Friday, August 10, 2012

what happens if the mighty mississippi runs dry?

thetrumpet | If the world’s largest navigable river system goes dry, the economic consequences will be felt around the world. What is the single greatest reason America is so wealthy? According to the analysts at Stratfor, it is because of a river.

They have to be joking, right?

What about America’s vast gold resources? What about its mountains of coal? America is the world’s third-largest oil producer—surely that is why. Then there is America’s temperate climate and fertile soils that traditionally make it the world’s breadbasket. And don’t forget America’s human capital, Yankee ingenuity, and Protestant work ethic. Surely these factors are cumulatively more important than a river.

Not according to one of America’s premier think tanks. Many countries have large natural resources and hospitable climates, but don’t even come close to having America’s wealth. What sets America apart from the rest of the world is the Mississippi River basin. It is what makes exploiting America’s resources economically possible.

But now, due to the worst drought since the 1950s, the Mississippi may be about to go dry.

In Memphis and Vicksburg, the shrinking river is obvious: slower river, exposed river banks, and more sandbars. The water is down more than 13 and 20 feet in each city respectively. The Mississippi on average is about 13 feet below normal—and a whopping 55 feet below where it was at this time last year. On some stretches, the water level is perilously low. On July 17 it was reported that a 100-mile stretch of the Platte River in Nebraska, had dried up.

For each one-inch loss of water, the standard barge must unload 17 tons of cargo—that is a loss of 204 tons, per barge, for every one-foot loss. A typical tow on the upper Mississippi river may have 15 barges. A one-foot loss of water translates into a loss of 3,000 tons of capacity. Tows on the lower Mississippi River may have up to 45 barges, resulting in a loss of capacity of over 9,000 tons. It would take almost 600 semitrucks to haul the freight unloaded by one large barge grouping under those conditions! There are thousands and thousands of barge strings that ply the Mississippi each year. The shutdown of the Mississippi would be an absolute catastrophe!

3 comments:

brotherbrown said...

If the Mississippi dries up, we have Mars.

CNu said...

I'm thinking Saharan and desperately wishing I had a long-term stack of discretionary notes that I could plunge into buying lakefront real estate in Detroit....,

arnach said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/17/opinion/dont-waste-this-drought.html

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