Eos: Science News by AGU

Rethinking the River

The Mississippi River and its delta and plume provide insights into research-informed approaches to managing river-dominated coastal zones.

Jun 19, 2018

A complex set of pressing management concerns is driving a shift in the ways that science and management are coupled in the Mississippi River Delta region and how they provide feedback to inform each other. This shift has its origins in a decades-long effort to understand and restore the Mississippi River Delta, but the management concerns that are driving the design of model-intensive scientific research campaigns have brought the issue to the fore.

New and evolving concerns include maintaining shipping and commerce in the Mississippi River, restoring habitats in the river’s delta, providing protection from river floods and storm surges, reducing the effects of hypoxia (oxygen depletion) in the waters along the continental shelf, and recovering from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Holistically addressing these concerns requires the best science available and, as such, has created new opportunities for research. These opportunities include the coupled development of multiple science programs focused on the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, research that has led to shifts in our conceptualization of how North America’s largest river functions and how it interacts with its delta and the ocean.

This empirically based, multidisciplinary approach also has applications beyond the banks of one river. Globally, deltas and coastal systems are home to billions of people, major centers of biodiversity, and appealing locations for commerce. These systems face a range of environmental threats, and they are naturally dynamic landscapes [e.g., Giosan et al., 2014]. Thus, science and management partnerships on the Mississippi provide a model for research and management that can be applied to deltas and coasts worldwide.