Mississippi River

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The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America.[3][4] About 2,320 miles (3,730 km) long,[5] the river originates at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, and flows slowly southwards in sweeping meanders, terminating 95 miles (153 km) by river below New Orleans, where it begins to flow to the Gulf of Mexico. Along with its major tributary, the Missouri River, the river drains all or parts of 31 U.S. states stretching from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Appalachian Mountains in the east to the Canada–US border on the north, including most of the Great Plains, and is the fourth longest river in the world and the tenth most powerful river in the world.

The current form of the Mississippi River basin was largely shaped by the Laurentide Ice Sheet of the most recent Ice Age. The southernmost extent of this enormous glaciation extended well into the present-day United States and Mississippi basin. When the ice sheet began to recede, hundreds of feet of rich sediment were deposited, creating the flat and fertile landscape of the Mississippi Valley. During the melt, giant glacial rivers found drainage paths into the Mississippi watershed, creating such features as the Minnesota River, James River, and Milk River valleys. When the ice sheet completely retreated, many of these "temporary" rivers found paths to Hudson Bay or the Arctic Ocean, leaving the Mississippi Basin with many features "oversized" for the existing rivers to have carved in the same time period. The Mississippi River Delta has shifted and changed constantly since the formation of the river, but the construction of dams on the river has greatly reduced the flow of sediment to the delta. In recent years, the Mississippi's mouth has shown a steady shift towards the Atchafalaya River channel, but because of floodworks at the river's mouth, this change of course—which would be catastrophic for seaports at the river mouth—has been held at bay.

Hundreds of Native American tribes have depended on the Mississippi River and its tributaries for thousands of years. Although they knew the river by many different names, it was the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi, meaning Great River, or gichi-ziibi, meaning Big River, that ultimately gave the river its present-day name. European explorers reached the mouth of the river as early as the 16th century and 17th century. The river throughout history has served as the border for New France, New Spain, and the early United States—its size and importance made it a formidable boundary as well as a strategic military location, and later, an important artery for steamboats to travel on. Writer Mark Twain was one of the most well-known figures on the river in this period. Even today, the river serves as partial boundaries for ten states, and most of its course can easily be seen on a political map. The Mississippi has also been known for great flooding events, especially in the 20th century which experienced up to four 100-year floods. This has led to the construction of hundreds of miles of levees along nearly the entire course of the river, although they have not always succeeded in preventing the greatest floods.

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