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The Upper Mississippi River is the portion of the Mississippi River upstream of Cairomarker, Illinoismarker, United Statesmarker. From the headwaters at Lake Itascamarker, Minnesotamarker, the river flows approximately 2000 kilometers (1250 mi) to Cairo, where it is joined by the Ohio River to form the Lower Mississippi River.


In terms of geologic and hydrographic history, the Upper Mississippi is a portion of the now-extinct Glacial River Warren which carved the valley of the Minnesota River, permitting the immense Glacial Lake Agassizmarker to join the world's oceans at the Gulf of Mexicomarker. The collapse of ice dams holding back Glacial Lake Duluth and Glacial Lake Grantsburg carved out the Dalles of the Saint Croix River. "The Upper Mississippi River valley likely originated as an ice-marginal stream during what had been referred to as the “Nebraskan” glaciation. Current terminology would place this as Pre-Illinoian Stage."

The Driftless Area is a portion of North America left unglaciated at that ice age's height, hence not smoothed out or covered over by previous geological processes.

Inasmuch as the Wisconsin glaciation formed lobes that met (and blocked) where the Mississippi now flows, and given that huge amounts of glacial meltwater were flowing into the Driftless Area, and that there is no lakebed, it is assumed that there were instances of ice dams bursting. Considering the history of Glacial Lake Missoulamarker, something like this is believed to have happened.


The Upper Mississippi from below St. Anthony Falls (Minneapolismarker, Minnesotamarker) downstream to St. Paul, Minnesota is a gorge with high limestone bluffs carved by the waterfall. Upstream of the waterfall the land slopes gently to rivers edge. Downstream of downtown St. Paul the river enters its wide preglacial valley. The states of Minnesotamarker, Wisconsinmarker and Iowamarker, along with the federal government, have preserved certain areas of the land along this reach of the river.

There are three National Park Service sites along the Upper Mississippi River. The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is the National Park Service site dedicated to protecting and interpreting the Mississippi River itself. The other two National Park Service sites along the river are: Effigy Mounds National Monumentmarker and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorialmarker (AKA The Arch).

The Upper Mississippi River Valley upstream from Prairie du Chien, WI.

Unlike the Lower Mississippi, much of the upper river is a series of pools created by a system of 29 locks and dams. The structures were authorized by Congress in the 1930s, and most were completed by 1940. A primary reason for damming the river is to facilitate barge transportation. The dams regulate water levels for the Upper River, and play a major part in regulating levels on the Lower Mississippi.


On the upper reaches near the Minnesota-Wisconsinmarker border, the river's floodplain is between 1.5 and 5 kilometers (between 1 and 3 mi) wide. South of St. Louismarker, Missourimarker, the alluvial floodplain is approximately 80 kilometers (50 mi) wide. Major tributaries to the Upper Mississippi River include the Missourimarker, Illinois, Minnesota, St. Croix, Black, and Kaskaskia Rivers.

The Upper Mississippi provides habitat for more than 125 fish species and 30 species of freshwater mussels. Three national wildlife refuges along the river cover a total of 465 square kilometers (285,000 ac). The largest of them, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refugemarker, is over 420 kilometers (260 mi) long, reaching from the Almamarker, Wisconsinmarker area down to Rock Islandmarker, Illinoismarker. The refuge consists of blufflands, marshes, bottom-land forest, islands, channels, backwater lakes and sloughs. It is part of the Mississippi Flyway.

Although the river is much “cleaner” than it was in recent decades, water quality is still a priority concern. Agricultural runoff, including sediment, excessive nutrients, (particularly nitrogen and phosphorus), and chemicals from agricultural and industrial sources continue to threaten Upper Mississippi River aquatic resources.In addition new threats continue to emerge such as personal care items including pharmaceuticals and endocrine disrupting chemicals. The five states bordering the Upper Mississippi River are working together to address water quality issues.

There is general agreement that nutrients are contributing to the Gulf Hypoxia and eutrophication problems in Lake Pepin, a large natural riverine lake that is part of Pool 4 of the Upper Mississippi River. National and regional efforts are addressing these problems but nutrient impairment problems are occurring elsewhere in the Upper Mississippi River as well, particularly in off channel portions. Excessive nutrients contribute to thick floating mats of filamentous algae or duckweeds which have a pronounced negative impact on light penetration and may threaten the growth and persistence of submersed aquatic vegetation that is important for fish and aquatic life including waterfowl. Efforts to control nutrients from point and non point sources in the basin will provide additional benefits.


The inland and intercoastal waterways, with the Upper Mississippi highlighted in red.
Navigation locks allow towboats, barges, and other vessels to transit the dams. Approximately 1350 kilometers (850 mi), from the head of navigation near Minneapolis-St. Paulmarker down to Cairo, has been made suitable for commercial navigation with a depth of 2.75 meters (9 ft). The agriculture and barge transportation industries have lobbied in the late 20th and early 21st centuries for a multi-billion dollar project to replace the aging lock and dam system. Some environmental groups and advocates of budgetary restraint argue that the project lacks economic justification.

Each lock & dam complex creates a pool upstream of it. There are 29 locks on the Upper Mississippi maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—from Upper St. Anthony Falls upstream to Chain of Rocks downstream. The locks provide a collective 123 meters (404 ft) of lift. Note that there is a Lock 5 as well as a Lock 5A. Note also that there is no Lock 23.

List of pools and locks

Pool Locality Lock Mile marker (km) Distance (km)
  USAF Pool Minneapolis MNmarker Upper St. Anthony Falls Lockmarker 854 1375    
  LSAF Pool Minneapolis MNmarker Lower St. Anthony Falls Lockmarker 853 1373 1 2
  Pool 1 Minneapolis MNmarker Lock 1marker 848 1365 5 8
  Pool 2 Hastings MNmarker Lock 2marker 815 1312 33 53
  Pool 3 Welch MNmarker Lock 3marker 797 1283 18 29
  Pool 4 Alma WImarker Lock 4marker 753 1212 44 71
  Pool 5 Minnesota City MNmarker Lock 5marker 738 1188 15 24
  Pool 5A Fountain City WImarker Lock 5Amarker 728 1172 10 16
  Pool 6 Trempealeau WImarker Lock 6marker 714 1150 14 23
  Pool 7 La Crescent MNmarker Lock 7marker 703 1132 11 18
  Pool 8 Genoa WImarker Lock 8marker 679 1093 24 39
  Pool 9 Eastman WImarker Lock 9marker 648 1043 31 50
  Pool 10 Guttenberg IAmarker Lock 10marker 615 990 33 53
  Pool 11 Dubuque IAmarker Lock 11marker 583 939 32 52
  Pool 12 Bellevue IAmarker Lock 12marker 557 897 26 42
  Pool 13 Clinton IAmarker Lock 13marker 522 840 35 56
  Pool 14 Le Claire IAmarker Lock 14marker 493 794 29 47
  Pool 15 Rock Island ILmarker Lock 15marker 483 778 10 16
  Pool 16 Illinois City ILmarker Lock 16marker 457 736 26 42
  Pool 17 New Boston ILmarker Lock 17marker 437 704 20 32
  Pool 18 Gladstone ILmarker Lock 18marker 410 660 27 43
  Pool 19 Keokuk IAmarker Lock 19marker 364 586 46 74
  Pool 20 Canton MOmarker Lock 20marker 343 552 21 34
  Pool 21 Quincy ILmarker Lock 21marker 325 523 18 29
  Pool 22 New London MOmarker Lock 22marker 301 485 24 39
  Pool 24 Clarksville MOmarker Lock 24marker 273 440 28 45
  Pool 25 Winfield MOmarker Lock 25marker 241 388 32 52
  Mel Price Pool East Alton ILmarker Melvin Price Lockmarker 201 324 40 64
  Pool 27 Granite City ILmarker Chain of Rocks Lock or Lock 27marker 185 298 16 26


  1. quaternary geology text

See also

External links

  • Upper Mississippi Valley photo archive, a collection of images of the Mississippi Valley along the Iowa/Illinois border, from 1860s through the 1950s. Images are from regional library special collections.

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