Deltas in Atchafalaya Bay - stock photo
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Deltas in Atchafalaya Bay

The delta plain of the Mississippi River has shrunk by nearly 5,000 square kilometers (2,000 square miles) over the past 80 years. Though land losses are widely distributed across the 300 kilometer (200 mile) wide coastal plain of Louisiana, Atchafalaya Bay stands as a notable exception. In a swampy area south of Morgan City, new land is forming at the mouths of the Wax Lake Outlet and the Atchafalaya River. Wax Lake Outlet is an artificial channel that diverts some of the river's flow into the bay about 16 kilometers (10 miles) west of where the main river empties. Both deltas are being built by sediment carried by the Atchafalaya River. The Atchafalaya is a distributary of the Mississippi River, connecting in south central Louisiana near Simmesport. Studies of the geologic history of the meandering Mississippi have shown that most of the river's water would eventually flow down the Atchafalaya if left to natural forces. But the Old River Control Structure, built in the 1960s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ensures that only 30 percent of the Mississippi's water flows into the Atchafalaya River, while the rest keeps moving toward Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Science Source / NASA Earth Observatory

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