Mississippi River

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The Mississippi near New Orleans

The Mississippi near New Orleans

Water code US1629903
location Minnesota , Wisconsin , Iowa , Illinois , Missouri , Kentucky , Tennessee , Arkansas , Mississippi , Louisiana (USA)
River system Mississippi
source Lake Itasca , Minnesota
47 ° 14 ′ 23 "  N , 95 ° 12 ′ 27"  W.
Source height 450  m
muzzle Gulf of Mexico ( Atlantic Ocean ) Coordinates: 29 ° 9 ′ 13 ″  N , 89 ° 15 ′ 3 ″  W 29 ° 9 ′ 13 ″  N , 89 ° 15 ′ 3 ″  W
Mouth height m
Height difference 450 m
Bottom slope 0.12 ‰
length 3778 km
Catchment area 2,981,076 km²
Drain MQ
18,400 m³ / s
Left tributaries see chapter catchment area and river system
Right tributaries see chapter catchment area and river system
Big cities Minneapolis, MN , St. Paul, MN , Davenport, IA , St. Louis, MO , Memphis, TN , Baton Rouge, LA , New Orleans, LA
Navigable To the Coon Rapids Dam in Coon Rapids, Minnesota

The Mississippi [ ˌmɪsɪˈsɪpɪ ] (English: Mississippi River ) is a 3778 kilometer long river in the United States . It rises from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and flows into the Gulf of Mexico around 160 kilometers south of New Orleans .

Its longest tributary, the Missouri, is significantly longer to its confluence, but much less watery than the Mississippi. The Missouri River and the lower reaches of the Mississippi form the Mississippi-Missouri with 6051 kilometers in length, the fourth longest river system on earth .

The largest tributary of the Mississippi in terms of water volume, the Ohio River , clearly exceeds the main river at its mouth. At this point the Missouri and Illinois Rivers have already flowed into the main stream.

On its way, the Mississippi crosses almost the entire state territory of the USA from north to south and flows through eight US states: Minnesota, Illinois , Missouri , Kentucky , Arkansas , Tennessee , Mississippi , Louisiana and forms the border of Wisconsin and Iowa . At St. Louis it unites with the Missouri and the Meramec and at Cairo , Illinois, with the Ohio . Except for the area around the Great Lakes, the river drains the entire area between the Rocky Mountains in the west and the Appalachians in the east. The Mississippi Delta near New Orleans forms one of the largest estuaries in the world.


The name Mississippi probably comes from the language of the Algonquin Indians. It is made up of the words messe for large and sepe for water. The frequently encountered translation "father of the waters" is more of a poetic than literal translation. Another possible origin would be from the language of the Anishinabe Messipi for "big river". Colloquially, the Mississippi is often called "Old Man River" in the USA, immortalized above all in the song Ol 'Man River from the 1927 musical Show Boat .


Catchment area and river system

Mississippi River Basin
Detailed map of the tributaries of the Mississippi

The Mississippi drains most of the part of the United States of America into the Gulf of Mexico, which lies between the foothills in the east ( Appalachian Mountains ) and in the west ( Rocky Mountains ). The Mississippi drainage basin is the fourth largest in the world. It covers 3,220,000 square kilometers and spans 31 states in the United States and two provinces of Canada. Due to the predominant location in the west wind belt, the western part lying in the lee of the high mountain ranges is predominantly semi-arid and the eastern part humid .

The main branch of the river system by name runs approximately in the middle in a southerly direction and rises west of Lake Superior in source streams that feed Lake Itasca , which is the source of the Mississippi. It reflects the hygric differences of the catchment area that the actual main branch of the Mississippi system (determined by the larger confluent waters) arises in the rain-rich Appalachians, while the longest branch of the river system in the Rocky Mountains. The main hydrological branch is formed by the Allegheny River - Ohio - Mississippi flow route . The longest flow path follows the line Red Rock River - Beaverhead River - Jefferson River - Missouri - Mississippi .

The main tributaries of the Mississippi

Left tributaries

Right tributaries

Discharge data

At the confluence with the Missouri, the Mississippi carries a little more water at around 2900 m³ / s on average than its much longer tributary , which brings in around 2200 m³ / s. The Upper Mississippi then meets the Ohio with an average flow of around 5900 m³ / s, which carries more water with around 7950 m³ / s and hydrographically represents the main branch of the river system.

The data for the mouth of the Mississippi differ significantly, also because the Atchafalaya arm of the river, which branches off around 500 km above the mouth, is sometimes not included. Here up to 30% of the mean discharge branches off from the main stream and shortly afterwards takes on the Red River , which with a water flow of 1590 m³ / s is only a tributary of the larger Atchafalaya with a mean discharge of 4730 m³ / s and therefore also a Tributary of the Mississippi. The total value of around 18 400 m³ / s, which is mostly given, including the Atchafalaya with Red River, is hydrographically justified and characterizes the river system better than the flow of the main stream alone, for whose mouth area values ​​around 16 800 m³ / s are given. This puts the Mississippi in seventh place among the world's rivers that flow into the sea, but is also surpassed by three tributaries of the Amazon.

River sections

The Mississippi can generally be divided into its upper course (Upper Mississippi River), from its source to the confluence of the Ohio, and in its lower course (Lower Mississippi River), from the Ohio to its confluence with the Gulf of Mexico.

Source of the Mississippi in Itasca Lake
Estuary of the Ohio into the Mississippi
Mississippi to Minneapolis (2005)
Saint Anthony Falls Minneapolis about 1860
Mississippi Lock and Dam # 2 near Hastings, Minnesota

Upper Mississippi

The source of the Mississippi lies at 47 ° 11 'north latitude and 95 ° 14' west longitude in the north of the US state of Minnesota in Itasca State Park . Lake Itasca collects several spring streams at a height of 450 meters above sea level, the largest of which drains the nearby Elk Lake, and discharges the Mississippi as a five meter wide stream. The source of the largest Lake Itasca tributary near Little Elk Lake a few kilometers south is considered to be the actual origin of the Mississippi.

Downstream, the Mississippi flows through heavily meandering the glacially formed lake district in northern Minnesota. It crosses numerous lakes , the largest being Lake Winnibigoshish . The Mississippi is navigable below the Coon Rapids Dam near Minneapolis . Until its completion in 1913, the river was even navigable by ships as far as St. Cloud .

The Saint Anthony Falls in Minneapolis and a few smaller falls at Little Falls , Minnesota, were the only natural waterfalls on the upper Mississippi River. Today, the upper course between Minneapolis and St. Louis is characterized by a sequence of 29 dams and sluice structures that were built up into the 1940s and with which shipping climbs 123 meters . They were built to facilitate the transportation of bulk cargo from the northern United States to the Gulf of Mexico. The dams also make it possible to regulate the flow rate of the upper course and thus also to influence that of the lower course. Critics question the economic benefits of the structures and complain about their negative ecological effects. The dam and lock structures are maintained by the United States Army Corps of Engineers .

The partially lake-like reservoirs now also serve tourist purposes. Along the Mississippi in the border area of ​​the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, two protected areas have been designated to preserve the river and its surroundings as habitat, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and the Effigy Mounds National Monument . The nutrient-rich steep slopes on both banks are also a wine-growing area .

North of St. Louis, the Mississippi joins the Missouri to form a broad stream. As the largest tributary , even surpassing the Mississippi in terms of water flow, the Ohio finally flows into Cairo. The main tributaries of the upper reaches are the Minnesota River , Iowa River, Des Moines River , Illinois River, Missouri, and Ohio.

Cut-off oxbow lakes of the Mississippi
Satellite image of the lower Mississippi (false color)

Lower Mississippi

South of the confluence of the Ohio, the Mississippi enters an approximately 80 km wide inland bay . Due to the low relief energy and the small difference in altitude (96 m) from Cairo to the confluence with the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi forms wide meanders in its lower reaches. Due to the dynamic changes in the river bed over the centuries and measures to straighten the river , extensive floodplain landscapes have emerged on both river banks through separated oxbow lakes .

Mississippi Delta from space

Since the borders of the US states in this region are based on a historical course of the river, the relocation of the river bed means that the Mississippi is no longer a continuous natural border between different states. In the state of Arkansas, for example, there are exclaves on the left bank, while parts of the right bank now belong to the states of Tennessee and Mississippi .

In the south of the state of Louisiana, the river flows into an extensive delta in the Gulf of Mexico. The longest estuary is the Atchafalaya River , which branches off about 500 km from the main mouth of the Mississippi and itself forms a delta. With the Old River Control Structure, the United States Army Corps of Engineers limits the amount of water that can flow from the main arm of the river into the Atchafalaya to around 30%, and in the event of a flood to almost 50%. Downstream from New Orleans , a finger-shaped, so-called bird's foot delta, which has five main arms, has formed over time due to the large amount of sediment from the river and the low tidal range of the Gulf of Mexico. With 28,600 km² it is one of the largest estuary deltas in the world. The amount of river cargo delivered in the Mississippi Delta is 1 to 1.5 million tons of sediment daily . The flat alluvial land created by regular flooding is very fertile. The supply of nutrient-rich fresh water and the salty ocean water that flows in when the tides change, result in high rates of primary production (algae, phytoplankton) and increasing proportions of organic soil material. The high biodiversity in the waters favors fishing. It produces around one million tons of fish per year, making it the most important in the USA. The main crops used in agriculture are rice, cotton, sugar cane and soybeans. The two main problems in the Mississippi Delta area are the loss of wetlands from sea level rise and eutrophication .

Numerous hydraulic engineering measures were carried out in the delta in the last century to facilitate shipping to the refinery locations in Louisiana. These include flow straightening of the run, the construction of dykes for flood control , wells of the fairway by the removal of sand banks as well as the connection of the flow to the sewer system of the Intracoastal .

Major tributaries of the lower reaches are the White River, Arkansas, Yazoo River, and Red River. The region at the lower reaches of the river is also called the Lower Mississippi Delta Region ; it stretches from southern Illinois and Missouri on both sides of the river to the mouth and has many cultural and social similarities.


Prehistoric time

Originally, the Mississippi followed the course of today's Hennepin Canal from Rock Island to Hennepin and then the current bed of the Illinois River to its mouth at Alton . With the penultimate glacial period (300,000 to 132,000 years ago) the upper reaches of the Mississippi changed fundamentally. A closed ice sheet at what is now Rock Island blocked the former course and shifted the river to the west. In the past, the river in the Mississippi Delta changed its bed about every thousand years and formed the entire coastline of Louisiana through the sediment load it carried. In the past 5000 years, the Louisiana coast has shifted 25 to 80 km into the Gulf of Mexico. The oxbow lakes of the river, which carry less water than the main stream, formed swamps and floodplains that are known today as bayous .

Indian settlement

The Mississippi Valley was first settled by various Indian tribes. From 700 to around 1600, the Mississippi high culture stretched along the Mississippi and was the only society in America to build fortified cities north of Mexico . Probably the largest of these cities was Cahokia near today's St. Louis, which had a population of up to 20,000 around the year 1100. At the time of European colonization, the Cheyenne , Sioux , Ojibwe , Potawatomi , Ho-Chunk , Fox , Kickapoo , Tamaroa , Quapaw and Chickasaw, among others, settled in the Mississippi Valley .

European settlement

Discovery of the Mississippi by De Soto AD 1541 (1847-53) by William Henry Powell . The picture shows how Hernando de Soto was the first European to discover the river.

The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto was the first European to discover the river on May 8, 1541. He called it Rio de Espiritu Santo . In 1673 Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette set out on a large expedition on the Mississippi. René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was the first European to reach the mouth of the river in 1682. He took possession of all the riverside lands for France and named the area Louisiana in honor of the French King Louis XIV . Fort La Balize was founded in 1699 as the first European settlement on the Mississippi to control river entry .

Since the river's floodplain was a habitat for fur animals such as beavers , the Mississippi Valley quickly developed into a center of the North American fur trade . Nevertheless, for a long time the river represented a western border of the European-populated area.

In the 18th century the banks of the river changed hands several times. Initially, as a Louisiana colony, they were entirely in French hands. With the defeat of France in the Seven Years War and the Peace Treaty of Paris in 1763 , the Mississippi became a border between the British and Spanish kingdoms . Its right bank was awarded to Spain and its left to Great Britain. The left bank remained in the possession of the British until 1783. After losing the war against the United States , England had to cede the areas east of the Mississippi to them. It was not until 1803 that the western bank of the river came to the USA as part of the Louisiana Purchase . Since then, the Mississippi has been a purely American river and no longer represents a border between different sovereign states.

Many explorers went in search of the source of the Mississippi, such as Zebulon Pike , who went on an expedition in December 1805. He wrongly suspected the source in Lake Leech . And the Italian explorer Giacomo Beltrami assumed during his expedition in 1823 that Lake Julia was its source. It was not until 1832 that the American explorer and ethnologist Henry Rowe Schoolcraft discovered Lake Itasca as the source of the river. He named it after the Latin words "ver itas " and " ca put" as the "real head" of the river. For this he used the middle part of the two words as an artificial word "Itasca".

Delta Queen paddle steamer in Paducah, Kentucky (2007)
Lithograph of the attack by the Union fleet on the Confederate positions near Vicksburg on April 16, 1863

Era of steamship

In the 1810s the era of steam navigation began on the Mississippi , which allowed large quantities of cargo or passengers to be moved on the river. From 1812 the first paddle wheel steamer , Robert Fulton's New Orleans , ran on a regular service between New Orleans and Natchez . By 1817 there had already been 17 steam-powered vehicles on the river, and by the end of 1818 31; In 1820 there were 69 ships, by 1836 the number had risen to 381 and by 1850 to 740 steamers. Most of the ships ran between New Orleans and Louisville . The steamers mainly transported cotton to New Orleans, from where it was shipped to Europe.

The Mississippi became the economic lifeline of the Midwest and attracted many settlers to the region. St. Louis became an important junction because on the one hand important settler routes to the west had their starting point here ( California Trail , Oregon Trail ) and on the other hand the river north of the city was no longer navigable for the large ships. Memphis and New Orleans developed into not only important economic locations, but also important centers of the American slave trade . The era of commercial steam shipping, which lasted around 100 years, is still anchored in the region's memory today, especially through the works of the writer Mark Twain .

During the American Civil War , control of the river became an important strategic goal for both parties. The Confederates blocked access to the Mississippi from the sea and were able to provide supplies from the states west of the river . The Union's victory in the Battle of Vicksburg in 1863 put an end to this and represented a major step in the crushing of the Confederates.

Recent history

In the spring of 1927, the river caused the largest flood disaster to date in the United States, when around 70,000 km² of land in the lower reaches were flooded up to 9 meters high and 700,000 people had to be evacuated, see Mississippi flood 1927 . This was one of the factors that fueled the Great Migration of African Americans between 1915 and 1930. Another flood of the century occurred in 1993, when around 80,000 km² of land was flooded. The strongest floods since 1927 occurred after the annual snow melt and then continued heavy rainfall from mid-April 2011 during the flood in May 2011 .

Economy, Shipping and Ecology Today

The Mississippi near Minneapolis

The largest agricultural zones in the USA lie along the river; half of all US farms are located in the Mississippi River Basin of Illinois. The fertilizer input from conventional agriculture generates considerable pollutant loads that lead to eutrophication and hypoxia in the Mississippi Delta. Because of the effects, the affected water area in the Gulf of Mexico is known as the dead zone . In October 2002, water quality standards were introduced for the entire river, which are monitored by the EPA .

Push convoy near Memphis , Tennessee

The Mississippi is an important transportation route. Pushed convoys operate on the river today , some of which are among the largest in the world. Normally, pushed convoys with 40 barges. Only 15 barges are allowed on the dammed upper section of the Mississippi. The push barges on the Mississippi each have a load capacity of 1500 tons, so that the largest push convoys have a load capacity of over 100,000 tons.

Baton Rouge is the furthest inland ocean port on the Mississippi. The United States Army Corps of Engineers keeps a 13.7 m deep fairway free from the mouth of the Southwest Pass about 400 km downstream to the old Huey P. Long Bridge in Baton Rouge.

Due to the high density of chemical companies on the Mississippi downstream from Baton Rouge, the section of the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is also known as the Cancer Alley because of the associated increased cancer mortality .

Broadcasting stations

In 1923 the FCC passed the Mississippi Regulation , according to which radio stations west of the river in the USA were assigned a call sign beginning with "K" and one east of it with "W". However, some older callsigns were retained.


  • " In the greater Mississippi Basin there are more navigable river kilometers than in the rest of the world combined. " (Quote from Tim Marshall's "Die Macht der Geographie", dtv-Verlag, 2016, p. 80)
  • " Nowhere else are there so many rivers that do not have their source in the highlands and whose waters flow calmly to the sea over such great distances. " (Quote ibid.)


The state of Mississippi , Mississippi County in Arkansas, Mississippi County in Missouri, and the Mississippi Geometric Age are named after the river.


  • Adam Mandelman: The Place with No Edge: An Intimate History of People, Technology, and the Mississippi River Delta. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge 2020, ISBN 978-0-8071-7319-0 .
  • Thomas Ruys Smith: Deep Water: The Mississippi River in the Age of Mark Twain. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge 2019, ISBN 978-0-8071-7109-7 .
  • Bonnie Stepenoff: Working the Mississippi: Two Centuries of Life on the River. University of Missouri Press, Columbia 2015, ISBN 978-0-8262-2053-0 .
  • Christine A. Klein, Sandra B. Zellmer: Mississippi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disaster. New York University Press, New York 2014, ISBN 978-1-4798-2538-7 .
  • John Madson: Up on the River: People and Wildlife of the Upper Mississippi. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City 2011, ISBN 978-1-58729-975-9 .
  • Janet Rafferty, Evan Peacock (Eds.): Time's River: Archaeological Syntheses from the Lower Mississippi River Valley. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa 2008, ISBN 978-0-8173-5489-3 .
  • Martin Suter , photos: Nathan Benn: Mississippi: The brown giant. In: Geo-Magazin. Hamburg 1979, 11, pp. 70-94. Informative experience report. ISSN  0342-8311


  • Ol 'Man River - Mighty Mississippi. Documentary, Austria, 2007, 91:20 min., Script and direction: Michael Schlamberger and Steve Nicholls, production: Science Vision, ORF , arte , ZDF , first broadcast: April 26, 2007 on ORF, table of contents by 3sat .
  • On the Mississippi. Documentary film series in three parts: 1. The deep south , 2. Blues and cotton fields , 3. From Elvis to Mark Twain. Germany, 2010, approx. 43:30 min. Each, script and direction: Peter Adler, production: Peter Adler Reportage + Documentation, ZDF , arte , first broadcast: 4th - 6th August 2010 on arte, content information with scenes by Peter Adler , online video of part 1.
  • Mississippi. (OT: Wild Mississippi. ) Documentary film series in three or two parts: Part 1: Mississippi - The wild north , Part 2: Mississippi - The great flood. (OT: 1. Deep Freeze , 2. Raging Waters , 3. Delta Blues .) USA, 2013, approx. 43:30 min. Each, written and directed by Brian Armstrong, production: Red Rock Films, National Geographic Channel , German Editor: Abenteuer Erde , German first broadcasts: April 5th and 12th, 2016 on WDR , table of contents of the 1st and 2nd part by WDR, overview by National Geographic (English).
    The two-part series in German mainly shows the different animal world along the entire course of the river, but also shows the extraordinary living conditions during the great floods in May 2011.

See also

Web links

Commons : Mississippi River  - Album containing pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ JC Kammerer: Largest Rivers in the United States , 1990 . US Geological Survey, accessed September 2, 2011.
  2. Jerry M. Hay: Mississippi River-Historic Sites & Interesting Places. P. 114 , accessed November 21, 2013 .
  3. Duden, 25th ed., P. 738.
  4. Mississippi River ( English ) In: Geographic Names Information System . United States Geological Survey . Retrieved January 13, 2011.
  5. ^ FL Langstedt: Travels to South America, Asia and Africa , 1789.
  6. US Census: Flows of Largest US Rivers - Length, Discharge, and Drainage Area . 2000. Accessed on July 1, 2012. (converted to m³ and rounded to 5)
  7. Note: To the Amazon (and its tributaries Rio Madeira , Rio Negro and Rio Japurá ), Congo , Brahmaputra - Meghna , Orinoco , Yangtze and Yenisei
  8. ^ Coon Rapids Dam, Coon Rapids, MN
  9. US Army Corps of Engineers: Mississippi Locks and Dams . Archived from the original on May 27, 2010. Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved April 10, 2010. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.mvp.usace.army.mil
  10. ^ MZ Taylor: Time to sink the Jones Act? (PDF; 66 kB) 2003. Accessed November 25, 2010.
  11. ^ Upper Mississippi River Basin Association: River and Basin Facts . Retrieved April 10, 2010.
  12. ^ Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau: Establishment of the Upper Mississippi River Valley Viticultural Area (2007R-055P) . 2009. Retrieved April 10, 2010.
  13. ^ S. Hunt: Newest American wine appellation, world's largest . 2009. Retrieved April 10, 2010.
  14. M. Niggemann: The Mississippi and its Delta (PDF; 354 ​​kB) 2002. Retrieved on April 10, 2010.
  15. ^ JP Gill: Arkansas State Boundaries . Retrieved April 10, 2010.
  16. J. Ulbrich: The Mississippi Delta (PDF; 354 ​​kB) 2004. Retrieved on April 10, 2010.
  17. US Army Corps of Engineers: Mississippi River Navigation (PDF) 1985. Archived from the original on April 9, 2006. Information: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved November 25, 2010. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.mvn.usace.army.mil
  18. Scott, Q .: The Mississippi: A visual biography (PDF; 376 kB) 2008. Archived from the original on December 28, 2013. Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved February 4, 2013. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / presscm.umsystem.edu
  19. Franz, A .: Hill town of Cahokia - America's mysterious megacity . 2008. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  20. ^ The Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation: The Fur Trade . Archived from the original on March 14, 2012. Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved May 2, 2010. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.pcmaf.org
  21. US National Park Service: History . Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  22. snafu.de: history and technology of steamboats, in particular paddle steamer . 1997. Archived from the original on June 14, 2008. Retrieved December 26, 2012.
  23. Dziersk, M .: With a paddle steamer on the Mississippi . 2009. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  24. S. Ambrose: Great Flood . 2001. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  25. Note: The world's most powerful push boat, the MV JS McDermott , has 10,500 hp and pushes up to 70 push barges on the lower reaches.
  26. Navigation Data Center: The US Waterway System — Transportation Facts (PDF; 405 kB) December 2003. Retrieved March 11, 2006.