Above and Beyond: The Changing Mississippi River

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A map from the US Army Corps of Engineers shows how the path of the Mississippi River has changed over time.

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with the NASA Earth Observatory.

All images, illustrations, and videos courtesy of NASA except:
·       Illustration of northwestern U.S. based on illustration from NOVA/WGBH “Mystery of the Megaflood” website
·       Glacial Lake Missoula painting courtesy of Byron Pickering
·       Dry Falls photo ©2004 Teri J. Pieper, www.byways.org
·       Palouse Hills photo courtesy of Lynn Suckow
·       Sea creature illustration copyright The National Library of Israel, Shapell Family Digitization Project _and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of Geography – Historic Cities Research Project
·       Photos of Mississippi River with debris courtesy of Thomas R. Machnitzki
·       Video of clouds over eastern U.S. courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
·       Snow-to-rain animation by Marc Lussier, STScI
·       Satellite images of flooding in Birds Point–New Madrid Floodway courtesy of MODIS Today,
·       Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison
·       Morganza Spillway video and photos courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
·       Photo of Mississippi River sediment plume entering Gulf of Mexico courtesy of Nancy Rabalais/Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium
·       Algae bloom photo courtesy of National Ocean Service/NOAA
·       Photo of fish kill on Grand Isle, Louisiana, courtesy of Kerry St. Pé
·       Mississippi River dead zone animation courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
·       Photo of flooded farm near Vicksburg, Mississippi, courtesy of the National Weather Service
·       Map of Mississippi River course changes courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music
Written by Andrea Gianopoulos
Designed by Marc Lussier

Text, An ever-changing river, the Mississippi River. An illustration of the river's various positions over the years shown in different colors and appearing as overlapping winding ribbons. 

Text, The Mississippi River is in constant flux, but the shifting paths it has carved across the landscape are still discernible. The Army Corps of Engineers has recorded this history of change by mapping the landscape in and around the Mississippi River. This 1944 map reveals the river's modern course as superimposed on channels from 1880 (green), 1820 (red), and 1765 (blue). Bends in the river that were cut off from the main channel form crescent-shaped oxbow lakes.
A satellite image of the river, a stripe of brown curving through green and brown land. A curved brown oxbow lake sits to one side of a curve. Text, A 1999 satellite image reveals the current course of the river and old oxbow lakes. Despite our levees and spillways, the river still slowly changes as it fights against its manmade restraints.