News Release Distributed 05/24/06
Changes in Louisiana’s coast have occurred in little more than a human lifespan, Dr. Len Bahr told an audience of 300 scientists from 20 countries meeting in Baton Rouge this week (May 21-24).
Hydrology is the science of water – where it occurs, how it’s distributed, where it goes and how it flows, said Dr. Vijay Singh, professor of civil and environmental engineering at LSU and co-chair of the conference. "Hydrology, in a nutshell, is the study of the water cycle," he said.
"All of us know we have been experiencing serious coastal problems," Singh said, explaining plans for the conference in Baton Rouge had been in the works for almost two years. But after South Louisiana was hit by two major hurricanes, "the conference then became more opportune."
Singh said the conference was a forum to exchange information and learn from other countries as well as from U.S. experts.
"Hydrologic changes are all human-caused," Bahr said in a keynote presentation at the 25th anniversary annual meeting and international conference of the American Institute of Hydrology sponsored by the LSU AgCenter and LSU.
"The system is virtually under collapse," Bahr said of Louisiana’s coast. The director of applied research in the governor’s Office of Coastal Activities cited three problems – land loss, an increasing risk of hurricane flooding and hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.
"This is the state’s best shot," Bahr said of the rebuilding and restoration opportunities provided in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. "If we blow this one, we won’t get another one," he said.
In addition to Bahr, general-session speakers included John Barry, author of "Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America," Dr. Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, and Dr. Robert Twilley, director of the Wetland Biogeochemistry Institute at LSU.
When conference organizers scheduled their meeting two years ago with the title "Challenges in Coastal Hydrology and Water Quality," they didn’t expect it to follow two significant hurricanes in the area, which included the most-devastating storm in U.S. history.
"The conference is especially important at this time because people in this part of the country are looking for strategies to prevent large-scale catastrophes such as Katrina and Rita," said Dr. Jun Xu of the LSU AgCenter’s School of Renewable Natural Resources.
Xu, who is a hydrologist and co-chair of the conference, said special technical sessions focused on the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"It is a very critical time for scientists from all over the world to sit down and discuss coastal environmental issues and coastal environmental problems and to find strategies to solve those problems," Xu said.
The location in Baton Rouge attracted people to discuss issues related to coastal environments and coastal issues and was the first major international conference providing such opportunities following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Xu said.
The program included topics on coastal hydrology, water research and water quality, Xu said. It featured 81 presentations, including 24 technical presentations on subsidence, erosion and coastal restoration.
"We need to come together as scientists, engineers and researchers to discuss this issue," Xu said. "It’s a forum for scientists to sit down and discuss issues and independently talk about technology."