The Mississippi Delta has long been characterized as an area of rapid subsidence; however, recent subsidence rates are substantially lower than previously reported. Tide-gauge records indicate that rates of relative sea-level rise were slow from 1947 until the mid-1960s, relatively fast from the mid-1960s until the early 1990s, and then slow since the early 1990s. These trends and rates are independently verified by repeat benchmark surveys and height monitoring at continuously operating geographic positioning system stations. Subsidence rates for the slow periods were a few millimeters per year, comparable to rates averaged over geological time scales that are attributed to natural processes such as shallow sediment compaction and deep crustal loading. The decadal pattern of slow, then rapid, then slow subsidence may be caused by natural deep-basin processes (e.g., gravity gliding and salt migration), but it is more likely related to rates of hydrocarbon production that followed the same temporal trends. If accelerated subsidence was primarily induced by reservoir compaction and fault reactivation associated with fluid withdrawal that also accelerated in the 1960s and 1970s, then the recent reductions in subsidence rates likely reflect a balancing of subsurface stresses and a return to near preproduction conditions.
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Vol. 2010 • No. 263