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Coastal Erosion - The sinking Mississippi River Delta



The film introduces students to the Mississippi river delta, the reasons why it is sinking and the impact this has on the local area and residents.

Key Issues

- River delta formation processes.
- Sinking deltas and the reasons why.
- Management of river deltas.
- The risks to humans because of sinking deltas.
- The impact of human activity on the delta ecosystem.



The Mississippi river stretches for over 2,300 miles. It transports half a billion tonnes of sediment each year.  The Mississippi, like many other river deltas around the world, is now under threat of sinking due to human impacts to the area. Damming and diverting has meant that much less sediment now reaches the delta.  In addition the extraction of gas and groundwater is lowering the level of the land. This is causing the delta to sink much faster than the rate at which sea levels are rising (see diagram pack). As the river delta sinks, the area and the people that live there become more vulnerable to flooding, storm surges and hurricanes. The phenomenon is not unique to the Mississippi river delta.



Starter Activities

  Delta or estuary? Show pictures of various river mouths. Identify if the picture shows a delta or not.
    Play coastal erosion dominoes (see worksheet), matching pictures up to the words.


Enquiry Questions

- Would you sell your house if you lived where Pete lives?
- Who or what do you think is the most to blame for the land sinking?
- Should the USA be exploiting oil and gas resources in the Mississippi River Delta? What are some of the alternatives?

Lesson Activities

The video throws up a number of different issues and could be incorporated into a variety of main lesson activities. Here are a few examples:

  • How as human intervention and management of the river affected the delta over the past century? List the pros and cons.
  • Web enquiry: divide the class into groups. Each group takes a river delta at risk and describes whey the delta is at risk and what, if anything, is being done about it. See this BBC article for a list of the most at risk deltas.
  • Produce an annotated diagram/satellite photo of a delta describing the formation and features of a delta.
  • Imagine you are Pete, write a letter to your friends explaining why you have decided to sell your house and leave the delta area.
  • Imagine you are an estate agent, how would you market the house?


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