On Sunday, February 3, roughly 800 million eyes from all over the world will be trained on the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans as the New England Patriots battle the St. Louis Rams for the NFL Championship in Super Bowl XXXVI. This true color image of New Orleans was acquired on April 26, 2000, by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper plus (ETM+), flying aboard the Landsat 7 satellite. Lake Pontchartrain borders the city to the north. The big river winding its way east to west through the image is the Mississippi. The Louisiana Superdome, built in 1975, sits just inside the rightmost portion of the big river bend that cradles downtown New Orleans.
The city, however, may not be around to hold a Super Bowl in 2102. New Orleans is slowly sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. The construction of flood walls and dams north of New Orleans over the past century have prevented sediments carried by the Mississippi River from reaching New Orleans and the Mississippi River Delta. Before the dams were built, river sediments would empty out onto the delta adding layer upon layer of new soil each year. The additional soil prevented the Gulf from subsuming the delta. Unless drastic measures are taken, the city and the delta could be awash in seawater by the end of this century.
Lake Pontchartrain, immediately north of New Orleans, occupies the upper part of this astronaut photograph from April 29, 2008, with the winding course of the muddy Mississippi River snaking across the bottom of the view (flow is eastward, from left to right). The city of New Orleans is sandwiched between the lake and the river.
Time, weather, and human intervention have all shaped the Mississippi Delta in Louisiana, a giant bird’s foot shape protruding into the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River deposits sediment into the ocean, and over 25 years, NASA Landsat satellites observed changes in the delta’s shape.