might see very irregular perimeter to the marsh, it always looks like this to me. I fly over this routinely, and I really can't see a lot of damage in this part of the marshland. But like I was saying, this is not the hardest hit portion of the marsh. When we get farther up near New Orleans, we may see much more severe damage than¿a here it doesn't look bad at all to me.
HR: Chris, you asked about the Mississippi gulf outlet. Out to the left here, is the Mississippi Gulf Outlet and some people think that that really amplified the existence of that outlet which goes right up to New Orleans, may have amplified that storm surge and allowed a higher storm surge to get into the New Orleans area. Well, this is that channel off to the left of us now.
You'll see a ship in that channel in just a minute or two.
[CJ, HR, pilot(?): informal talk about directions.]
HR: Yeah it does look like on that western side of the Mississippi gulf outlet you can see that debris line there. That there was water that was washed out of the marshlands and perhaps out of this channel system and deposited over that marsh surface.
[Very faint informal talking]
HR: I think now we're starting to see some damage along the southern shore of Lake Borne. In the marshlands you see the¿ what looks like discolored marshgrass probably eroded we're perhaps looking at the root maps rather than looking at the marshgrass itself.
[HR: Informal talking about directions, location, altitude]
HR: I guess we're climbing now to 5000 feet, that's the minimum altitude that we can fly over New Orleans.
HR: I might just mention that Lake Borne is another one of the state's oyster seed grounds and what that means is that the state puts out shell material on the bottom of the lake and then allows juvenile oysters to attach to that material and then the oystermen come in and pick up those small oysters and take them then to their oyster leases, and let them grow into a harvestable size oyster.
[CJ and HR: Informal talk about oysters getting up the Chesapeake area.]
HR: Well we have a wonderful set of environments for growing oysters here and Louisiana I think has just the best oysters I have ever eaten. I think I'll wait a while to eat a couple from around this area now that that water coming out of New Orleans but boy, they are good, they are fantastic... [more informal talk about how tasty oysters are.]
Louisiana just has the perfect set of environments for growing oysters. Brackish water, shellrich bottoms, and things like that, very good.
[CJ: You can see why they call this a saturated environment, saturated world. It is really hard to tell where the water ends and the land begins. Kind of looks like one of those illustrations of the human body where you see all the veins laid out - artery to vein to capillary. You can tell the manmade waterways from the natural ones - ruler versus sinuous.]
HR: Now that looks like, beneath us there, looks like eroded marsh and its discolored. So it looks like large sections of the marsh were just eroded away during the storm and you can see those drainage patterns in the marsh surface. I do not think most of those were there prior to Katrina. We've looked at satellite images of this area and you can see those eroded channellike features in the marsh, which weren't there prior to the storm.
[Informal talk about Saturn Mouster(sp?) plant.]
HR: Now that's the industrial canal that you read so much about and Lakefront airport will be right basically beneath us now and off to our left. And when we retrieve that boat from Chalmette, to our left, we had to come out that canal and into the Mississippi river and then run our boat up the Mississippi river to Baton Rouge to save it.
HR: Now you can see the flooded parts of New Orleans - wow - this is really a better view than we had coming down.
HR: That's the University of New Orleans there, they are still high and dry, it looks like, they did get a little bit of water but about 2/3 of the campus remained dry during the storm.
[CJ: But you can see just beyond where the University is, neighborhoods that are still several feet deep in water. The water reflects the light and the sun. No traffic. Vast city with roads that are pretty much deserted.]
HR: [Faint] You see the plume coming out that toxic plume being pumped out from those canals into Lake Pontchartrain. The fate of that water, no one knows, and that's going to be the subject of a number of studies trying to try to look at the oceanography of this lake, and look at the toxicology. Look at the distribution of toxins, heavy metals, and other components of this water that's being pumped out of the interior of the city.
HR: There you can see the 17th street canal right over there by the yacht basin and see that plume, some of the biggest pumps in the world are pumping water out through that 17th street canal into the southern part of Lake Pontchartrain. That is going to be an interesting thing to do and that is, look at the fate of this water as the city is pumped, and as that water remains in Lake Pontchartrain for a long period of time.
[CJ: Landing in Baton Rouge.]
[Engine quiets down]
[Bumps of landing(?)]
[Engine Sound, inaudible talking]
[Seat belts unbuckle]
CJ: lots of military helicopters. Thank you very much, that was a great flight.
Pilot(?): Hope you got to see everything you needed to.
[CJ: Gets name of co-pilot (Charles Parker) captain (Adrian Griffin.) Thank yous.]
[CJ: Well sort of feels good to get back on your feet, doesn't it. Lots of activity people from New Orleans trying to maintain some business. Search and rescue helicopters.]
[CJ and HR: report to JG about trip. Very faint.]
HR: It looks like at atom bomb went off south of New Orleans. I mean everything from New Orleans down to the mouth of the river is just devastated. And the barrier islands are gone. You guys'll have fun looking at that marsh tomorrow. [Laughs].
[Informal talking; inaudible.]
END OF TAPE