Monitoring the Mississippi

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 8, 2010

aquatic vegetation, fish communities, water quality and sediment, as well as navigation impacts, nutrient transport and water level fluctuations.

All field stations use the same gear and methods to ensure consistent and reliable data. The data they collect is transferred electronically to the United States Geological Survey's Upper Midwest Environmental Science Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Thanks to the information collected by the field stations, the environmental science center now is in possession of the largest source of nutrient transport data on the Upper Mississippi. This information is being used to address what is known as the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico.

Years of fertilizer use in the Upper Mississippi River basin has helped create a large area outside the mouth of the Mississippi River so depleted of oxygen it cannot support life.

Data collected by the field stations helps us understand the sources of the nutrients, how they are transported and how we can manage the problem.

The Open River Field Station works to blend the monitoring program with goals of the Missouri Conservation Department. The monitoring program accounts for most of the effort, but the staff also is active in research,coordination with other agencies and outreach and education.

The research is primarily dedicated to developing new and more efficient sampling techniques and to understanding the ecology of rare animals or communities in the river. Because the Mississippi River near Cape Girardeau is big, deep, muddy and swift, biologists have had difficulty studying it. Until the Open River Field Station was established, virtually nothing was known about the river's ecology and how to adequately sample it.

Open River Field Station biologists are continually developing new techniques to capture organisms that live in these waters. One new sampling technique is a trawl designed to capture small fishes and the young of large fishes. The experiments have led to discoveries of rare animals thought to be gone, or nearly so, in the open Mississippi River.

In 1998, Open River Field Station biologists used the trawl to capture a pallid sturgeon measuring only about 3 inches long. It was the first time a young-of-the-year pallid sturgeon was captured in the wild.

Pallid sturgeon belong to an ancient order of fishes that have managed to survive to modern times. They were once common in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Around the turn of the century, this species comprised a large percentage of the commercial fishery catch in those rivers.

Pallid sturgeon

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