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The Scale of Nature: Modeling the Mississippi River
July 10, 2011 9:11 AM   Subscribe

In 1943 the Army Corps of Engineers approved construction of a 200-acre scale model replicating the Mississippi River and its major tributaries — the Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri Rivers — encompassing 41 percent of the land area of the United States and 15,000 miles of river.
posted by T.D. Strange (27 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography saw the vast Map to be Useless and permitted it to decay and fray under the Sun and winters.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:37 AM on July 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


Remember: there was a time when America could do amazing things on a big scale.
posted by SPrintF at 9:38 AM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Really neat stuff. The Corps of Engineers also has a similar model of San Francisco Bay in Sausalito, which you can visit.
posted by brundlefly at 9:38 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


This must be like the John Henry folk tale for analog computers.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:40 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Very comprehensive writeup, thanks. Project also mentioned here and here. Also MeFi obsession with the Mississippi basin in 2009 and 2005. Definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the vicinity.
posted by cgk at 9:40 AM on July 10, 2011


Any special effects person will tell you: Water doesn't scale.
posted by Trurl at 9:47 AM on July 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


Remember: there was a time when America could do amazing things on a big scale.
posted by SPrintF at 12:38 PM on July 10 [+] [!]


And as your name reminds us programmers, sometimes those things end up being unsafe.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:51 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


there was a time when America could do amazing things on a big scale.

It will rise to the next occasion once the mandate is clear ie. existential crisis. Till then it's better to keep the wild spirit of capitalism and democracy in check through competing interest gridlock.
posted by stbalbach at 9:57 AM on July 10, 2011


Wow, all that work and effort - it seems unbelievably shortsighted not to continue the model all the way down to the outflow at the Gulf of Mexico. "How the water goes out" seems crucially important, but I guess it was a political decision. I wonder if anything would have changed if the model had included New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta - would the levee system have been designed differently, would wetland drainage have stopped?
posted by Quietgal at 9:57 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's a shame they don't let some industrious model railroad geeks loose on it and finish it.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:59 AM on July 10, 2011


It will rise to the next occasion once the mandate is clear ie. existential crisis.

As in climate change?

Or as in Galactus?
posted by Trurl at 10:02 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great photos.
I read McPhee's The Control of Nature last year (quoted in the post twice). Over 20 years old, but seems quite current: Mississippi river floods, Icelandic lava flows, California mud/debris slides, and the humans trying to contain them.
posted by MtDewd at 10:32 AM on July 10, 2011



While the decision to exclude the river system below Baton Rouge was driven by the difficulties involved in financing a $17 million project that challenged existing research practices, the fact that all of the Army Corps of Engineers' experiments at the basin model produced data without New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico inevitably colors the validity of the results and raises questions about how much the model is to blame for the rapidly disintegrating Gulf coastline.


The Corps still still, hasn't figured out how louisiana works, and we suffer for it. congress is in the middle of cutting funding for these studies and work like this because it is seen as too "environmental " by hear-no-evil, see-no-evil republicans.
posted by eustatic at 10:43 AM on July 10, 2011


Not quite so large is Riverwalk on Mud Island in Memphis, Tenn. Designed using Corps of Engineers survey and navigational charts, it's a park containing a 30 inches = 1 mile scale model of 954 miles of the Lower Mississippi River from the Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico. It's 2000 ft from "Cairo, Illinois" to the one-acre "Gulf of Mexico."

Other views:

"Virtual Tourist"

Actual Tourist

"Google Sightseeing"

"Condrenrails"
posted by Herodios at 10:52 AM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Note to Army: if you're going to engage in some over-the-top exercise during war-time which might make people seriously question what military budgets get spent on, it's best to choose something that will appeal to people's geek-out fantasies 60 years later, preferably without sacrificing human lives.

Case in point: a costly, destructive search for non-existent WMD's in Iraq= bad.
Whereas: a $20 million theoretical exercise based on the premise that Iraq had built their own Mechagodzilla= awesome.
posted by ShutterBun at 11:16 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aw man, Herodios beat me to it. Visited Mud Island a couple weeks ago. I was entranced; so was my wife. Our less science-ey hosts were less so.

It's really awesome.
posted by notsnot at 11:18 AM on July 10, 2011


Any special effects person will tell you: Water doesn't scale.
posted by Trurl


They should have used liquid helium instead of water.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:46 AM on July 10, 2011


No, wait, that's the wrong direction. They should have used Karo syrup.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:47 AM on July 10, 2011


AsYouKnow Bob clearly wins the thread.
posted by Chipmazing at 11:48 AM on July 10, 2011


As in climate change?

Or as in Galactus?


As in a critical lack of bacon.
posted by happyroach at 11:49 AM on July 10, 2011


The model (at least the concrete remnants) appears to be located here. [via]
posted by dhartung at 1:15 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am pretty sure I toured this a child. I remember it being very large, but only vaguely understanding what it did or why my dad seemed to think it was cool. It turned out my dad had some good ideas after all.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:55 PM on July 10, 2011


2nd the Control of Nature book rec... I'm reading it right now. McPhee is an amazing writer. Makes you realize Atchafalaya's gonna capture the Mississip, no matter how much the Army Corps. of Eng strains to prevent. But also the part where he canoes through the wetlands and goes crawfish fishing w/ old school Cajuns... man it really captures your imagination. I wanna buy a canoe and check out this vast dirty river.

Bay Area scale model is aight. I wish it were more like a model train set though!
posted by jcruelty at 2:08 PM on July 10, 2011


Anyone else get a strong Cave Johnson vibe from this?

“When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! I don’t want your damn lemons, what the hell am I supposed to do with these? Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lemons! I’m gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!”
posted by Sebmojo at 2:21 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am pretty sure I toured this a child.

I initially read this as "I am pretty sure I tortured this child." The sentences which followed still made sense, in a horrifyingly-clinical sort of way.
posted by speedo at 6:41 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I, too, immediately thought of Borges, Bob.
posted by arboles at 9:33 PM on July 10, 2011


They should have used Karo syrup.
Cairo syrup?
posted by MtDewd at 1:13 PM on July 11, 2011


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