Physically Modeling and Understanding Floods in the U.S.

Despite efforts to stop them, floods hammered the U.S. in the early 20th century. A now abandoned model of the Mississippi river, its tributaries and surrounding lands was built to better understand how to combat those floods.

"Although the scope of flood control had expanded beyond the Mississippi, the work was limited by current field research methods; engineers found it difficult to track what was being done at various points along the river and thus impossible to predict how isolated "solutions" might affect one other. To understand the Mississippi River Basin as a dynamic system of interconnected waterways, the Corps needed new, more sophisticated scientific tools.

Reybold came up with a radical idea: a large-scale hydraulic model that would enable engineers to observe the interactive effects of weather and proposed control measures over time and 'develop plans for the coordination of flood-control problems throughout the Mississippi River Basin.'"

As Kristi Dykema Cheramie writes in this essay for Places, the model was built and used, but eventually faded from service. It still offers lessons about the intent and impact of water management efforts in the U.S.

Full Story: The Scale of Nature: Modeling the Mississippi River

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