The Mississippi Watershed is the biggest drainage basin in North America, with an area of 3.2 million square kilometers (1,245,000 square miles), as seen below.
Yes, the Mississippi River Basin is that large. It’s so large, in fact, that it takes up about half of the continental landmass of the United States! (Forty percent, to be exact)
From the Allegheny Mountains in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west, the Mississippi River watershed is the world’s fourth biggest, encompassing 32 US states and two Canadian provinces. Water resource managers who must balance complicated concerns have been challenged by its various features, rich history, and heavy human demands.
The Mississippi river system’s computer modeling has reached a new milestone. NASA utilized a USGS database to track water from every site in the basin to the Mississippi River’s mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio was able to integrate the directions into stream flows using the database, which reveals the direction of water flow at each place.
The animation starts at the furthest locations from the Gulf, gradually exposing streams and rivers as it moves closer to the Mississippi’s mouth, until all of the major rivers are visible. The speed at which the rivers are exposed is unrelated to the speed at which the water flows. Instead, it travels at a consistent speed along each river’s journey, with all revelations arriving at the Mississippi’s mouth at the same moment.
To give you a sense of how much water the river system “collects,” consider the following:
- At Lake Itasca, it would take 10 minutes for a 48 foot semi-truck trailer (3,600 cubic feet) of water to flow out of the lake into the Mississippi.
- At St. Anthony Falls, the equivalent of 3 semi-trailers full of water go over the falls every second.
- At New Orleans, the equivalent of 166 semi-trailers of water flow past Algiers Point each second.
Let’s keep it that way!