Massive Map


SCALE MODEL: This model is bigger than two basketball courts. It represents a 14,000-square-mile portion of the land around the Mississippi River.


What covers the space of two basketball courts, weighs as much as an airplane, and is a powerful tool to help protect the environment? A giant, working model of the lower Mississippi River

Scientists at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge created the structure from 216 panels of dense foam. Using computer-guided tools, they carved each dip of the riverbed and curve in the coastline where the river empties into the ocean. Scientists can pump water into the model to simulate flooding from rainfall or rising sea levels. Or they can dump in grit to see how shifting sediment will affect the river and surrounding areas

“We are able to reproduce one year of changing conditions on the Mississippi River in about one hour on the model,” says Clinton Willson, director of the university’s Center for River Studies. Ultimately, the model will help scientists better protect coastal wetlands. These water-logged areas help prevent flooding and provide homes for many animal species.


FLEEING THE FLOOD: People escape rising waters on the Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.