The New Orleans skyline, seen here from Chalmette, is perilously close to the eroding wetlands that once protected the city.

The newspaper’s project examining the future of south Louisiana at a time of climate change, sea level rise and intensifying storms paints a stark picture of the challenges ahead.

Read the full story here and see our interactive maps breaking down the risks by parish here.

Here are five key takeaways from the project:

A disappearing coast

Louisiana may be the state most at risk from climate change, and we are not prepared. Accelerated sea level rise will combine with long-existing threats, such as erosion and subsidence, to further peel away at the state’s coast. Louisiana could lose up to another 800 square miles by 2050 – and far more in the decades beyond, a new analysis of state data shows. To put that in perspective, New Orleans is 170 square miles. That loss would be on top of the 2,000 square miles that has vanished since the 1930s, which is roughly the land area of Delaware. Much will depend on how the state, nation and world respond to climate change. Lowering emissions around the globe could head off the most severe projections of rising seas.

Billions in damage

Land loss and worsening storms will lead to major flood damage. By 2050, flooding could cause annual damage of between $4 billion and $12 billion statewide on average, depending on factors like sea level rise and what projects are built to mitigate risks, including levees and other projects. Those numbers could be far higher or far lower in any given year.

Not enough money

The state has had great success in recent years in building coastal restoration projects, but much of that is due to a separate tragedy: the BP oil spill of 2010. The spill resulted in large fines and settlements, with Louisiana’s share for coastal restoration amounting to some $8.5 billion. The state has used that money to restore massive amounts of marsh and to begin work on the unprecedented Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, but the well will soon run dry. The money is set to expire in 2032, and there is currently no replacement. State officials have been pursuing various options, such as seeking an increase in Louisiana’s share of offshore oil and gas revenue and extending that revenue sharing to wind projects in the Gulf. But there are no guarantees.

Difficult choices

The enormous scale of the problem means sacrifices will be needed since not everything can be saved. Funding shortages and lengthy construction delays mean Louisiana cannot rely solely on large levee and risk reduction projects. Deciding whether to relocate vulnerable communities and how to do so is likely to become a more pressing concern in the near future, while “non-structural” solutions such as home elevations may also be used more frequently. River diversions are favored by state officials and many scientists, but they are opposed by fishing communities that see threats to their livelihoods. Marsh rebuilding projects are typically designed to last only about 20 years. Many can and do last longer, but the bottom line is they erode like the rest of the coast. Meanwhile, insurance costs alone may drive some residents to flee.

A warmer Louisiana

Louisiana is already enduring extreme heat, and projections show temperatures will continue to rise sharply due to human-caused climate change. By the 2050s, New Orleans could see average daily highs in the range of 82 degrees, compared to 78.1 degrees from the 1960s to the 1990s. Louisiana, one of the nation’s highest greenhouse gas emitters due to its petrochemical industries, will have to do its part in addressing the problem – for its own good. Warmer temperatures also mean rising seas.

Email Mike Smith at or follow him on Twitter, @MikeJSmith504.