Thursday, 24 January 2008

Old Man River....

(It is actually Friday 25th January but for some reason this posting has been tagged on to yesterday's!)

I've been waiting a couple of days to be able to use that title ! After the unfortunate events of Tuesday and the delays which that created, Mark finally reached the Mississippi yesterday afternoon....

The route had taken him east from Opelousas to Baton Rouge which is located on the Mississippi about 70 miles upriver from New Orleans ...more of which later.

About 15 miles east of Opelousas, Mark crossed the River Atchafalaya at Krotz Springs. As you can see below, this river flows in the middle of a very broad, swampy floodplain within which only a few patches are reclaimed for farming .. The river Atchafalaya is technically a distributary of the Mississippi. A distributary is the opposite of a tributary i.e. it is a channel that branches off and flows away from a main stream channel. They are a common feature of river deltas. The diagram above shows how the Atchafalaya is related to the Mississippi. It is 170 miles long and is an important navigable link to the Mississippi. Mark crossed the river at Krotz Springs, which, as you can see on the image below has its own refinery which has direct access to the navigable channel of the river. The town itself takes its name from an unexpected (and somewhat disappointing) discovery of artesian water during exploration for oil.

Although much of the land on either side of the river is not reclaimed for farming, there are a few areas of cultivation where the most likely crop would seem to be rice. After sugar cane and cotton, rice is crop number three for Louisiana and almost certainly is what we can see here north of Krotz Springs and in this Flickr image of rice growing in Louisiana.... There is an interesting connection between the rice fields in Louisiana and a local delicacy, the crawfish, which is central to many traditional dishes in this part of the world. Click on the banner above to link to the official site of the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board. Amongst its pages is a downloadable pdf recipe book which is definitely worth a read - particularly the first few pages which give a great deal of information about the history of crawfish farming in Louisiana. The connection with rice farming is a relatively recent development and is explained as follows "when it is time to plant the rice the fields are flooded and the rice seeds are dropped by plane. At this time male and female crawfish are also put into the fields. The rice grows and the crawfish prosper eating the stubble from the previous year's rice, and multiply. When it is time to harvest the rice the fields are drained. The crawfish burrow deep into the ground in search of water. The fields then are hard enough for the harvesting equipment. After the rice is harvested the fields are flooded again and the crawfish come up from their burrows. Traps are laid in the flooded fields and a crop of crawfish is harvested."

About 25 miles east of the Atchafalaya, Mark finally reached the muddy waters of the Mississippi at a huge meander just north of Baton Rouge, the state capital of Louisiana.

Highway 190 crosses the Mississippi at the Huey P. Long bridge, the first bridge built across the Mississippi in Louisiana.

Immediately downstream of the bridge the land on either side of the river is dominated by oil refining and the views below shows the huge ExxonMobil Baton Rouge refinery. It is the second largest oil refinery in the United States processing over 20 million gallons of petroleum each day. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it is also the country's second largest polluter...
....complete with tanker taking refined products on board. I have to say that the resolution of the imagery on Google Maps and Google Earth is wonderful in this area and you could have an interesting virtual journey following the river upstream and downstream towards New Orlenas. The activity on and surrounding the river is fascinating.

Baton Rouge, like New Orleans is largely dependent on levees (raised river banks which form naturally during each flood event but may be subsequently reinforced) to protect the city from flooding. In places these cities are at or slightly below the level of water in the river and the levees are all that lie between them and disaster.... as New Orleans discovered in August 2005 when the levees protecting the city breached in 50 places under the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina . Although Mark is not passing through New Orleans, this might be a good place to remind ourselves of those events and the aftermath. Here is a presentation I made at the time for using in school..... If you have difficulty viewing it within the blog, you can link to it here.

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