Probing the depths of the Big Muddy: What does the bed of the Missouri River look like?

Published: October 13, 2015


A sonar painting of the bottom of the Missouri River at the mouth of Overton Chute near Rocheport. Courtesy USGS River Studies.

Presentation by Caroline Elliott, USGS River Studies Branch

Original Presentation, October 13, 2015 at Les Bourgeois Vineyards Bistro, Rocheport, MO.

Second Presentation, November 18, 2015 at Big A’s Restaurant, St. Charles, MO.

The Big Muddy is deep and mysterious.  One can’t just look down and see what is on the bottom the way you can in a clear Ozark stream.  Scientists from the USGS at CERC have developed a variety of tools to see through the murky river and watch what is happening on the bottom.  They use precise measurements to watch and record the migration of sand dunes, and see details like rocky outcrops and large trees on the bottom of the river.  Through the use of sonar they image fish like the pallid sturgeon as they swim upstream and even spot them spawning in fast deep areas near the bottom of the river.

USGS Geologist Caroline Elliott shared what she’s learned about the hidden world of the bottom of the Missouri River, and displayed images of this murky and shifting environment.

Caroline’s research was part of the Comprehensive Sturgeon Project. Her team measured bedload transport rates and mapped out the parts of the river that were moving and parts of the river channel that were stable.  Their research questions for pallid sturgeon recruitment and survival involved determining if the places where pallid sturgeon were currently spawning in the Missouri River was stable enough to support successful incubation of embryos.  When pallid sturgeon spawn they release eggs that adhere to rocky substrates in the river, and it is thought these eggs require these stable substrates for four to eight days before they hatch. Other questions related to bed and sand dune movement involved understanding how sturgeon move upstream through the river during their pre-spawning migrations, and how drifting invertebrates many bottom-dwelling fish feed on move along the bed of the river.
Her team primarily utilized a multibeam echosounder, survey-grade GPS, and an acoustic doppler profiler  to map flow velocity, see river organisms, and examine the sediment at bottom of the river along a 811 mile stretch of the Missouri.

Resources & Links

Dig deeper for more info on this topic.

The Big Muddy Speaker Series in Rocheport

is hosted by these wonderful partners.

Click here for a list of upcoming presentations»

Special thanks to Les Bourgeois Vineyards for giving us the opportunity to use their beautiful space overlooking the Missouri River. All speakers are presenting for free! Thank you all for sharing your knowledge with us!

The Big Muddy Speaker Series also takes place monthly in Kansas City and St. Charles.

The Big Muddy Speaker Series is partially funded by the Columbia Ecological Services Field Office (USFWS) and the Mo. Dept. of Conservation.

Saint Charles Resources and Links

The Big Muddy Speakers Series in St. Charles

is hosted by these wonderful partners:

All speakers are presenting for free and Big A’s is sharing the space for free! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with all of us!

The Big Muddy Speaker Series also takes place monthly in Rocheport and Kansas City.

A special thank you to Greg Poleski of Greenway Network and Mike Clark of Big Muddy Adventures for making this happen!

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