Lake Pontchartrain and adjacent lakes in Louisiana form one of the larger estuaries in the Gulf Coast region. The estuary drains the Pontchartrain Basin (at right), an area of over 12,000 km2 situated on the eastern side of the Mississippi River delta plain. In Louisiana, nearly one-third of the State population lives within the 14 parishes of the basin.
Over the past 60 years, rapid growth and development within the basin, along with natural processes, have resulted in significant environmental degradation and loss of critical habitat in and around Lake Pontchartrain. Human activities associated with pollutant discharge and surface drainage have greatly affected the water quality in the lake. This change is evident in the bottom sediments, which record the historic health of the lake. Also, land-altering activities such as logging, dredging, and flood control in and around the lake, lead to shoreline erosion and loss of wetlands.The effects of pollution, shoreline erosion and wetland loss on the lake and surrounding areas have become a major public concern.
To better understand the basin's origin and the processes driving its development and degradation requires a wide-ranging study involving many organizations and personnel. When the U.S. Geological Survey began the study of Lake Pontchartrain in 1994, information on four topics was needed:
Geologic Framework, or how the various sedimentary layers that make up the basin are put together
Sediment Characterization, that is, what are the sediments made of, where did they come from, and what kinds of pollutants do they contain