Did termites help Katrina destroy New Orleans floodwalls?

Oct 14, 2008

Three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, people still speculate over causes of the destruction of the city's floodwall system. A new article in the fall issue of American Entomologist (Vol. 54, No. 3) suggests that Formosan subterranean termites played a large role.

Author Gregg Henderson, a professor at the Louisiana State University AgCenter, discovered Formosan subterranean termites (Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki) in the floodwall seams in August, 2000 – five years before Katrina struck – and noticed that the seams were made of waste residue from processed sugarcane. Known as bagasse, this waste residue is attractive to Formosan termites.

After the dikes were breached in 2005, Henderson and his colleague Alan Morgan inspected 100 seams for evidence of termites, including three areas where major breaks in the walls had occurred. 70% of the seams in the London Avenue Canal, which experienced two major breaks during Katrina, showed evidence of insect attack, as did 27% of seams inspected in the walls of the 17th Street Canal.

The Formosan subterranean termite originates from China, where it has been known to damage levees since the 1950s. Besides eating at bagasse seams, the termites may have contributed to the destruction of the levees of New Orleans by digging networks of tunnels, which can cause "piping," sending water through the tunnels and undermining the levee system.

"I believe that the termites pose a continuing danger that requires immediate attention," Henderson writes. "The fact that termites cause piping in levees must be accepted."

The author further suggests that New Orleans' 350 miles of levees and floodwalls should be surveyed for termite damage, and that treatment of the floodwalls and nearby trees may be necessary to avoid future disasters. Henderson will demonstrate one survey method using ground-penetrating radar at the ESA Annual Meeting in Reno, Nevada, November 16-19 (see www.entsoc.org/am/cm/index.htm>).

Source: Entomological Society of America

Explore further: Moth study suggests hidden climate change impacts

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Lemurs match scent of a friend to sound of her voice

6 hours ago

Humans aren't alone in their ability to match a voice to a face—animals such as dogs, horses, crows and monkeys are able to recognize familiar individuals this way too, a growing body of research shows.

Chrono, the last piece of the circadian clock puzzle?

8 hours ago

All organisms, from mammals to fungi, have daily cycles controlled by a tightly regulated internal clock, called the circadian clock. The whole-body circadian clock, influenced by the exposure to light, dictates the wake-sleep ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

brant
not rated yet Oct 14, 2008
Yeah, Blackwater termites.......
Bob_Kob
not rated yet Oct 14, 2008
The termites cause the hurricane also.

More news stories

Low Vitamin D may not be a culprit in menopause symptoms

A new study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) shows no significant connection between vitamin D levels and menopause symptoms. The study was published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopa ...

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...