Climate Change in Areas of the Gulf of Mexico With High Freshwater Input – A Review of Impacts and Potential Mitigation

  • John W Day Louisiana State University
  • Ana Laura Lara Domínguez Instituto de Ecología A.C.
  • Jorge Herrera-Silveria CINVESTAV-Unidad Mérida
  • G Paul Kemp Dept. of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University


The Gulf of Mexico currently spans the transition from tropical to temperate coastal ecosystems but this is changing as the northern Gulf undergoes tropicalization and the entire Gulf will become tropical in this century.  There are two high freshwater discharge areas, one surrounding the Mississippi River in the north central Gulf and one in the southern Gulf, which associated it is associated with the Grijalva-Usumacinta River and adjacent rivers and ground water discharge from the Yucatan Peninsula.  Both of these areas are characterized by extensive coastal wetlands, and in the south, submerged aquatic vegetation.  These coastal ecosystems support important natural resources, have high petroleum production, and important maritime trade. Climate change will impact both of these areas strongly.  Sea level is projected to increase by a meter or more by 2100 and there will be more strong hurricanes that will be larger, have more intense rainfall, will move slower, and the rate of intensification will increase.  In the north, peak Mississippi River discharge is projected to increase by 10 to 60%.  In the southern Gulf, it is projected that precipitation and freshwater discharge will decrease associate with the Mesoamerican climate hotspot.  Coastal management to accommodate climate change should mimic ecosystem functioning.  Specific actions include protection of natural areas, full use of freshwater and sediment resources, maintain connections between freshwater input and coastal systems, allow inland migration of coastal wetlands, and careful management of land use changes.