The Mississippi is a river in North America, 3,778 km long.
This river has an average flow of 17,000 m³/s and a catchment area of 3,238,000 km².
The name Mississippi comes from the native Indian word misi-ziibi, which means “great river”.
Geographic Features –
The Mississippi is a river that originates in Minnesota, just west of Lake Superior, in an area made up of a series of morainic hills, interspersed with some small lakes. The river originates from one of these lakes, i.e. Lake Itasca, which in its first stretch is sometimes enclosed between the morainic ridges and often has rapids and waterfalls.
The river immediately reaches 220 m a.s.l. after St Anthony’s Falls (24m) near Minneapolis. It receives the waters of the Wisconsin and Illinois rivers from the left and, having reached Saint Louis, it receives the Missouri from the right. Near Cairo it receives the Ohio from the left, continuing southwards the river receives from the right the contribution of two other important tributaries, the Arkansas River and the Red River. It then reaches New Orleans where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico forming a large delta.
The Mississippi can be divided into two sections: the upper Mississippi, from its source to its confluence with the Ohio, and the lower, from its confluence with the Ohio River to its mouth. The river goes through numerous meanders, especially between Memphis and the delta. This is the region of the great alluvial plain of the Mississippi, with a sediment cover that has increased over the centuries, forcing the river’s waters to overflow, especially during spring flood periods. The periodic floods that occur in the lower course, where the river is suspended, leave permanently wet and marshy areas (cypress swamps) on the sides of the banks. In these areas the river progresses slowly, now forming sinuous meanders, now abandoning old arms or carving sandy islets, or even forming separate lateral branches (bayous).
The Mississippi drainage basin is the largest in North America and the third largest in the world, after those of the Amazon River and the Congo River. Its total area, as mentioned, is 3,238,000 km²; practically a third of the territory of the United States of America.
This basin involves 31 of the United States of America and two Canadian provinces. The basin is in turn divided into six sub-basins, which correspond to the lower and upper reaches, as well as the course of some of the most important tributaries, including the Missouri (4,370 km long), the Arkansas and the Ohio . The floodplain of the river measures approximately 90,000 square kilometres. More than 72 million people live in this basin.
The Mississippi is fed by most of the waters falling between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians, except near the Great Lakes. It passes north to south through ten states – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana – before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico 160km downriver from New Orleans. The total travel time from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico where it flows is approximately 90 days.
Historical Notes –
The history of the Mississippi River obviously predates the colonization of the West.
Here lived the tribes of Indians, with their millenary traditions, their economies made mainly of hunting and agriculture, imbued with their divinities and their fascinating religious and afterlife beliefs.
Prior to the settlement of the region by European and American colonialists, the Mississippi River played an important role in the lives of America’s aboriginal peoples. These natives depended on this river for transportation and fishing, and Native Americans also developed an extensive agricultural system based on the Mississippi. However, as Europeans began migrating deeper and deeper into the continent, they began exploring the river and plundering the southern tribes. In the late 17th Century the French explorer La Salle, after his voyage up the Mississippi River, soon realized the immense potential of the huge drainage system and claimed the entire river basin for his native France. Soon thereafter, the Mississippi increasingly became a vital link between French settlements in the Gulf of Mexico and those north of Canada. Even the Spanish were not ready to let go of this valuable real estate and asserted their own claims to dominance over the region. Displacing both the French and the Spanish, in time the newly formed United States soon became the torchbearer of Mississippi exploration.
With the advent of the invasion of Westerners, clashes and wars were inevitable and the consequences, as always, were often the indigenous populations and of which the story told by Westerners has always done little justice (and given little truth).
So originally the western invading peoples founded small sleepy towns, born at the beginning of the 19th century on the more fertile and temperate shores, with their main streets lined with red brick buildings and at the end of the street the inn for drinking and playing and the monument with the cannon which, depending on the times, has always remembered the victims, those numerous inhabitants of the river who died during the Civil War or the two World Wars. Outside the urban cores, the quiet of the plains and hills, many countryside all the same cultivated by rough farmers who often rested on their verandas on the river, on rocking chairs and under large paddle fans. The only special event in such monotony was surely the fleeting appearance of the slow steamboats arriving with their whistle, with their paddles, with their black stokers with coal-smeared hands and faces, unloading goods and merchandise, people and animals, and off they set off for the next landing place. The boats brought, where there were almost none, forms of life and vitality, a great confusion, a great joy.
Where the Mississippi passed, there always grew up life based on river travel, on river commerce. And boatmen, scoundrels, fishermen, smugglers, carried goods and other things from the big river to the small rivers, giving birth or surviving villages inside the canals, inside the forests and the most remote swamps. Some barges, some large rafts driven by all sorts of adventurers were real emporiums and when they weren’t delivering rifles or whiskey to the Red Indian tribes, they transported timber, food, animals, sacks of cotton, tobacco, sugar. The furniture for the huts, the first household appliances, books for studying, singers for the taverns, young ladies for the brothels: everything arrived thanks to the river. And everything was transformed into a teeming microcosm of humanity.
Obviously, as is well known, the clash between the Indians and the colonizers took place very soon. In the cold territories of the north, in the dusty west, finally along the great river: white settlers and native Indians obviously and dangerously entered into contact. On the side of the whites it is easy to reconstruct the stories of the river Indians: with the typical simplifications of those who arrive to destroy and conquer the Sioux were judged thieves, disloyal and bloodthirsty, while the Pawnees were friendlier, softer, more “tameable”.
Between whites and Indians there was admiration and contempt, the Indians suffered the bundle of weapons and bottles, they were fascinated by modern things, never seen before, they were attracted by the technical-organizational side, the whites instead were by the wild grandeur of a life of nature, in the vastness and freedom of a huge new world. And to take it they had to take it all, condemning many tribes to a miserable decline. The pioneers of the river, many of tomorrow’s emigrants, sometimes imposed themselves in an overbearing and violent way. To start over them, they extinguished the others.
The great leader Black Hawk, a charismatic man, sweet and full of courage, witnessed the betrayal and massacre of his people. The waters of the Mississippi, in the Wisconsin section, were stained with the blood of children and squaws slaughtered by delirious white soldiers. The pages of his dignified lament remain: “One may know what right these people could boast of over our village and over the fields that the Great Spirit had given us so that we could live there? Reason tells me that the land cannot be sold… A unit of whites, the vanguard of the army, surprised our men who were trying to cross the Mississippi. Ours wanted to surrender but the whites systematically began to slaughter them. The women threw themselves into the current of the river with their little ones on their backs, trying to reach the other bank, but before they reached the other side, several of them drowned and others were shot to death. As in other parts of America it is not even possible to count the Indians who died during the white colonization: at the mouth of the Mississippi, near Pascagoula, an Indian legend tells that the waters of the river in that point sing, just before meeting the sea, recalling the dirge of many Indians who preferred to be killed rather than conquered.
The Mississippi River is the longest river in North America. Floating entirely within the United States of America, it drains (when counting for its major tributaries), an area of more than approximately 3.2 million square kilometers.
The Mississippi River is one of the greatest natural resources in the United States. It has been essential to the growth and development of the country since the industrial revolution. The river is the primary source of drinking water for millions of Americans today, with a recent study estimating that close to 15 million people rely on the river for their water and sanitation needs in the upper half of its catchment alone. . More than 50 major American cities depend on this river for their water supply. The enormous agribusiness that has developed in the Mississippi Basin generates 92 percent of the nation’s agricultural exports. The river and its tributaries are a rich source of fish and other aquatic organisms that serve as a source of food and commerce for America, with thousands of Americans being directly or indirectly involved in the ecosystem-based fishing and fishing industry of this river. In fact, 25% of America’s seafood comes from Mississippi Delta fisheries. The river also serves as a vital shipping lane for trading between the heartland of America and the rest of the world. 60% of the grain exported from the United States is shipped up the Mississippi in the area around and in the large port city of New Orleans, Louisiana. The Mississippi Delta is also the habitat that a diverse range of ecologically significant species of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians call their home.
The Mississippi River Delta habitat offers one of the most productive wetland ecosystems in all of North America. The deposition of rich sediments and the mixing of brackish waters from the Gulf of Mexico and fresh water from the river in the Mississippi Delta region, allows a wide variety of plant and animal life to thrive there. Forests, marshes, marshes, estuaries and islands have formed along the river banks and deltas, supporting the growth of a diverse range of species on them. More than 400 bird species inhabit the Mississippi Delta, including a number of migratory species numbering millions of individual ducks and geese among them. The hardwood forests and marshes in the upper delta are home to birds such as the rusty blackbird, wading birds and songbirds. The salt marshes and delta islands support birds such as Clapper Rails, Seaside Sparrows, Brown Pelicans, herons, egrets, gulls and terns. Mammals found along the Mississippi Delta include black bears, mink, beavers, armadillos, coyotes, bobcats, and feral pigs. Sometimes, dolphins and sperm whales are also found in the estuaries and deep water adjacent to the river. The Mississippi River Delta is also very rich in aquatic life, with some important seafood species, such as shrimp, blue crab, and perch, as well as other edible species, such as paddle fish and alligator gar, found there. . American alligators, Mississippi Diamondback River Terrapins, snakes and sea turtles also inhabit the Mississippi Delta.
The flora of the Mississippi River, given the breadth of its hydrographic basin and the diversity of the territories crossed, is complex and varied.
Spanning so many states and having a material rich in silt and clay it has a high richness in flora and fauna. Furthermore, having a humid and semi-tropical climate is ideal for the development of many animal and plant species. Both the course of the river and the basin in general enjoy great biodiversity.
From a floristic point of view, the entire basin also has numerous species, some endemic and some not. Among the best known are: Carex vulpinoidea, Carex stipata, Impatiens capensis and Calta palustre. Obviously, as mentioned, it is an immense floristic wealth, even if partly threatened by the advent of agriculture and the use of herbicides and insecticides. There are many others but these represent the most abundant and known ones.
Among the fauna that stands out from the Mississippi River we have the following species: Louisiana black bear, American crocodile, Yellow map turtle, Ringed map turtle, Notropis raffinesquei, Notropis roseipinnis, The dancing fish known as Notorus hildebrandis. We also recall the lake sturgeon, the amiiform fish, a group of bony fish belonging to the alecomorphs; these appeared during the middle Triassic and are still represented by the species Amia calva.
Many of these listed species are endemic. That is, they are species unique to the Mississippi River as they can only be found in this ecosystem. Furthermore, in addition to the species that takes its name, there are 63 species of mussels and 57 species of crabs. It has 5 lamprey species in areas where there is more water depth.
Among the native fish species of this river is the black catfish (Ameiurus melas).
Environmental Protection Actions –
Over the centuries and sadly in recent times human intervention has led to extensive modification of the natural flow of the Mississippi River. Locks, dams, and weirs built on the river have impacted the river’s natural flow, with the end result that large tracts of its floodplains receive low amounts of water, in turn decreasing biodiversity in those areas. While the flow of water to the Gulf of Mexico has been altered by man-made obstructions now found along the Mississippi, vast tracts of coastal estuaries are starved of sediment, creating an increasingly “dead” zone bordering the Gulf. The decrease in the number of marshes and protective wetlands in coastal areas makes the cities at the mouth of the delta extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. The Mississippi River also happens to be the most polluted river in the United States, with an estimated 125 million tons of toxic waste released into the river in the year 2010 alone.
In recent times, all of this has raised awareness above all among environmental associations that ask for recovery, restoration and protection actions for this huge basin, especially by recalling the recent Agenda 2030 with its objectives and policies to be implemented.