What We’ve Done to the Mississippi River: An Explainer
The lower reaches of the Mississippi River are being hit by record floods, as detailed on our In Focus photography blog. While there are thousands of news stories about what’s happening, I found myself wanting basic knowledge about how the Mississippi works now. It’s such a complex hybrid human-natural system with a deep and complex history that it’s hard to know where to start.
While Humans vs. The Mississippi was most elegantly laid out in John McPhee’s stunning story “Atchafalaya,” we found ourselves wishing for a simpler tech explainer (or companion piece). How is a levee built? What’s a revetment? What does the crucial Old River Control Structure look like? This explainer is intended to delve into these issues.
What is the Mississippi River? It’s not actually a silly question. The Mississippi no longer fits the definition a river as “a natural watercourse flowing towards an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river.” Rather, the waterway has been shaped in many ways, big and small, to suit human needs. While it maybe not be tamed, it’s far from wild — and understanding the floods that are expected to crest in Louisiana soon means understanding dams, levees, and control structures as much as rain, climate, and geography. From almost the moment in the early 18th century when the French started to build New Orleans, settlers built levees, and in so doing, entered into a complex geoclimactic relationship with about 41 percent of the United States.
Read more at The Atlantic.
Source: The Atlantic