Field surveys and sediment cores were used to estimate marsh erosion and land subsidence at Madison Bay, a well-known wetland loss hot spot in coastal Louisiana. Former marshes of Madison Bay are under about 1 m of water. Nearly two-thirds of the permanent flooding was caused by rapid subsidence in the late 1960s, whereas the other third was caused by subsequent erosion. Subsidence rates near Madison Bay since the 1960s (∼20 mm/yr) are an order of magnitude greater than deltaic subsidence rates averaged for the past 400–4000 yr (∼2 mm/yr).

The rapid acceleration and unexpected decline in wetland losses in the Mississippi delta plain are difficult to explain on the basis of most physical and biogeochemical processes. There are, however, close temporal and spatial correlations among regional wetland loss, high subsidence rates, and large-volume fluid production from nearby hydrocarbon fields. The decreased rates of wetland loss since the 1970s may be related to decreased rates of subsidence caused by significantly decreased rates of subsurface fluid withdrawal.

Annual fluid production from the Lapeyrouse, Lirette, and Bay Baptiste fields that encompass Madison Bay accelerated in the 1960s, peaked about 1970, and then declined abruptly. Large decreases in pore pressure in the Lapeyrouse field have likely altered subsurface stresses and reactivated a major fault that coincides with the wetland loss hot spot. Therefore, wetland losses at Madison Bay can be closely linked to rapid subsidence and possible fault reactivation induced by long-term, large-volume hydrocarbon production.

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