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The Mississippi River isn’t called “The Mighty Mississippi” for nothing. As part of one of the world's largest river systems, it is home to a wide array of wildlife and is a vital commercial waterway. Around 60% of North American bird species utilize the river as their migratory route, and 25% of North American fish species make their home in the Mississippi.
To put the scale of the Mississippi into perspective, consider this question. How long does it take for a single drop of water to travel the length of the Mississippi River? The river is around 2,340 miles (3,766 km) long, from its source in northern Minnesota to its delta in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet the average speed of the water varies as a result of many factors, such as the river’s width and depth. Obstructions also play a role.
Interestingly, at the headwaters of the Mississippi, the average speed of the water is 1.2 miles per hour (1.8 km/h). By the time it gets to New Orleans, however, the Mississippi River flows at approximately 3 mph (4.8 km/h), which is approximately walking speed for a typical adult. All in all, it takes a drop of water approximately 90 days to travel the entire length of the Mississippi River. That’s quite a journey!
”But ol' man river, he just keeps rolin' along”:
- The Mississippi River is the second longest river in North America; the Missouri, which enters the Mississippi north of St. Louis, is just a few miles longer.
- The Mississippi River is over 11 miles (17.7 km) wide at its widest point, at Lake Winnibigoshish near Bena, Minnesota.
- Approximately 175 million tons of freight are transported along the Mississippi River each year by barges and tows.
- Over 50 U.S. cities rely on the Mississippi River for their daily water supply.
- One of America’s greatest writers, Mark Twain (the pen name of Samuel L. Clemens), worked as a Mississippi riverboat pilot as a young man.