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Water 2016, 8(3), 83; doi:10.3390/w8030083

Can Continental Shelf River Plumes in the Northern and Southern Gulf of Mexico Promote Ecological Resilience in a Time of Climate Change?

1
Department of Oceanography and Coastal Science, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA
2
Instituto de Ecologia A. C., Red Ambiente y Sustentabilidad, Unidad de Ecosistemas Costeros, Xalapa 91070, Mexico
3
Environmental Defense Fund, Washington, DC 20009, USA
These authors contributed equally to this work.
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Y. Jun Xu, Nina Lam and Kam-biu Liu
Received: 17 November 2015 / Revised: 30 January 2016 / Accepted: 18 February 2016 / Published: 4 March 2016
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [6387 KB, uploaded 4 March 2016]   |  

Abstract

Deltas and estuaries built by the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River (MAR) in the United States and the Usumacinta/Grijalva River (UGR) in Mexico account for 80 percent of all Gulf of Mexico (GoM) coastal wetlands outside of Cuba. They rank first and second in freshwater discharge to the GoM and owe their natural resilience to a modular geomorphology that spreads risk across the coast-scape while providing ecosystem connectivity through shelf plumes that connect estuaries. Both river systems generate large plumes that strongly influence fisheries production over large areas of the northern and southern GoM continental shelves. Recent watershed process simulations (DLEM, MAPSS) driven by CMIP3 General Circulation Model (GCM) output indicate that the two systems face diverging futures, with the mean annual discharge of the MAR predicted to increase 11 to 63 percent, and that of the UGR to decline as much as 80 percent in the 21st century. MAR delta subsidence rates are the highest in North America, making it particularly susceptible to channel training interventions that have curtailed a natural propensity to shift course and deliver sediment to new areas, or to refurbish zones of high wetland loss. Undoing these restrictions in a controlled way has become the focus of a multi-billion-dollar effort to restore the MAR delta internally, while releasing fine-grained sediments trapped behind dams in the Great Plains has become an external goal. The UGR is, from an internal vulnerability standpoint, most threatened by land use changes that interfere with a deltaic architecture that is naturally resilient to sea level rise. This recognition has led to successful efforts in Mexico to protect still intact coastal systems against further anthropogenic impacts, as evidenced by establishment of the Centla Wetland Biosphere Preserve and the Terminos Lagoon Protected Area. The greatest threat to the UGR system, however, is an external one that will be imposed by the severe drying predicted for the entire Mesoamerican “climate change hot-spot”, a change that will necessitate much greater international involvement to protect threatened communities and lifeways as well as rare habitats and species. View Full-Text
Keywords: Mississippi River; Usumacinta/Grijalva Rivers; Gulf of Mexico; continental shelf productivity; plume dynamics; ecosystem resilience; delta vulnerability; climate change; Mesoamerica; DLEM; MAPSS Mississippi River; Usumacinta/Grijalva Rivers; Gulf of Mexico; continental shelf productivity; plume dynamics; ecosystem resilience; delta vulnerability; climate change; Mesoamerica; DLEM; MAPSS
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Kemp, G.P.; Day, J.W.; Yáñez-Arancibia, A.; Peyronnin, N.S. Can Continental Shelf River Plumes in the Northern and Southern Gulf of Mexico Promote Ecological Resilience in a Time of Climate Change? Water 2016, 8, 83.

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