Embrace America's Rivers

Mississippi River Delta....

There is much more to the Mississippi Delta than many people realize. Often they think that it is that spit of land sticking out into the Gulf of Mexico, below New Orleans. Geographically it is much larger than that but there is more to the Delta than geography. To describe the delta we must include the geology, the culture, the history, the people, and the music. 

Approximately 72 million years ago this overlay is what the United States looked like. You can see that there was no Florida and where the Mississippi River is today was a large bay. This is a time when the earth had little ice, so sea levels were much higher.

In this satellite image, you can see a lighter area where the Mississippi embayment was. The earth cooled, more ice formed at the arctic and antarctic. This cause sea levels to drop and the bay dried up. Retreating glaciers drained off into what is now the Mississippi River. 

Where the Mississippi embayment once was is the Mississippi Delta. An area that extends from southern Illiniois to the Gulf of Mexico. Some geologists prefer to call it and alluvial plain, and that is true, but the Mississippi River has changed course many time, flipping back and forth in the former bay and building land. A delta is land that is built up by a river and that is what has happened here.

These graphics show how the river brings down sand, silt, rocks and other sediment, while flipping back and forth like a giant hose, building the land as the bay recedes. The large deep bay was eventually filled in with the river continuing to flow from all the tributaries in the Mississippi Basin.

This interesting chart shows the many courses that the Mississippi River has taken in this section, over the years.

Here we have the various "nodes" that have developed near the end of the river, building the land and seeking the sea.

The above illustrations show the timeline of the lower delta's growth into the Gulf of Mexico. Notice that by 2010 there is a decrease in the size of the land. This is due to higher sea levels and levees that have not allowed the sediment to flow from the river into the wetlands. Many canals have been dug to service the off-shore oil industry. These have also had an adverse affect due to erosion. Efforts are being made to try restoring the lower delta by pumping sand in from the Gulf and building outflow structures that allow the sediment to flow (especially during high water on the river). This are is important to protect as it is a wildlife sanctuary and serves as a storm surge buffer.

The Mississippi Delta is primarily flat land, since it was built by the river, but there are some places like Natchez, MS (photo) that has very high bluffs along the river. This high ground is created by a natural process call loess. Over thousands of years the prevailing winds from the west carry huge amounts of dust. The dust accumulates moisture while over the big river and settles on the east bank. This piles up creating high bluffs and rolling hills. There are other places along the river that have this, but it is always on the east bank. other towns built on loess bluffs are Vicksburg, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee.

Other things typical of Mississippi River Delta country

Cotton Fields

Cypress Swamps


Sad Scenes from the Past

Life in the Bayous

Antebellum Homes

Music From the Delta

The Blues



We can't talk about the Delta without mentioning those wonderful Cajuns. They were French-Canadians who were expelled from Canada by the British and found their way to the Delta swamps of Southern Louisiana. They settled and made a unique life for themselves. They were call Acadians which was corrupted to Cajuns (sounds better anyway).

Cajuns have their own foot-stompin' music style and language. They thrive on land that most people could not survive. The Cajuns that I have met are warm, friendly people who love having a good time. When disaster strikes they are always there to help others. During flooding they have what they call the Cajun Navy. These are volunteers out rescuing people and animals, whether they are Cajuns or not.