Call for Ideas Lens: Environment

Coastal Land Loss: Understanding Subsidence 

BY David B. Culpepper


Why is Louisiana losing land? Geologists offer unique insight into the answer: geologic faults contributing to hot-spots of land subsidence. Because of our location next to the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans has long been home to some of worlds most experienced geoscientists. Due to 3-dimesional seismic technology developed for the energy sector, more is often known about our local geology at a depth of 15,000 feet than at 150 feet below the ground surface.

A recent initiative by the 77-year-old New Orleans Geological Society is working to unite the vast, institutional knowledge of oil & gas industry professionals with the State of Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development and Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority to best plan for the future of our coastal areas. In January 2018, the Louisiana Geological Survey presented geoscientists in south Louisiana with an opportunity to participate in the construction of a Coastal Geohazards Atlas.  Using highly detailed 3-dimensional seismic reflection data donated by the oil & gas industry for use by local universities, geologic features identified on seismic data will be mapped to help predict areas of future land loss. It is believed that the locations of such geologic features as deep-seated faults and salt domes will prove to be closely related to coastal land-loss in south Louisiana.    As a result of this collaboration, coastal restoration, flood-control and sustainability initiatives that are based upon this knowledge should be optimized to deal with future relative sea-level rise. 


"Louisiana Coastal Geohazards Atlas Planned", 8 Feb. 2018.  

CRCL, State of the Coast, 2018, New Orleans, LA; Session 17: Integrating Subsurface Geology and Geophysics into Coastal Resiliency.  

CRCL, State of the Coast, 2018, New Orleans, LA; Session 77: Geological Underpinnings of Coastal Landloss and Subsidence.

CRCL, State of the Coast, 2018, New Orleans, LA; Session 69: RESTORE Lowermost Mississippi River Management Program (LMRMP).


David B. Culpepper
Photograph courtesy of author, taken at Crescent Park.

David B. Culpepper is a Registered Professional Geoscientist in Louisiana, Treasurer of the New Orleans Geological Society, and serves as an appointed member of the Louisiana State Water Resources Commission. He has more than 30 years’ experience in environmental and geoscience consulting. Most recently, he works with a consortium of scholars and subject-matter experts to plan and administer projects aimed at leveraging energy-sector technology in support of resiliency and coastal restoration, by providing expertise in coordinating with governmental departments and companies in response to complex geoscience issues. David holds a Bachelor of Science from Louisiana State University where he studied Physical Geography and Geology.