The Geographic Standpoint of the Mississippi River

By: Christa Kowalczyk

Mississippi's name was derived from the "misi-ziibi" Ojibwe word which means "Great River". Another Ojibwe term for it would be "Gichi-ziibi" which means "Big River". It is regarded as the United States' 2nd longest river.

The famous Mississippi River is regarded as the United States' 2nd longest river. It has a length of 3,734 kilometers coming from the Lake Itasca that is found in Minnesota, its source, going to the Gulf of Mexico, its mouth. The recognized longest would be the noted Missouri River, its tributary, which measures 3,767 kilometers.

The famous Mississippi River is actually a part of the so-called "Jefferson-Missouri-Mississippi River System", North America's largest recognized river system. It is also included amongst the worlds largest. With a length of 6,275 kilometers, it ranks as the 4th longest. With an average discharge amounting to 572,000 cubic feet, it ranks as the 10th largest.

Amongst the various long Mississippi tributaries, the longest is indicated as the popular Missouri River and followed by the documented Arkansas River. Thus, if according to water volume, it is the renowned Ohio River that ranks as the largest.

Mississippi's name was derived from the "misi-ziibi" Ojibwe word which means "Great River". Another Ojibwe term for it would be "Gichi-ziibi" which means "Big River".

Hence, Mississippi River's widest point is actually Lake Onalaska, which is beside La Crosse, Wisconsin. It is about 6.4 kilometers wide. Since the so-called Lock and Dam No. 7 created Lake Onalaska, it is indicated that the historically widest natural spot with over 2 miles and 3 kilometer wide measurement would be Lake Pepin. However, this area is more of a reservoir rather than a "free flowing river". As for the areas that feature the Mississippi River as a "real river", it is noted that they exceed a mile when it comes to their width and they are located in many places along the Mississippi River's lower course.

Moreover, the Mississippi River is divided into two parts, the "Upper Mississippi" and the "Lower Mississippi". For the Upper Mississippi, its source would come from the south towards the renowned Ohio River. The Lower Mississippi, on the other hand, its source would come from Ohio towards its mouth which is beside New Orleans, Louisiana.

Furthermore, the Upper Mississippi has a series composed of 29 dams and locks, which were mostly built during the 1930s. Their design is mainly maintaining a 9-feet deep channel meant for commercial barging of traffic. With regards to the formed lakes, these are being utilized for recreational fishing and boating. Although the dams actually make this river wider and deeper, it still doesn't stop it. In fact, flood control is not even one of its intentions. In the event of high flows, the gates, which are mostly submersible, are being completely opened. With this, the dams would basically cease its function. Thus, just beneath St. Louis, Missouri, you will find that the Mississippi River is already free flowing. This is amidst being constrained by several levees and generally directed by several wing dams.

On record, the famous Mississippi River runs throughout a total of 10 states. It is even utilized in order to define the portions of the borders of these states. Plus, during the time when these borders were being established, it is the middle part of the riverbed that acts as the line for defining the state's borders. Although the river has shifted since that time, there were no indicated changes with the lines of Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Up to now, they still go after the Mississippi River's former bed.

When it comes to the Mississippi River's watershed, it is indicated also that it has the world's 3rd largest catchment or drainage basin. It follows the Congo River and Amazon River. Aside from this, it can drain about 41 percent of the total 48 US contiguous states. This basin can cover over 3,225,000 square kilometers, which also includes either parts or all of the 31 states as well as 2 Canadian provinces. Thus, this drainage basin is emptied at the actual Gulf of Mexico.

The Mississippi River's major tributaries are as follows:


•Yazoo River
•Big Black River


•Red River


•Arkansas River
•White River


•Ohio River


•Kaskaskia River
•Big Muddy River
•Illinois River
•Rock River


•Missouri River


•Skunk River
•Des Moines River
•Maquoketa River


•Chippewa River
•Wisconsin River


•Crow River
•Minnesota River

10.Wisconsin and Minnesota

•St. Croix River

When it comes to the drainage area of the Mississippi River, it actually drains the areas between the renowned Appalachian Mountains and Rocky Mountains. This is excluding the areas being drained by the Hudson Bay which is through the North's Red River, Rio Grande and the famous Great Lakes. It is also noted that the actual retention time from the popular Lake Itasca towards the Gulf would be around 90 days.

With regards to the Upper Mississippi River, it is further divided into 3 distinct sections:

1. The headwaters - This is from the actual source towards Saint Anthony Falls.
2. A somewhat series of lakes that are man-made in between St Louis, Missouri and Minneapolis.
3. Middle Mississippi - This is a "free flowing river" that runs downstream of the actual confluence with St. Louis' Missouri River.

The tributaries for the Upper Mississippi River would adjoin the:

• Minnesota River - Twin Cities
• Des Moines River - Keokuk, Iowa
• Wisconsin River - Prairie du Chien
• Ohio River - Cairo, Illinois
• Missouri River and Illinois River - St. Louis, Missouri

With regards to the Lower Mississippi River, the sub-tributaries would include the:

• Platte River - Missouri River's tributary
• Tennessee River - Ohio River's tributary
• Arkansas River - Arkansas
• Atchafalaya River - Louisiana (Mississippi's major distributaries)

Thus, the fresh water that flows from the famous Mississippi River going towards the renowned Gulf of Mexico doesn't combine immediately with the salt water. It will stay intact while it flows towards the Gulf, and towards the regarded Straits of Florida. Then, it will enter the so-called Gulf Stream. After this, it will round Florida's tip and go up towards the southeastern coat towards Georgia's latitude. It is only after this that it will mix with the ocean thoroughly and will not be detected by the assigned MODIS anymore.

The average annual discharge of the famous Mississippi River is between 200,000 up to 700,000 cubic feet. Even if it is the world's fifth largest river by volume, this is only a fraction of what the Amazon River can do. It can move approximately seven million cubic feet during the wet seasons. At an average the famous Mississippi River can only stand with about a 1/11th fraction of the Amazon's capability. Thus, even so, it is still twice of the regarded Columbia River's and six times the popular Colorado River's volume.

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