Flooding near the lab
LUMCON’s DeFelice Marine Center, flooded, as seen from a dormitory balcony. (Photo: Courtesy of LUMCON)

For scientists at a marine lab in Louisiana, coastal flooding is more than just a research topic. It’s a frequent reality. Dozens of times a year, getting to work means pulling on rubber boots and trudging through a flooded parking lot.

McClain: “If flooding is a little bit heavier than that, some people park near the highway where it’s out of water and we’ll use four-wheel-drive vehicles to get people in and out of the lab.”

Craig McClain directs the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. The research lab sits on a thin strip of land southwest of New Orleans.

McClain: “We’re about as far south in Louisiana as you can go.”

It’s a region that’s rapidly losing land, partly because the ground itself is sinking and eroding. This leaves homes and buildings vulnerable to flooding. And as sea levels rise, the threats are growing.

McClain says the lab may eventually need to relocate, but they’re staying put as long as possible.

McClain: “Our location here is very, very important to us.”

He says it helps scientists empathize with people whose homes, livelihoods, and communities are at risk.

McClain: “It’s not, ‘oh, there’s coastal loss somewhere.’ It’s like ‘oh, there’s coastal loss here and I can see it and experience it and witness it myself.’”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Bruce Lieberman, a long-time journalist, has covered climate change science, policy, and politics for nearly two decades. A newspaper reporter for 20 years, Bruce worked for The San Diego Union-Tribune...