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Sediment Transport in the Lower Mississippi River

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Final rept.

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The Lower Mississippi River, extending from Cairo, Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico, annually transports approximately 170 million tonnes of sediment. Historically, the quantity and calibre of sediment derived from catchment erosion have been affected by changes in land-use and management. For example, soil erosion increased during the 19th and early 20th centuries due to settlement by Europeans and this may have elevated catchment sediment supply to the Mississippi River, while more recently the supply of sediment from tributaries is known to have decreased markedly as a result of river engineering and management. Specifically, the construction of large dams as part of the Mississippi River and Tributaries MRT Project has trapped sediment that would otherwise have been supplied to the Mississippi, particularly by the Missouri River. Marked changes have also occurred in the extent of eroding bankline along the Mississippi and these must have reduced the input of sediment derived from this source. For example, during the last three decades, a sustained construction program of bank revetments and dikes has produced a stable alignment. Given these trends in sediment supply from catchment, tributary and bank sources, it is not surprising that most studies of sediment movement report a large decrease in measured sediment loads at selected monitoring stations along the Mississippi River over the last 50 years Kesel, 1988 Dardeau and Causey, 1990. However, a case can be made that the bed material load must have increased since the 1940s. This argument is based on analysis of morphological changes observed along the river that have led to an overall increase in slope and available stream power, coupled with the fact that bed material sizes along the river have remained almost constant.

Subject Categories:

  • Physical and Dynamic Oceanography
  • Geography
  • Civil Engineering

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