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Engineering Geology of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana

Engineering Geology of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana

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Published by etchplain
Reprint of short article about the engineering geology of St. Bernard Parish, Mississippi River Delta, Louisiana for post-Katrina rebuilding efforts. The article is:

Heinrich, P. V., 2005, Review of the Engineering
Geology of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. Louisiana
Geological Survey NewsInsights. vol. 15, no. 3,
pp. 6-11.
Reprint of short article about the engineering geology of St. Bernard Parish, Mississippi River Delta, Louisiana for post-Katrina rebuilding efforts. The article is:

Heinrich, P. V., 2005, Review of the Engineering
Geology of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. Louisiana
Geological Survey NewsInsights. vol. 15, no. 3,
pp. 6-11.

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Published by: etchplain on Aug 16, 2009
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News
Insights
www.lgs.lsu.edu
Louisiana Geological Survey December 2005
Review of the Engineering Geology ofSt. Bernard Parish, Louisiana
Paul V. Heinrich
i
ntroduction
St. Bernard Parish has a total area o 1,330 square miles (3,445square km). O this area, about 465 square miles (1,200 squarekm) is land. The remaining 865 square miles (2,240 square km), 65percent, o St. Bernard Parish consists o open water in the orm o streams, lakes, and bays. This area lies entirely within the St. Ber-nard delta lobe o the Mississippi delta, which was created by theMississippi River when its main channel occupied Bayou La Loutre(Figure 1)(Frazier, 1967; Wiseman et al., 1979; Saucier, 1994). Theengineering properties o these deltaic sediments, as summarized anddiscussed in this article, provide guidance or the reconstruction o St. Bernard Parish.The elevation o St. Bernard Parish varies rom 6 t (1.8 m) belowsea level to 12 t (3.6 m) above sea level. The portion o St. BernardParish, which lies below sea level, was marsh and swamp, whichhave been drained and protected by dikes. The highest natural partso St. Bernard Parish are the natural levees, locally called “ngerridges”, o the Mississippi River, its distributaries, and a ormerchannel o it now occupied by Bayou La Loutre. The portion o these natural levees lying suciently above sea level that are suit-able or agriculture and urban development without the use o dikes comprise only about 58 square miles (150 square km), o theland within St. Bernard Parish. In the northern part o St. BernardParish, near Arabia, a large man-made pile rises over 35 t (11 m)above sea level.Prior to being devastated by Hurricane Katrina, St. Bernard Parishhad been a prosperous, populated, and culturally distinct part o theNew Orleans metropolitan area. The U.S. Census Bureau estimatedthe population o St. Bernard Parish was 65,554 people in 2004comprising 25,123 households in 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau 2004).This was a population density o about 141 persons per square mile.Given that the vast majority o the population was concentrated ononly 58 square miles o high ground within St. Bernard Parish, theactual population density o its urban areas is several times higherthan this gure. A signicant part o this population comprisedsuburbs containing people who worked within various parts o Orleans Parish. Associated with these suburbs were well-developedwholesale, retail and service business sectors. In 2000, there werean estimated 27,078 housing units and 1,191 private, nonarm busi-nesses within St. Bernard Parish (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Notrefected in any o the published statistics was the closely-knit and
05.01 mile
 Lake Borgne
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LEGEND Natural LeveePoint bar under natural leveeDelta plainFill or spoilWater Bayou, ditch,or canalRoadParish boundaryMajor levee
F    o   r   t      y    A   r     p   e   n   t     C    a   n   a   l     
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S t.  Be r na rd  Pa ris h 
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 Note: artificial leveesalong MississippiRiver and Forty ArpentCanal are not shown.
Figure 1. Surfcial geologic map o the urban corridor within northwest St. Bernard Parish.
 
December 2005 Louisiana Geological Survey
www.lgs.lsu.edu •
News
Insights
 
oten culturally distinctive nature o many o the numerous com-munities that had developed within St. Bernard Parish since 1780,when it was rst settled.Beore the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, St. BernardParish possessed a diverse industrial base. Along the east bank o the Mississippi River, mostly between Arabia and Chalmette, theindustrial base included sugar (American Sugar and Domino Sugarreneries) and petrochemical (Murphy Oil and Tenneco Oil rener-ies) reneries. Further south, the industrial base consisted mainly o seaood processing plants and some shipbuilding. The populationwithin lowermost part o St. Bernard Parish depended almost entirelyupon shrimping, shing, and oyster arming.The eort by the citizens o St. Bernard Parish to return to whatis their home, rebuild their communities and livelihoods, and remainto lead productive lives will require an understanding o the natureand physical properties o the deltaic sediments that underlie St.Bernard Parish. The physical (engineering) properties o these sedi-ments have been described and summarized in a number o publishedstudies, i.e. Kolb and Van Lopik (1958), Dunbar et al. (1994), Kolb(1962), and Montgomery (1974). Additional geotechnical datais available rom a study, U.S. Army Corps o Engineers (1958),conducted or the construction o the Mississippi River-Gul Outlet(MRGO) channel. These reports, their plates, and 1:62,500 scalegeologic maps are currently available online at U.S. Army Corps o Engineers (2004).A summary o the inormation available rom the above sourcesin relationship to a preliminary geologic map o the urban core o St. Bernard Parish will be presented in this report. This map was pre-pared rom an examination o LIDAR (LIght Detecting And Rang-ing) digital elevation models, soil surveys by Trahan et al. (1989,2000), 1:24,000 scale topographic mapping, and various historicand contemporary aerial imagery. The compilation and analysis o data rom geotechnical investigations produced or various LouisianaDepartment o Transportation and Development, U.S. Army Corpso Engineers, local reneries, and local government projects wouldprovide an even more detailed picture o the engineering geologyo St. Bernard Parish.
n
atural
l
eveeS
 
Within St. Bernard Parish, urban centers and industrial complexesoccupy alluvial ridges, called natural levees, which fank both sideso river and distributary channels (Figure 1). Natural levees areasymmetric ridges, which are highest adjacent to their associatedchannel and slope gently away and downward in elevation rom ituntil they merge with marshes and swamps o lower elevation (Shawand Moresi 1936; Fisk and McFarlan, 1955, 1966).Distributaries are channels that branch o o the modern andrelict courses, i.e. Bayou La Loutre, o the Mississippi River. Theyare called “distributaries” because when active, they distributedfoodwaters away rom the Mississippi River into the surroundingdeltaic plain. The channels o these distributaries and their naturallevees radiate outward in a an-like network rom either the modernMississippi River or its ormer St. Bernard delta lobe trunk channel(Shaw and Moresi 1936; Fisk and McFarlan, 1955, 1966; Kolb andVan Lopik, 1958, 1966; Saucier, 1994).Within St. Bernard Parish, natural levees fank the active channelo the modern Mississippi River and the relict trunk channel andassociated relict distributary channels o the St. Bernard delta lobe.Besides the Mississippi River, the relict trunk channel, now occupiedby Bayou La Loutre, and a large relict distributary channel, now oc-cupied by Bayou Terre Aux Boeus, has large, well-developed naturallevees (Fisk and McFarlan, 1955; Kolb and Van Lopik, 1958, 1966;Saucier, 1994; Shaw and Moresi, 1936).As previously noted, the natural levees constitute the high groundwithin St. Bernard Parish. The highest part o this parish consistso the natural levee o Mississippi River, which orms its east, let-descending, bank. It is as much as 12 t (3.6 m) above sea level. Thetowns o Arabia, Chalmette, Meaux, Poydras, and Violet along withmajor industrial complexes, i.e. the sugar reneries o American Sugarand Domino Sugar and petrochemical reneries o Murphy Oil andTenneco Oil, occupied the natural levee along the east bank o theMississippi River. Chalmette and Poydras occupy segments, whichare wider than normal, where it joins respectively the natural leveeso either an unnamed distributary or Bayou La Loutre (Shaw andMoresi, 1936; Kolb and Van Lopik, 1958, 1966).These natural levees typically consist o equal proportions o highplasticity, at clay, (CH, in the Unied Soil Classication System)and low plasticity, lean clay (CL, in the Unied Soil ClassicationSystem)(gure 2). The natural levees o the Mississippi River andBayou La Loutre also consist o as much as 30 percent silt and sandysilty, which is ML in the Unied Soil Classication System. The siltand sandy silt comprise the crests o these natural levees. Typically,both the grain size and thickness o natural levee sediments decreaseaway rom it crests towards where they merges with the surround-ing delta plain (U.S. Army Corps o Engineers, 1958; Kolb and VanLopik, 1958; Kolb, 1962).Because o prolonged subaerial exposure, the sediments compris-ing natural levees are typically preconsolidated by desiccation andcementation. As a result, the cohesive clayey sediments ound withinnatural levees typically possess high cohesive shear strength, 800 to1200 lbs per square oot, and low water contents, 20 to 40 percento dry weight. Their Liquid Limits range rom 35 to 75. The watercontents o sandy silt and silt are correspondingly low and typicallyrange rom 20 to 30 percent o dry weight (U.S. Army Corps o Engineers, 1958; Kolb and Van Lopik, 1958; Kolb, 1962).Along short segments o the Mississippi River and its abandonedtrunk channel, Bayou La Loutre, lateral migration o the channelcreated narrow, but thick, sequence o point bar sediments (Figure1). These point bar deposits consist o 70 to 110 t (21 to 34 m)thick sequence o sandy sediments, which locally underlie a narrowbelt o natural levee sediments adjacent to their associated channel(Figure 2). Typically, the upper two-thirds to one-hal o the pointbar deposits consists o interstratied mixture o silty clay, silt, andsand (respectively CL, ML, and SP, in the Unied Soil ClassicationSystem). The remaining lower part o the point bar deposits consistso well-sorted (poorly graded) ne sand. Minor amounts o organicmatter, either as ragments o either dritwood or ground up debris,occur within these sediments (U.S. Army Corps o Engineers, 1958;Kolb and Van Lopik, 1958; Kolb, 1962).
d
eltaic
p
lain
The delta plain o the St. Bernard delta lobe within St. BernardParish consists o low tracts o periodically inundated land that iscovered by a carpet o herbaceous plants. Depending on the degreeo salinity, resh, brackish, or saltwater marsh covers its surace.Adjacent to the natural levees o the major distributaries and majorchannels, cypress-tupelo swamps occupy portions o the delta plain,which are not permanently covered with water. The surace o thedelta plain typically approximates mean high tide level, which is lessthan a oot (0.3 m) higher than mean sea level. Numerous lakes andinterdistributary bays o various sizes and tidal channels break thesurace o the delta plain.
 
News
Insights
www.lgs.lsu.edu
Louisiana Geological Survey December 2005
The delta plain within St. Bernard Parish is the surace o asequence o deltaic sediments deposited by the Mississippi Riverbetween 1,800 to 4,800 BP as it built out the St. Bernard delta lobe.From bottom to top, this sequence o deltaic sediments consists o (1)prodelta, (2) mixed intradelta and interdistributary, and (3) marshand swamp deposits. Within St. Bernard Parish, the basal prodeltadeposits lie upon a thin layer o shelly marine sands. These sands, inturn, lie upon the oten deeply eroded surace o older Pleistocenesediments, which once was subaerially exposed as the Louisianacontinental shel. The total thickness o deltaic deposits within St.Bernard Parish ranges rom less than 50 (15m) to over 150 t (46 m)in thickness (Fisk and McFarlan, 1955; Kolb and Van Lopik, 1958;U.S. Army Corps o Engineers, 1958; Frazier, 1967).
p
rodelta
d
epoSitS
The lowermost layer o deltaic sediments o the St. Bernard deltalobe consists o a gulward thickening blanket o clay (Figure 2).This layer accumulated within the Gul o Mexico as clay carried bycurrents out o the delta mouth and into the Gul o Mexico settledrom suspension on its bottom. Visually, these clays appear massivealthough they show laminations when x-rayed (Kolb and Van Lopik,1958; U.S. Army Corps o Engineers, 1958; Coleman, 1981).These prodelta sediments consist o homogeneous, normallyconsolidated at clay (CH). These sediments decrease in grain sizewith depth rom silty clay to ne clay. Their water content typicallyranges rom 40 to 80 percent o dry weight. Their Liquid Limit rangesrom 70 to 120 and their Plasticity Index ranges rom 30 to 35. Thecohesive strength o the prodelta sediments gradually increases withdepth typically within the range o 200 to 600 lbs per square eet.In deeper borings, the cohesive strength o these sediments has beenound to be as high as 900 to 1300 lbs per square eet (Kolb and VanLopik, 1958; U.S. Army Corps o Engineers, 1958).
i
ntradelta
 
and
i
nterdiStributary
d
epoSitS
The sediments underlying and composing the bulk o the deltaplain within St. Bernard Parish consist o a mixture o interngeringand interlayered intradelta and interdistributary sediments overlyingthe prodelta sediments (gure 2). The intradelta deposits consist o silts and clayey silts deposited as a mixture o the delta ront andas crevasse splays and sandy sediments deposited as distributarymouth bars. The interdistributary deposits consist o laminated clay,typically with silt laminae or partings, which accumulated withininterdistributary bays rom the settling o ne-grained sedimentsbrought into them by foodwaters (Kolb and Van Lopik, 1958; U.S.Army Corps o Engineers, 1958; Coleman, 1981).Intradelta deposits typically consist o a heterogeneous mixture o normally consolidated silt and clayey silt (ML), silty clay (CL), atclay (CH), and about one-ourth ne-grained well-sorted (poorly-graded) sand (SP). The water content ranges rom 30 to 40 percento dry weight or the at clay and 15 to 30 percent or the silt andclayey silt. The Liquid Limit o the clays range rom 35 to 110 ando the silt and clayey silt is as much as to 30. The Plasticity Index o the clays ranges rom 15 to 60 and or the silt and clayey silt it is asmuch as 10. These sediments have a moderate cohesive strength (Kolband Van Lopik, 1958; U.S. Army Corps o Engineers, 1958).Interdistributary deposits consist largely o underconsolidatedat clay (CH). Its water content typically ranges rom 50 to 160percent o dry weight. Its Liquid Limit ranges rom 60 to 160 andtheir Plasticity Index ranges rom 30 to 75. The cohesive strengtho the at clay erratically increases with depth and generally rangesrom o 150 to 300 lbs per square eet with an observed maximumaround 500 lbs per square eet (Kolb and Van Lopik, 1958; U.S.Army Corps o Engineers, 1958; Coleman, 1981).
Figure 2. Cross Section o natural levees and delta plain within the urbanized part o St. Bernard Parish. (Reprinted rom Dunbar et al. 1994)

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