Stephen Nelson Conducts Pre-Meeting AAPG Field Trip to New Orleans Levees 2010

Dr. Stephen Nelson

Dr. Stephen Nelson on one of his many field trips

Dr. Stephen Nelson has conducted over 250 field trips to sites of major levee breaches in New Orleans. Five years after hurricane Katrina, his field trips are still extremely popular to visitors.

Steve has educated thousands on the geological, historical and engineering factors responsible for the breaches and resulting flooding, including the most heart-wrenching, those which occurred to the city's most vulnerable and impoverished area, its 9th Ward.

Nelson led a pre-meeting field trip at this year's 2010 AAPG annual convention called “Hurricane Katrina – What Happened? The Geology of the Katrina Disaster in New Orleans.”

And what happened, he'll tell you, was a perfect storm of not only nature's fury but of human short-sightedness.

"In New Orleans," he said, "the severe damage and deaths were caused because the hurricane protection levees and flood walls … were breached to flood the city." And while admitting there were other factors and results, it was that breach that caused the most and significant damage.

"Yes, there was wind damage, but recovery from that would have been relatively quick,” he said. “The fact that 80 percent of the city was flooded as a result of the levee breaches and that the water could not be pumped back out for several weeks was what caused the most severe damage. The levees that failed were all levees built on human made navigation and drainage canals that provided a direct path for storm surge to get into the heart of the city."

These canals, he said, should never have been built.

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