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Coastal Erosion - Coastal Erosion - Mississippi erosion



Through the video students are introduced to the Mississippi River Delta and how human and physical factors are reshaping this important ecosystem.

Key Issues

- Delta formation and erosion.
- Sea level change.
- Hurricanes.
- Impacts of human activity on fragile ecosystems.
- Exploiting natural resources vs preserving important ecosystems.


The Mississippi river stretches transports half a billion tonnes of sediment each year. The Mississippi River Delta Basin encompasses more than 500,000 acres in South Louisiana, much of which consists of marshes and coastal wetlands. For the past 100 million years, redeposited sediment has gradually increased the size of the Mississippi River Delta, but over the past several decades, the coast of southern Louisiana has been losing rather than gaining land. This is due to a combination of physical factors (such as hurricanes, tidal erosion and sea level rise) and human factors (such as dams trapping sediment and flood control systems) which prevent the build up of deposited sediment.  The area also acts as an important buffer zone during extreme weather events. The Mississippi river delta is also a vital economic resource to the USA as it contains significant oil and natural gas reserves.



Starter Activities

  Using a photo montage from the Atlantic Rising resources to identify physical and human features within the Mississippi River Delta.
    Identify some of the major river deltas in the world, from maps of the region (e.g. Mississippi, Okavango, Ganges, Nile, Mekong) and examine what life is like in each region through a photo montage of each area.


Enquiry Questions

 - The Mississippi Delta has been growing for thousands of years, why is it now in decline and what/who is to blame? See diagram pack.
 - Should the USA access the oil and gas in the Mississippi delta, or protect the ecosystem? Can they do both?
 - Why is the Mississippi river delta important as a buffer to hurricanes?

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:

  • Ask students to draw diagrams (or annotate satellite photos) explaining the formation of the delta and annotate the reasons why the Mississippi River Delta is now eroding.
  • How should the Mississippi River Delta be managed? Discuss from the point of view of a local resident, an oil company manager, a local ecologist, a person in charge of hurricane defences etc.
  • Look at different river deltas around the world, what human activity occurs within them and what are the management challenges for each one?
  • Explore the Mississippi River Delta as an ecosystem. What are its key features and species? How is human activity affecting the ecosystem?
  • Using Hurricane Katrina look at the impact of hurricanes on the delta and the importance of the delta in limiting the impact of hurricanes further inland.


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