I thought I might share some of my photographs and a few interesting details related to our journey so far:
Some water stats:
At Lake Itasca, the start of the river, the average flow rate is 6 cubic feet per second. At Upper St. Anthony Falls, the northern most Lock and Dam, the average flow rate is 12,000 cubic feet per second or 89,869 gallons per second. In New Orleans, the average flow rate is 600,000 cubic feet per second.
So to give that some context... There are 7.489 gallons of water in a cubic foot. One cubic foot of water weighs 62.4 pounds. A 48 foot semi-truck trailer is a 3,600 cubic foot container.
Therefor... At Lake Itasca, it would take 10 minutes for one semi-trailer 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!
We have observed many different bird species during this expedition, and it is important to note that the Mississippi River remains the single most important waterway for North America's migratory birds. Forty percent of the nation's migratory waterfowl use the river corridor during their Spring and Fall migration. Also, Sixty percent of all North American birds (326 species) use the Mississippi River Basin as their migratory flyway! We have been encountering new bird species as we head further south, and I will post a comprehensive list next week detailing what has been observed. I was lucky to see two whooping cranes in flight around 05:30 just as the sun was rising last week. The whooping crane was our endanger animal mascot for Minnesota, and I am grateful to have seen one in the wild. Now, in Wisconsin we will be representing the Long-earred bat which is suffering from White-nose Syndrome and habitat loss.
Once again, here are the endangered and threatened species we are representing on our post-cards and documents along the journey:
Minnesota: Whooping Crane
Wisconsin: Long-earred Bat
Iowa: Iowa Pleistocene Snail
Illinois: Rattlesnake Master-Borer Moth
Kentucky: Pallid Sturgeon
Missouri: Hine's Emerald Dragonfly
Tennessee: Least Tern
Arkansas: Ozark Hellbender
Mississippi: Bayou Darter
Louisiana: Small tooth Sawfish
Locks and Dams!
We have encountered 14 dams so far, and made 14 portages during the last 500 miles. We dropped 833 feet in elevation while traveling through Minnesota. We have been through 3 locks so far and dropped 65 feet in them. There are 28 locks on the Mississippi River, so 25 more to go! The typical lock is 56' wide and 400' long! A lock and dam system enables a large ship to move from a body of water at one level to another body of water at another level. This helps us avoid getting the canoe out of water. We just missed the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock by one day. It has been closed in order to combat Asian Carp, which is an invasive specie that is destroying the river's ecosystems. It is voracious, and eats everything it can get its fish mouth on. Many people in this area feel conflicted about the lock's closure. Most people believe it to be a futile act because the Asian carp will inevitably find a way upriver regardless. The closure of the Mississippi River's largest lock and dam highlights the destructive capabilities of invasive species and the need for tackling such threats to America's ecosystems.
Pollution is increasing dramatically. There are many coal power plants along the river, mills, and raw sewage drains which flow directly into the river. The Twin Cities adopted a very serious clean-up plan to combat pollution in the 80s, and the river's health has been improving every since. There is still a long way to go though. Dissolved Oxygen levels are rising now, which helps aquatic plants and animals breathe and reproduce.
A huge part of the pollution come from Coal Power Plants which generate a great deal of waste along with the power they produce. Coal plants emit a great deal of Carbon Dioxide emissions and ash that is laced with mercury, arsenic, chromium, and cadmium which are known cancer-causing carcinogens. The average plant generates 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber every year. Aside from these pollutants, coal plants also generate a lot of thermal pollution. They suck water in from the river to cool the power plant, and then pump water that is 20-25 degrees hotter back into the river. This dramatically effects the ecosystems nearby, and reduces dissolved oxygen levels (which plants and animals cannot survive without.)
What is the alternative? You may be surprised to hear that Nuclear Power Plants are very environmentally friendly in comparison! The cost the same amount to maintain, and 1 pound of nuclear fuel has 1,000,000x more energy than a pound of fossil fuel. The average 1 gigawatt coal-fired plant requires 9,000 tons of fuel every day. A 1 gigawatt nuclear plant consumes only 6.6 pounds of uranium in the same amount of time. Nuclear power plants do not produce the ash and sludge that a coal power plant does, and have become incredibly safe. The safety records of nuclear plants in the United States is impeccable.
We passed by Camp Ripley as we headed down the river from Brainerd, Minnesota. We heard automatic weapons fire, explosions, and helicopters overhead. Naturally, we were very keen to find out what was going on and investigated. Evidently, tank manuevers and barrage training was underway! A bit of info about the base: Camp Ripley was built in 1930, and is home to the Minnesota National Guard and a Game Refuge. Many special operations forces train there, along with the DNR and the Norwegian Home Guard sends troops to train in America. America's main winter warfare training course is there. There is also tank ranges, drop zones, and combat fields. The base is used as a model for sustainability in the military. It is very environmentally friendly and works closely with Mississippi River conservation groups.
The River Flows On
We are very excited to begin our journey down the border of Wisconsin over the next week. The landscapes are changing dramatically, and things are looking more and more familiar as we head south into the heart of the Midwest. We have left the conifer belt and are seeing more tree species familiar to Ohioans. It has also been beautiful to observe the mixing of tributary waters with the muddy Mississippi. We have seen beautiful clear water rush into the brown waters, red waters (iron-rich) from the Rum River, and observed a clear line in the river where the muddy waters of the Mississippi met rich crystal-blue waters at the confluence of the St. Croix river. The river systems of the America are so diverse and majestic, and it has been a powerful experience exploring the many waters of this great watershed. We have had amazing experiences in beautiful Minnesota, and it has been hard to move on out of the state. From the pristine wilderness of the Headwaters region to the bluffs of the South, every mile of river has displayed beautiful landscapes teeming with wildlife. Also, a special thanks goes out to Kaitie of Brainerd. She was kind enough to take Alex and I up to a vista overlooking the iron bog pit mines near Ironton, just outside Brainerd. From the overlook, we were able to see the clear-blue waters mingle with red iron-rich bluffs and the river valley stretch out for miles and miles into the distance. It was inspiring to see how a once-industrialized landscape can be reclaimed by nature and begin to thrive once again.
That's all for this week. Hopefully if we make significant progress on our southward journey, there will be time for a more comprehensive report. Keep checking in for more updates each week & thanks for reading!
Forrest S Schoessow