Historic drought brings eerie objects and seawater to the surface of the Mississippi River
In Tennessee, the river dropped to minus-10.75 feet, the lowest level ever recorded there.
After severe drought brought low water levels in Europe’s rivers this summer, revealing archeological finds and eerie hunger stones, the Mississippi River is facing similar conditions—and divulging similar historical oddities.
In Chester, Illinois, the river gauge of the Mississippi dropped to around zero last week, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. Drone video of the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee also reveals how far the 270-mile long river has contracted in recent months. In Memphis, the river dropped to minus-10.75 feet, a the lowest record ever recorded there, according to data from the National Weather Service.
[Related: The numbers show just how devastatingly dry the Western US is right now.]
In downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana, resident Patrick Ford found the shipwrecked remains of the Brookhill, a trading vessel dating back to the early 20th Century. The low-water levels exposed the remains earlier this month. “I immediately texted friends and was like, ‘holy moly, I think I found a ship, a sunken ship!'” Ford told WBRZ, the city’s ABC News affiliate.
Lousiana state archaeologist Chip McGimsey said that they’ve known about the Brookhill for quite some time. “We believe this is a ship that was manufactured in 1896 in Indiana for trade here,” McGimsey explained to WBRZ. This ship along with its sister ship the Istrouma faced destruction. “On September 29th of 1915, there was a big storm… both ships sank.”
Istrouma broke from the ferry dock, but Brookhill stayed grounded in the river. “In 1992, [Brookhill ] was was exposed, an archeological firm did some work. At that time, it was not nearly as exposed as it is now,” McGimsey said.
Further north in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Crystal Foster found human remains while looking for rocks. According to the local county’s Chief Medical Examiner Scotty Meredith, the remains include a lower jawbone, rib bones, and some unidentified bone pieces.
[Related: The American West is drier than it’s been in at least 1,200 years.]
“I just hope that the MBI [Mississippi Bureau of Investigation] works quickly on this case and is able to identify the victim to the dental records at the very least so that way their family can get closure because that would bring me some peace at least,” Foster told WMC, the region’s NBC News affiliate.
Salt water from the Gulf of Mexico is also creeping up the river, and the Army Corps of engineers is building a 1,500 foot wide underwater levee to keep salt out of Louisiana’s drinking water.
According to the US Drought Monitor, severe drought is covering more than 70 percent of Arkansas and close to 40 percent of Missouri, an increase from only five percent in September. Memphis, Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Springfield, Missouri have all seen record-low precipitation over the last few weeks. The area is forecast to get some much needed rain this week from the remnants of Hurricane Roslyn, but the long-term forecast remains incredibly dry. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) anticipates that the region’s drought will persist through January 2023.