In 1944, Harold Fisk had been following ghosts for three years. His ghosts were of the meandering Mississippi.
A river, big or small, doesn’t stay still – as its waters flow it carves out new paths in a route towards its ultimate destination. Over time, the bends and curves of what seems like a static river snakes into new outlines. By looking at the geologic evidence, you can even map many of the paths a river once took – like looking at the past lives of the waters, the river’s ghosts.
In a report for the US Army Corps of Engineers, in 1944 Fisk had completed a mammoth effort entitled, “Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River” (downloadable here). It was his best attempt at tracking the meanderings of the Mississippi’s present and past bends, visualized as gorgeous maps.
Of course, mapping over 2,000 miles of river and its previous structure based on the available physical evidence is a tall order (though Fisk completed the project in three years, which is unbelievable), so many of the colorful curves in Fisk’s maps are a combination of speculation, interpretation, and extrapolation. Nevertheless, his maps are an incredible visualization of a living river.
And here are all 15 maps, laid end-to-end. It’s the Mississippi in all its forms:
These are some of the most beautiful maps I have ever seen, especially considering that these were created in a time without computer graphics. They are astounding works of non-fiction, though it’s hard for me not to see Tetsuo’s mutated robo-arm in some of them.
You can download the hi-res versions of Fisk’s maps here.
Kyle Hill is the Science Editor of Nerdist Industries. Follow on Twitter @Sci_Phile.