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When you think about Gulf Coast research and preservation, you probably don’t think of Boise. But that’s exactly where you will find Peter Goodwin, director of the Center for Ecohydraulics Research with the University of Idaho.
Goodwin has been involved with the Gulf Coast for 10 years, including the consequences of Katrina and Rita. At a recent research conference in Louisiana, the massive oil spill was the topic of conversation amongst scientists from around the world, and the outcome an unwanted opportunity to determine the effects of crude oil on the precious wetlands.
"It's clearly going to take intense monitoring of the situation to understand it," says Goodwin. "If oil gets in the soil and roots of the plants, it may kill the vegetation. That vegetation is critically important for holding marshes together and knocking down storm surges from hurricanes."
Goodwin says it’s too early to determine the effects the spill will have in the long term future, but he says it doesn’t look good now. The length of the Louisiana coast is about 400 miles, but there are nearly 8,000 miles of shore-line in the Louisiana wetlands that could be affected by the oil. The Louisiana coast is often referred to as the ‘nation’s wetland’ because it contains almost 40 percent of the coastal wetlands in the contiguous U.S. and supports a major commercial fishery.
"More than 18 percent of the waterborne commerce in the U.S. each year passes up the Mississippi river. So if those wetlands disappear, not only will New Orleans be more vulnerable to hurricanes, but it also could become more difficult to maintain the navigation channel that has the potential of having a massive impact on the economy," says Goodwin.
The wetlands represent a part of the country’s economy, and a lifestyle for those in the south. Goodwin worries this spill is the start of what could get worse; as hurricane season approaches, the already troubled wetlands won’t be able to defend the coastline from what NOAA predicts could be a severe hurricane season similar to 2005.
"If we lose the wetlands, we – as taxpayers – are going to be paying for these damages every time we have a Katrina or a Rita," says Goodwin.
Goodwin will share what he learned with his fellow researchers at the University of Idaho. In September, Goodwin will be return to Louisiana for another look.
Professor of Engineering | Director of Ecohydraulic Studies
Peter Goodwin received his doctorate in Hydraulic Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. His research has earned him numerous awards, including the Fulbright Award, the Gledden Senior Fellowship, the Lemley International Individual Award for the Environment and the University of Idaho’s, University Research Professor of the Year. Goodwin has contributed to publish several books and more than 100 articles and journals on his research.