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The Seventh Biennial Basics of the Basin Research Symposium was held May 20 and 21 at the University of New Orleans along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The symposium, sponsored in part by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), addresses the conditions of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, the largest estuarine ecosystem on the Gulf Coast and one of the largest in the United States.
Since the early 1900s, environmental resources of the basin have been severely stressed by a burgeoning population and intensive industrial, commercial, and recreational use. Efforts by numerous universities and State and Federal agencies to assess, monitor, and remediate the health of the basin have produced a wide variety of scientific research. The Pontchartrain Research Committee initiated the symposium in 1992 to present this research to the public and academia. Since then, the USGS has played an active role in both supporting and participating in the symposium.
More than 100 people attended this year's meeting, which included updates on research in water quality, wetland restoration, and habitat mapping; the list of contributors can be downloaded from the following URL http://conferences.uno.edu/webPage/Program_3.pdf (23 KB PDF file). (Note: you will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the PDF file.) USGS scientists who attended include Jimmy Johnston and Chris Wells (Lafayette, LA), Clint Padgett (New Orleans, LA), Brian Perez (Baton Rouge, LA), Chandra Dreher (USGS contract employee and graduate student at the University of New Orleans), and Jim Flocks (St. Petersburg, FL).
Chris provided an oral presentation describing recent efforts by the USGS National Wetlands Research Center to map, quantify, and describe trends over 2 years of marsh dieback syndrome in coastal wetlands in 2000 and 2001. Marsh dieback (or "brown marsh") has killed or weakened thousands of acres of Spartina alterniflora, the dominant saltgrass in the marsh. Grasses provide habitat and also stabilize the fragile marsh soils. Approximately 400 photographs were interpreted, about 200 for each year. More than 100,000 polygons were delineated within 12 quadrangles covering most of the marsh surrounding Terrebonne Bay. Results indicate that more than 40 percent of the marsh in the study area exhibited some effects of the syndrome in 2000. A year later, substantial recovery was noted in the least affected areas, while the most affected areas displayed slight recovery by autumn 2001. There was some indication that mangroves may have occupied marsh areas denuded of the affected grass. The degree to which the marsh has recovered since 2001 is not known in detail.
Clint and Jimmy presented a poster entitled "Pontchartrain Basin Coastal Land and Marsh Vegetative Type Trends," which showed vegetation-distribution trends in Lake Pontchartrain Basin from 1949 through 2001, and net land loss (140,799 acres) for the time period 1956 through 2000. Additionally, the poster showed the projected land loss (39,040 acres) for the basin from 2000 to 2050, which was calculated to help support the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Study.
Jim and Chandra presented a poster that displayed products from the decades of collaborative efforts between the USGS and the Pontchartrain Research Committee in the Louisiana coastal zone, including Lake Pontchartrain. The poster focused on studies that characterize the geologic framework in an effort to understand environmental issues affecting the coastal areas.
The meeting included presentation of the coveted "Pirogue Award," which is bestowed on those individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the symposium. Past USGS awardees include Jeff Williams (Woods Hole, MA), Jack Kindinger (St. Petersburg), Frank Manheim (Woods Hole), and Jimmy Johnston (Lafayette).
A product of the efforts by Pontchartrain Research Committee members is USGS Open-File Report 02-206, "Environmental Atlas of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin." The atlas is a summary of the basin's ecology, geology, biologic resources, and more. For additional information on marsh dieback syndrome, visit the Brown Marsh Data Infomation System. Information on historical and projected coastal Louisiana land changes is presented in USGS Open-File Report 03-344, posted on the Louisiana Coastal Land Loss Web page.
in this issue:
Basics of the Basin Research Symposium
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