Natural processes in delta restoration: Application to the Mississippi Delta

Chris Paola, Robert R. Twilley, Douglas A. Edmonds, Wonsuck Kim, David Mohrig, Gary Parker, Enrica Viparelli, Vaughan R. Voller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

227 Citations (Scopus)


Restoration of river deltas involves diverting sediment and water from major channels into adjoining drowned areas, where the sediment can build new land and provide a platform for regenerating wetland ecosystems. Except for local engineered structures at the points of diversion, restoration mainly relies on natural delta-building processes. Present understanding of such processes is sufficient to provide a basis for determining the feasibility of restoration projects through quantitative estimates of land-building rates and sustainable wetland area under different scenarios of sediment supply, subsidence, and sea-level rise. We are not yet to the point of being able to predict the evolution of a restored delta in detail. Predictions of delta evolution are based on field studies of active deltas, deltas in mine-tailings ponds, experimental deltas, and countless natural experiments contained in the stratigraphic record. These studies provide input for a variety of mechanistic delta models, ranging from radially averaged formulations to more detailed models that can resolve channels, topography, and ecosystem processes. Especially exciting areas for future research include understanding the mechanisms by which deltaic channel networks self-organize, grow, and distribute sediment and nutrients over the delta surface and coupling these to ecosystem processes, especially the interplay of topography, network geometry, and ecosystem dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-91
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual Review of Marine Science
Publication statusPublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography


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