Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Post-Katrina Wetlands Restoration May Slow Down Powerful Storms

Author: Aldene Fredenburg

Since Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, Mississippi, and part of Alabama at the end of August of 2005, global warming and the destruction of wetlands have shared in the blame for the devastation of the Gulf Coast. An increase in the temperature of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico is believed to have fueled the storm, substantially increasing its intensity, while the disappearance of wetlands - one U.S. Congresswoman estimated that fully 95 percent of U.S. coastal wetlands have been destroyed by development - has eliminated swamplands which have traditionally acted as a buffer for hurricanes.

Hurricanes travel swiftly over open waters, gathering intensity as they absorb energy from the warm waters of tropical and subtropical waters. As they hit land, however, the hurricanes quickly lose energy as the friction of the land serves to break up the storm and slow down the winds. Swamps and estuaries, with their thick vegetation and dense, almost spongy quality, actually act as a cushion, absorbing tremendous amounts of kinetic energy from the storm as it passes. (Think of a baseball thrown against a hard wall as opposed to a soft, thick pillow - the baseball will bounce off a wall retaining a lot of its energy, but will lose its motion and its kinetic energy entirely in the soft give of the pillow.)

NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) recently rewarded a multimillion-dollar contract aimed at restoring 1400 acres of wetlands in Louisiana's Lafourche County. The aim is to restore a substantial portion of the wetlands in that area, which has been impacted negatively by construction, natural erosion, and subsidence (sinking of the land because of oil extraction and other human demands on the environment). The largest wetlands restoration project in the U.S. to date, it is just the beginning of a much larger restoration project proposed for the region. The hope is that these restored marshes will ameliorate the impact of the increasingly powerful hurricanes originating in the Atlantic.

About the author: Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. She has written numerous articles for the Internet and for local and regional publications. She can be reached at amfredenburg@yahoo.com.

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