What is it about?

A two-hundred-year long dataset demonstrates increasing annual average, minimum, and maximum discharges at five stations draining the Mississippi River watershed. There is a direct relationship with the North Atlantic Oscillation Index from 1826 to 1969, but not afterwards. The breakpoint in the rise in discharge ca. 1970 is consistent with land use changes occurring then that resulted in reduced evapotranspiration as homogenous cropping systems were established, and a higher percent of precipitation was routed into groundwater and baseflow.

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Why is it important?

There are conflicting predictions of climate change effects and landuse on the discharge of the Mississippi River – the largest river in North America. Over the last 50 years the Bonnet Carré Spillway at New Orleans, LA, is being opened more frequently to reduce flood threats as the river’s flood stage rises and increasingly reaches the Spillway’s maximum capacity. Significant water quality impairments in the coastal zone will be sustained with these openings.


Belt opened his outstanding analysis of the 1973 flood at St. Louis, MO, with a quote from Horace: “Naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret” (“Drive nature off with a pitchfork, nevertheless she will rush back.”—Epistulae 1, 10, 24). (Belt CM. The 1973 flood and man’s constriction of the Mississippi River. Science. 1975; 189: 681–684. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.189.4204.681 PMID: 17792526

R Eugene Turner
Louisiana State University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Variability in the discharge of the Mississippi River and tributaries from 1817 to 2020, PLoS ONE, December 2022, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0276513.
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