Louisiana’s Changing Wetlands Study

NASA recently completed an intensive study of Louisiana Gulf Coast levees and wetlands, making measurements with three advanced imaging instruments on three research aircraft.

NASA instruments fly over the Gulf Coast one to three times per year to keep consistent records of ground subsidence — the gradual sinking of an area of land — which can compromise the integrity of roads, buildings and levee systems.

The instruments were:

  • The Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) instrument, an imaging radar uniquely designed to measure how Earth locations change between repeat flights over the same path.
  • The Next-Generation Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRISng ), which observes changes in light reflected from Earth to obtain accurate, quantitative characterizations of the composition and features of Earth’s surface.
  • The Air Surface Water and Ocean Topography (AirSWOT ) instrument, an airborne prototype of a planned spaceborne precision radar instrument that will use a new technique to measure changes in Earth’s water surfaces over time.

The goal of the research is to provide data to federal and local agencies, which use the information to determine where to concentrate resources and combat the negative effects of wetland loss and floods. The data will also be used to improve modeling of delta land building and can be applied to help restore deltas worldwide.

An area of particular interest on this mission was the Wax Lake Delta. According to Cathleen Jones of JPL, the Wax Lake Delta is one of the few deltas in the world that is actually growing through natural sedimentation processes.