Parts of the Mississippi Delta are sinking, and at least one prominent geoscientist places the blame on global warming.

Torbjörn Törnqvist, PhD, an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Tulane University in New Orleans, says rising sea levels—the result of melting polar ice caps—pose a greater threat to Louisiana than the sinking of his state’s land. His research appeared in a recent issue of Eos, the prestigious journal published by the American Geophysical Union.

According to Dr. Törnqvist, coastal Louisiana’s sea level has been rising up to 400% more rapidly in the last century than the rates recorded over the last 1,000 years. And, he warns, this rate is expected to at least double in the next 100 years. This increases the area’s vulnerability to hurricanes and storm surge.

The solution, Dr. Törnqvist asserts, must focus on reducing global warming—the primary cause of rising sea levels. In addition, scientists must restore the loss of wetlands and barrier islands, as well as build better levees.

“The emphasis in the whole debate over the past couple of years about the future of coastal Louisiana has been strongly focused on the question of how rapidly the land is sinking, but there has been too little concern about sea-level rise, which is a global problem that could have a big impact here,” Dr. Törnqvist stated in a Tulane interview. “I think we should be more worried about that than we are.

“If we want to slow this down,” he continues, “we have to stop global warming. If we don’t succeed in doing that, the long-term future for coastal Louisiana is extremely grim. Nearly all coastal cities in the world are going to face these problems. We are facing them earlier because we are the lowest-lying major city in the U.S. So, simply by investing in new and smarter coastal defense systems, we’ll gain a lot of experience that will be critical once we have to do similar things for other cities.”

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