Terrestrial Tour: Mississippi Rising—The 2011 Flooding

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In the U.S., about 100 people die in floods each year; between the years 2000 and 2010, floods caused an average of 9.5 billion dollars per year in damages. Nearly 4,000 towns and cities with more than 2,500 inhabitants continue to cope with life on the floodplains of the U.S. 

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

The Mississippi River on a terrain map.
Text, Mississippi Rising.
Planet Earth zooms in on an area of Eastern Missouri and Arkansas. The state lines bolden.
In the spring of 2011, the Mississippi River Drainage Basin began to fill as heavy spring rains quickly melted record amounts of snowfall from the previous winter.
An icon of a cloud with snowfall.
February 1, 2011.
Raindrops fall from the cloud.
March 1, 2011.
Image of a satellite with a large panel.
Text, NASA's Terra satellite tracked the resulting flood.
Surrounding rivers are labeled on a map, the White, Wabash, and Ohio Rivers.
On March 1, waters on the Mississippi River remained largely confined to braided river channels.
A cover of clouds appear.
By March 20, water had risen substantially, especially south of the Ohio-Mississippi confluence.
Water levels were also substantially higher on the Wabash, Ohio, and White Rivers.
Several map markers appear as exclamation points in a red circle.
On April 28, 2011, measurements along the Mississippi River basin showed major to minor flooding at 404 locations.
The Black River to the west is labeled.
Text, In this satellite image, high water levels are visible along the Wabash, Ohio, Black, and Mississippi Rivers.
An area on the map is circled and magnified. Map marker lands on Cairo, Illinois. Just south, an area is labeled "floodway."
Text, To protect Cairo, Illinois from rising floodwaters, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew a hole in the Birds Point Levee near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers just after 10 PM on May 2, 2011.
Satellite image transforms and an overcast of clouds appear above a much wider river which expands into the floodway.
The two-mile hole flooded 200 square miles of farmland and damaged or destroyed about 100 homes in the Birds Point New Madrid Floodway.
On a separate satellite image, a map marker lands on Memphis.
Text, As floodwaters continued to move south, the Mississippi River reaches nearly 48 feet in Memphis Tennessee on May 10, 2011.
A line scans over Memphis and the date changes from April 21 to May 10. The Mississippi River's brown water floods into West Memphis.
Text, It was the highest water level for Memphis since 1937, when the river reached a record 48.7 feet.
Floodwaters span the distance between Memphis and West Memphis, about 6 miles.
Map shows the Mississippi River down to New Orleans.
Text, By mid-May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers feared that weeks of pressure on the Mississippi's levees would cause them to fail, swamping New Orleans under as much as 20 feet of water.
An area on the map is circled and magnified. Near the Mississippi River, a spillway is labeled near a levee.
Morganza Spillway, Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. May 15, 2011. Text, To release some of that pressure, they opened the 10-ton floodgates of the Morganza Spillway on May 13, 2011 -- the first time in 38 years.
A map key with four color-coded areas, Clear water, Sediment-Laden water, Vegetation, and Cleared Farm Fields. Much of the area on one side of the spillway is vegetation, with sediment-laden water on the other side.
Text, Five days later, water had spread 15 to 20 miles southward across the Louisiana landscape.
A total of 17 bays on the spillway had been opened, with roughly 114,000 cubic feet per second flowing out of the Mississippi River and into the floodway.
Water rushes from the concrete bays of the spillway toward patches of trees.
Text, This action covered roughly 3,000 square miles with as much as 25 feet of water.
A massive area of trees flooded with brown water.
Text, By the time Mississippi floodwaters reached New Orleans, they were heavily burdened with the debris of modern life.
As floodwaters scour the land, they pick up sediment, chemical pollutants, raw sewage, trash, and other debris.
A bird perched on a stick on the bank of floodwaters. Debris floats nearby.
An image shows a clear distinction where sediment-filled water meets the dark waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Text, Northern Gulf of Mexico, 2009. These pollutants travel with the river to the ocean, where they dump their toxic soup into the bays and estuaries along the continental margins.
Sewage and fertilizers in floodwater cause tiny aquatic plants to multiply very quickly.
Bright green algae stands out in brown waters.
Text, As these plants die, they sink to the ocean floor where bacteria use oxygen in the water to decay the plants.
Fish lie sideways on sand as waves hit the shore.
Text, Without oxygen, sea life can't breathe and they die, creating a dead zone.
Northern Gulf of Mexico, May 17, 2011. Swollen rivers dumped thousands of tons of pollutants into the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain in 2011.
Heat map of North America surrounded by dark blue ocean water. Orange and red colors come from the New Orleans area into the Gulf of Mexico.
Text, Floods are the most chronic and costly natural hazard in the world.
On the map, several cities are highlighted which lie on the Mississippi River.
In the United States, about 100 people die in floods each year.
Between the years 2000 and 2010, floods caused an average of 9.5 billion dollars per year in damages.
Yet nearly 4,000 towns and cities, each with more than 2,500 inhabitants, continue to cope with life on the floodplains of the United States.
Muddy water covers a farm, reaching halfway up a silo.