Mississippi River, the chief river of North America and one of the largest in the world. Its length is 2,348 miles (3,779 km). It is often called Old Man River and the Father of Waters. The name Mississippi comes from two Indian words that mean “great river” or “great water.”
The Mississippi begins at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Its mouth, in Louisiana, consists of many distributaries, or branches, that fan out over a vast delta. Chief among the branches are the Main, North, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and Grand passes.
In its course to the sea, the Mississippi touches or flows through 10 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Hundreds of sand bars and islands dot the river.
The Mississippi is a slow-moving stream; it drops only about two-thirds of a foot per mile (about 13 centimeters per kilometer). Normally the river flows at a rate of 2 to 3 miles per hour (3.2 to 4.8 km/h) during low water, 6 to 9 miles per hour (9.7 to 14.5 km/h) during high. Despite its sluggishness, the Mississippi carries an enormous volume of water—about 785,000 million cubic yards (600,000,000,000 m 3)a year. Only a few of the world's great rivers have such a tremendous flow. In the water are silt and other material eroded from the basin. Each year the Mississippi deposits an estimated 360,000,000 to 450,000,000 metric tons of debris in the gulf, an average of 290 to 360 metric tons from each square mile (110 to 140 metric tons from each square kilometer) in the basin.
The valley and the river divide into two parts: the Upper Mississippi, above the mouth of the Ohio River, and the Lower Mississippi, below it. In both sections the valley is flat, wide, and occasionally lined by bluffs. The Lower Valley is extremely broad, up to 200 miles (320 km) in width. Geologically, it is delta land, for the entire surface of the land was formed by Mississippi sediments. Across it loop giant meanders and oxbow lakes.