March 14 (UPI) -- Sea levels along the Louisiana coast are rising at four times the global average. New research suggests the state's already degraded wetlands are paying the price.
Over the last decade, sea levels have risen roughly half an inch per year along Louisiana's coast. The future might not look so dire if the state's natural coastal buffer, its wetlands, was in better shape.
Wetlands offer a variety of ecological benefits, including protection against storm surges, flooding and sea level rise. Unfortunately, Louisiana's wetlands have been degraded and destroyed in recent decades, leaving the coast increasingly vulnerable.
A new survey by scientists at the University of Tulane suggests the state's wetlands may not be up to the task of fending off rising seas.
"In the Mississippi Delta, about 65 percent of study sites are probably still keeping pace, but in the westernmost part of coastal Louisiana, more than 60 percent of sites are on track to drown," Tulane geology professor Torbjörn E. Törnqvist said in a news release.
Researchers combined field survey measurements of local sea level change with similar data collected by satellites. The combined data helped scientists map rising sea levels in and around Louisiana's wetlands. The researchers published the results of their survey in the journal Nature.
"The bottom line is that in order to assess how dire the situation is in Louisiana, this new dataset is a huge step forward compared to anything we've done before," Törnqvist said.