Tale of Two Rivers: Contrasting Development and Conservation on the Upper Mississippi and Lower Missouri Rivers

Hydrologist Robb Jacobson discusses the engineering of both Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their differences.

Published: July 11, 2023

Presentation by Hydrologist Robb Jacobson, PhD, Chief of River Studies Branch, U.S. Geological Survey

View video of presentation on YouTube

Hosted by Missouri River Relief 

Original Presentation Tuesday, July 11 at Shakespeare’s Pizza South, Columbia, MO.

Development trajectories of the Upper Mississippi and Lower Missouri Rivers were similar until the 1920’s when implementation of diesel towboats motivated improvements to navigation on both rivers. River slope and sediment supply determined the critical difference: locks and dams were constructed to create a series of navigation pools on Upper Mississippi River whereas the steep gradient and high sediment supply on the Missouri River prevented implementation of locks and dams, and instead motivated construction of a self-dredging navigation channel.

The result was an expansion of biophysical and recreational capacity of the Upper Mississippi and a contraction on the Missouri.  Subsequently, conservation objectives on the Upper Mississippi have been broadly defined by provision of diverse habitats whereas efforts on the Lower Missouri have been reductionist, eventually focusing on critical life-stage transitions of a single species, the pallid sturgeon.

Dr. Robert B. Jacobson received his Ph.D. from the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, Whiting School of Engineering, The Johns Hopkins University, and he holds an undergraduate degree in Geology from Carleton College. He has worked for the U.S. Geological Survey since 1983 in geologic hazards, neotectonics, paleoseismology, geomorphology, surficial processes and riverine habitat dynamics. He is the Chief of the River Studies Branch, where he supervises a staff of ecologists, fish biologists, geomorphologists and hydrologists engaged in interdisciplinary research in fundamental river processes, applied to pressing river management decisions.

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