Re-Examining the Geography of New Orleans Post-Spill

In the wake of the BP oil spill, geographer Richard Campanella of Tulane University takes a look at the geography of New Orleans and the Gulf region, and suggests that the disaster will fuel a renewed discussion of the area's uniqueness.
September 12, 2010, 9am PDT | Nate Berg
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The city's diverse history has made it one of the more interesting cities in America, which Campanella suggests is a product of it being so different from other areas. But the uniqueness of New Orleans, its delta and the Gulf region are largely a result of the area's geography, a fact that should be even more clear after the recent oil spill, according to Campanella.

"While the case for cultural differentiation was subject to scholarly challenge, proof of the region's physical uniqueness had only strengthened in the three hundred years since Iberville ambled amid the brambles. Why? Because anthropogenic interventions had converted the once-vibrant Mississippi Delta into the most troubled environmental region on the continent. Levees erected since colonial times, and greatly fortified in the past century, had strait-jacketed the land-creating Mississippi River and turned it into a garden hose, spewing precious sediment and freshwater uselessly onto the Continental Shelf rather than on the wetlands. Manmade canals - for navigation, drainage and petroleum extraction - scored those wetlands and exacerbated their erosion while allowing salt water to intrude and kill inland freshwater swamps. Municipal drainage allowed dried-out soils in greater New Orleans to sink five to ten feet below sea level, while levees around the city interrupted tidal cycles and further degraded natural systems."

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Published on Tuesday, September 7, 2010 in Places
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