Wednesday, August 31, 2005

As you all now know by now, New Orleans is mostly flooded and is turning into a demented version of Mad Max and I'm sure you've heard on the television and radio about how high the damage estimates are going to be. What I am about to say will be about as popular as a swarm of bees, but the geology and geomorphology must lead me to this conclusion. I don't think we should bother rebuilding New Orleans.

Yes, I said it. We shouldn't bother rebuilding it. When the city was founded in the 1700s by the French, they decided in their infinite wisdom to build on one of the most active deltas in the world. What does this mean? It means that the city will slowly sink. And it is. You see, when a sediment is deposited, whether it be silt, sand or mud, it isn't deposited in a very compact form. There's a lot of space between the grain, what geologists call porosity. As more sediment is piled on the existing sediment, the weight forces the rocks beneath it to slowly subside. As more sediment is deposited, the sediment beneath begins to compact and this add to the subsidence. Essentially, these two processes have depressed the city from its original above sea level position to below sea level. The fact that New Orleans is below sea level means that man has to intervene to stop nature by building levees to keep the water out. Having been to New Orleans 3 times, you walk up to the river. This is not way things should be. Depressions in a delta get filled. The levee broke and nature took over. It is currently depositing whatever solids are floating in the water all over the city. If we had let the depositional environment develop rather than halting it by levies, the city probably wouldn't exist in it's present form, but it wouldn't have flooded.

We spend millions of dollars operating the pumps that keep the city from drowning when it doesn't rain. We spend millions building and maintaining levies. All of this money is spent to fight a losing battle against the delta. This isn't exactly a smart use of resources. We could rebuild the city, but occurrences like this will become more common, as the city sinks further below sea level. If we are smart, we should consider New Orleans a lost cause and help the refugees settle somewhere else. We are going to be spending 50 billion plus on this storm and cleanup. How much will the next time be? I know this goes against everything our country believes in, but we should consider other options besides rebuilding the city. It might save us lives and money.

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