4 Million Gallons Per Second! And 7 Other Incredible Facts About the Mississippi River

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Written by Emmanuel Kingsley

Updated: December 20, 2022

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The Mississippi River is very popular and important in the United States. It starts its cycle from Lake Itasca with a flow of about 45 gallons per second, averaging a speed of 1.2 miles per hour as it makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico. In the Gulf, the Mississippi River flows at 4 million gallons per second, and at a speed of 3 miles per hour. That is quite a lot of water and a great deal of speed. Here are 7 other incredible facts about the Mississippi River.

1. The Widest Point of The Mississippi River is At Lake Winnibigoshish

The Mississippi River has its widest point in Lake Winnibigoshish near Bena, Minnesota. This point is a confluence where the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers meet, the two longest rivers in the United States. There, the Mississippi reaches its maximum width of 11 miles (58,080 feet). That makes the river one of the widest in North America, wider than the Amazon River on some days.

2. The Mississippi River is Up To 200 Feet Deep

The maximum depth of the Mississippi River is about 200 feet.

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The Mississippi River’s maximum depth is estimated to be about 200 feet. This measurement was taken around Algiers Point in New Orleans, close to the river’s end. However, the river isn’t this deep in every location. In the South of Cairo, where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi, the average depth is 50-100 feet. Even more surprisingly, the Mississippi River’s average depth is 9-12 feet.

3. The Mississippi River Has Some Pretty Weird Fish

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 119 various fish species can be found in the river’s depths. The most common fish in the Mississippi is the blue catfish. This catfish can grow as long as 36 inches (3 feet) long.

Some other weird fish in the Mississippi River include the paddlefish and the gulf sturgeon. The paddlefish or the American paddlefish is the last surviving paddlefish species in the world after the Chinese paddlefish was confirmed extinct in 2020. As the name gives away, these fish species have a paddle-shaped snout. Gulf sturgeons, which can often be mistaken for sharks because of their size, may live for up to 50 years.

4. Martin Strel Swam the Mississippi River in 68 Days

The Mississippi River completes its cycle from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico in three months, covering 2,350 miles, and still, humans have swum its entire length. The first man to swim the entire Mississippi River was Martin Strel.

On the 4th of July, 2002, the Slovenian long-distance swimmer began his consecutive 68 days swimming from Lake Itasca, Minnesota, to the end of the Mississippi. In 2015, Chris Ring, an American Navy Combat completed the swim across the river’s entire length in 181 days.

5. There Have Been Shark Sightings on the Mississippi River!


There have been two recorded sightings of bull sharks along the Mississippi River, at Alton in Illinois and St. Louis in Missouri.

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One of the most shocking facts about the Mississippi River is the presence of sharks in its waters. Sharks are biologically known to survive in saltwater, so the oceans and seas are widely regarded as their homes. However, a unique adaptation of the bull shark allows it to survive in fresh and saltwater regions. There have been two recorded sightings of bull sharks along the Mississippi River at Alton, Illinois, and St. Louis in Missouri.

These near-threatened sharks’ entry point into the Mississippi was the Gulf of Mexico, where the saltwater of the Atlantic Ocean and the freshwater of the Mississippi meet. Luckily, there is no recorded shark attack in the Mississippi, and shark sighting is extremely rare as these sharks typically remain in the Gulf of Mexico.

6. The Mississippi River Once Flowed Backwards

Mississippi River - New Orleans

The Mississippi River has run backward 4 times in the past 200 years.

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It is not typically heard of for rivers to run backward, but nature throws curveballs once in a while. According to the Library of Congress, a series of earthquakes shook the Mississippi Valley between December 1811 and April 1812. These quakes destroyed towns in the area, created a lake measuring 18 miles long, and caused the Mississippi to run backward momentarily.

The other three times the Mississippi River has run backward are 2005, 2012, and 2021.

7. The Mississippi River Changes Course

The Mississippi River’s course has been the same for many years, and its course has been changed once. According to the NPS, the last time the Mississippi River changed its course was April 26, 1876. The meandering river cut across Desoto Peninsula, leaving the town of Vicksburg dry. This change in river direction forced the construction of the Yazoo Diversion Canal in 1903 to give the water channel back to Vicksburg.

Reports suggest that the Mississippi River will change its course again in the future as it continues its cycle from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. The river provides water to many cities across the United States, and more modifications would have to be made to accommodate the next change, of course, whenever it would be.

Bonus Fact: The Mississippi River Was Listed As The 6th Most Endangered River In the United States in 2022

Sadly, despite the value and importance of the Mississippi to Americans, it hasn’t been treated well and is now in danger of extinction. According to the American Rivers Association, the Mississippi is currently the 6th most endangered American River. This is very important, especially if you consider the fact that the river is responsible for almost $500 billion in revenue and has created 1.5 million jobs.

The major threat to this river, sadly, is pollution. Chemicals from farmer’s fertilizers which are washed in by the rains, as well as oil spills and other means of pollution, are slowly stealing the Mississippi from Americans and the world. You can play an active part in saving the river by spreading the word about aquatic pollution and donating to credible charities that do all they can to save our rivers.

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