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Podcast: Louisiana’s Shrinking Coastline

Last week, ProPublica and The Lens, a public interest newsroom in New Orleans, launched a multimedia project exploring how southeast Louisiana is rapidily disappearing – losing land at a rate of a football field every 48 minutes.

Some 2,000 square miles of Louisiana's coastal landscape have already been transformed into open water, wiping places off maps, ProPublica's Al Shaw explains on the podcast. If this trend is not reversed, a wetlands ecosystem that took nature 7,000 years to build could be destroyed within a human lifetime.

Using satellite images from NASA's Landsat and a study from the U.S. Geological Survey, Shaw and our Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellow Brian Jacobs were able to track Louisiana's changing landscape, and allow readers to explore the "cocktail of unfortunate coincidences" that led us to this point.

Compressing that much data into an interactive web page was no simple task, but assistant managing editor Scott Klein emphasizes that this isn't just a story about technical achievement.

"We didn't want this to be a story about satellite maps. We wanted this to be a story about people, and we thought the only way this is going to work is if these maps are the spine of a project about culture being lost, about people whose livelihoods are lost, people whose past is being erased and turned into open water," Klein says.

And as Shaw tells our editor-in-chief Steve Engelberg, these trends are not limited to the Mississippi River Delta. "You see the same thing happening in a lot of different coastal areas," Shaw says. "New York City got a big jolt after Sandy. No one thought that the coast of Staten Island was going to be underwater. New Jersey, lots of places in the Chesapeake, Miami, and I think even people who live in these areas still don't really realize it... It's a story that we need to keep telling in lots of places around the country."

Listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. For more on our "Losing Ground" project, check out the app here and read the Tow Center's Q&A with Klein and Shaw.

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