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Effects of building a sand barrier berm to mitigate the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Louisiana marshes

June 4, 2010

The State of Louisiana requested emergency authorization on May 11, 2010, to perform spill mitigation work on the Chandeleur Islands and on all the barrier islands from Grand Terre Island eastward to Sandy Point to enhance the capability of the islands to reduce the movement of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the marshes. The proposed action-building a barrier berm (essentially an artificial island fronting the existing barriers and inlets) seaward of the existing barrier islands and inlets-'restores' the protective function of the islands but does not alter the islands themselves. Building a barrier berm to protect the mainland wetlands from oil is a new strategy and depends on the timeliness of construction to be successful. Prioritizing areas to be bermed, focusing on those areas that are most vulnerable and where construction can be completed most rapidly, may increase chances for success. For example, it may be easier and more efficient to berm the narrow inlets of the coastal section to the west of the Mississippi River Delta rather than the large expanses of open water to the east of the delta in the southern parts of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). This document provides information about the potential available sand resources and effects of berm construction on the existing barrier islands.

The proposed project originally involved removing sediment from a linear source approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) gulfward of the barrier islands and placing it just seaward of the islands in shallow water (~2-m depth where possible) to form a continuous berm rising approximately 6 feet (~2 m) above sea level (North American Vertical Datum of 1988–NAVD88) with an ~110-yd (~100-m) width at water level and a slope of 25:1 to the seafloor. Discussions within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and with others led to the determination that point-source locations, such as Hewes Point, the St. Bernard Shoals, and Ship Shoal, were more suitable "borrow" locations because sand content is insufficient along a linear track offshore from most of Louisiana's barrier islands. Further, mining sediment near the toe of the barrier island platform or edge of actively eroding barrier islands could create pits in the seafloor that will capture nearshore sand, thereby enhancing island erosion, and focus incoming waves (for example, through refraction processes) that could yield hotspots of erosion. In the Breton NWR, the proposed berm would be continuous from just south of Hewes Point to Breton Island for approximately 100 km with the exception of several passages for vessel access. Proposed volume estimates by sources outside of the USGS suggest that the structure in the Breton NWR would contain approximately 56 million cubic yards (42.8 m3) of sandy material. In the west, the berm would require approximately 36 million cubic yards (27.5 m3) of sandy material because this area has less open water than the area to the east of the delta. The planned berm is intended to protect the islands and inland areas from oil and would be sacrificial; that is, it will rapidly erode through natural processes. It is not part of the coastal restoration plan long discussed in Louisiana to rebuild barrier islands for hurricane protection of mainland infrastructure and habitat.

Publication Year 2010
Title Effects of building a sand barrier berm to mitigate the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Louisiana marshes
DOI 10.3133/ofr20101108
Authors Dawn Lavoie, James G. Flocks, Jack L. Kindinger, A. H. Sallenger, David C. Twichell
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2010-1108
Index ID ofr20101108
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Gulf Coast U.S. Geological Survey; St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center; Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center