In 1943, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction on a scale model that could test flooding in all 1.25 million square miles of the Mississippi River. It would be a three-dimensional map of nearly half of the continental United … Continue reading →
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety nine percent invisible. I'm roman Mars in eighteen. Eighty three Samuel Clemens, Alias Mark TWAIN, published his memoirs light on the Mississippi in it TWAIN describes his love for the Great River and how it can his imagination from boyhood? In fact, The pending mark TWAIN he's probably Reference to what a deck hand on the Mississippi River boat would call out. Indicate a depth of two fathoms. He's a recordings Moreall steamboat worker from nineteen thirty nine TWAIN would have heard this call many times as a young man who worked as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi? This was a job that were hired him to learn everything there is to know about the river
that's a lie in Cairo he's a reporter. At New Orleans, public radio working on steamboats Dwayne, would come to memorize every shoal Bend Rock Island bluff, reef, wind reef, Eddie snags sandbar He would learn how all those things changed when the river was high when it was low income. Breezes, high winds, nighttime and daytime tween wrote. The face of the water became wonderful book, never once a man mortal loved working on the river, but he found it came with a price, as he gained knowledge about the workings of the Mississippi. He beat and to lose something too his sense of wonder about the great river tween writes about this in his memoirs last chance. It could never be restored to me while I, then all the grace and beauty, the poet
had gone out of the majestic river. But not everyone had such a complicated relationship with the river for men the people who live near the Mississippi. It was simple. The river as a force to be reckoned with. When you talk, the Mississippi River. To me, it's not something scenic. It's this great force of enormous, power. This is John, bury an expert on the rivers history he's arrived on the Levy Board of New Orleans and has written extensively about the Mississippi and the thing to know about the river, especially back then, was that it flooded all the time. A river flawed, or at least I flood like the Mississippi. You can see it coming four weeks. You fight it for weeks, In nineteen, twenty seven people knew the river was coming for them.
Straight months. The middle of the country had been getting hit, nearly non stop with rain, and the previous winter there'd been tremendous snowfall upriver in Minnesota, which was now washing downstream. The levies were strained. An inventory of nineteen twenty seven they started giving out twice and flight was probably poorer, sank, a train roughly a million Americans. Roughly a million Americans, one percent of the entire population of the country at the time, we're flattened out of their homes that spring a hundred and forty I've levies along the lower river fail. Twenty seven thousand square miles across ten states were put under water, is unclear. How many people die because for one thing, official counts didn't include black people, but the day Tal was likely upwards of a thousand on April thirtieth. Ninety Twenty seven, then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, discuss the flood on
national radio broadcasts. Everything, only possible is being done by men of magnificent courage and skill and as a battle Hence the on rush. It's a great model, what's the engineers are directing gotta, remember this enormous news dominated the front pages. Lindbergh flu across the Atlantic in the middle will flood, that's the only thing that knocked off the top of the news and after the flight, the flood was back on Wake up. The flood Congress essentially declared war on the Mississippi River by passing, a law called the Flood Control ACT of nineteen. Twenty eight are part of a twenty. Eight act involve studying, basically every major River Basin, a river basin is all the land that water flows through on its weight or river. So, for example, If it rains and South Dakota anywhere in the whole state That rain will eventually make its way to the Mississippi, which means that South Dakota
is part of the Mississippi River Basin, even though its actually pretty far from the Mississippi River in nineteen, twenty eight Congress decided to study rivers and their basins, especially the Mississippi and its enormous basin, which includes more than thirty states and not just study them, but also change them. The flood control ACT charged the. U S: Army core of engineers with designing and executing a plant. Corral and maneuver the Mississippi to better manage its absence flows so that future disasters could be it. But the army core of engineers faced a dilemma. We're control system that they had been tasked with creating needed to be huge much bigger than anything they'd ever built before, and they didn't want to just jump into building something until they knew it would work they started. Can struggling scale models of different parts of the Mississippi River Basin In order to understand the mechanics of the river, the earliest ones were just ditches cut into the dirt with water running through them. The models
helped forecast flooding in Saint Louis. The impact of a damn construction in Ohio, the workings spill ways in New Orleans and Florida, but the Mccormick engineers wanted away to test the entire river system, all at once, and so in nineteen forty one, they started building a model to represent all one point to five million square miles of the Mississippi River Basin. When you think The scale model you might be thinking of something you can peer into a museum, not so with this one. This would be bigger than anything that could ever fit into it. This place is a jungle out there. The Mississippi Basin model located just outside of Jackson, Mississippi is a scale. Replica of the entire basin region, an area that spans from Appalachia to the rocky mountains. Nearly half of the Continental United States, we'll have to crawl through here sure hope we don't Quit lit its business and stuff.
I went out to see the model with a woman named Janey VON. She used to work at the model as a technician before was decommissioned in the early nineties. Jeanne showed me how to sneak in right through a wall of poison. Ivy register always flakes will you no kind of now we're also there with former project engineer Wayne O Neill. Why don't I quit now that we ve made it through the ivy. We make our way to this enormous we're in this. Lazy, Mississippi, base a model in knowledge, did we base a model, in all its glory. Mine is looking down in a three dimensional mouth. A completely man made landscape full of hills and reduce in a bit winding riverbed every
but of the model, represents two thousand feet in the real world. If you take a good step, he stepped off a mouth it's hard to overstate. How enormous this model is is about to and a half times the size of Disneyland. One hundred in twenty five city blocks. I saw pictures online, but this does not prepared to see the thing It's awesome, isn't it It's just also. You just can't take it land at once janian way and tell me that you can really only see all the edges of it. If you climb up this for story, observation tower, there's also a war. Utter tower looming above the modern, with dozens of types shooting off in every direction in the pump houses and spigots these big hulking machines and strange looking instruments dot the landscape, what they had envisioned when they built this. It was just
fantastic back. When the model was operational, there were little signs for pretty much every town in the region. There would be one for Vicksburg and rolling fork and all along this. Funds gone now, but Jane. Still knows the geography of this place by heart. We're right. Combating rouge, so you can go from there Rouge up to Saint Louis. In about ten minutes, the army core of engineers started work on the Mississippi Basin model in nineteen, forty one and at first they faced. Massive. Labour shortage has started Molly came about their more to no labour was of Everybody was off at war. There wasn't troops, are people here to do it so they built a belt. I became here to supply the Labour Durham prisoners of war or helped with every facet of the construction and it did the groundwork and to pay
Murphy lay out and the dryness system for the mob. By now, Eighteen, forty nine the model was ready staff of six. Hundred engineers and technicians would calibrate the model by recreating past floods in the region, then they'd forecast newsletter, they would run thousands of gallons of water through the model recording the waters Height movement, after it was all done. They change. Few variables and run it again more sandbags over here openness spilling over there. They played around with the model gathering data on how each piece of the river system affected the whole. Then they could use, that data to come up with better plans for the future like they didn't nineteen. Fifty two when council blow sincerely. Iowa were threatened with a flood in nineteenth fifty two. The model predicted where the Ladys were gone over top overtime
as in where the water would spill over the levy, and so they ran the model night and day as they were fighting the flood. What they were doing us and is not on our top here it'll over top here put your sandbags, but you work in this area and of eight predicted stages within two tenths of a foot meaning the model mimic the actual behaviour of the Mississippi to within inches, he was credited Save and over fifty million dollars and damage in fifty two beds. Half a billion dollars in today's money. The Mississippi base and model was amazingly accurate, a dealing with these incredibly complex, hyper, specific problems, model saved, the government, millions and millions of dollars. While it was an operation and spared people from the kinds of disastrous flooding that had happened back in nineteen, twenty, seven but two hundred acres of pipes and pumps and machinery in earth, movers and staff of hundreds were expensive to maintain the costs got even harder to justify after the advent of the computer lights.
These are the seventies. There is big push to go into numerical models, and that means computers right, mathematics, The numerical, modeled, Paypal and core looked at them I said, well, we don't need any more expensive, too expensive, Julie, the Mississippi Basin model lost its funding. We saw the handwriting on the wall and it was closing down the computer models. Word is good, but they were good enough and the army core could not or would not pay for the jacket. Take river basin model anymore, the model. Was used in a diminish capacity until nineteen. Ninety three, when it was closed, forgets today. It's completely derelict and this place is depressing Every time I come out here is worse. Lotta labour. There's a lot of love and effort and went into this thing, and it is just abandoned.
I guess I was a teenager. This would be my number one come get high and get in trouble spot exactly exactly the pipes and I'm houses. Raw rotting in rusting away and in the model the earth and mud and water of all dried up. Now, it's just a dishevelled mass of concrete and wire match our fate the regional exam drawings this place. Those engineers were engineers. I would be doing good to sharpen pencil. You never mind that came up with all those pieces of equipment within the knowledge they had in the forties and they're coming up with ways to protect people and make this step work. You just don't see engineering feet like that. Every day now in a normal public radio story. This would be the part where we would bemoan the death of craftsmanship and remark on all the things we ve lost by choosing virtual things over fiscal once, but before you get, to Misty. I'd have to say you weren't any fireworks
guy pretty good you get any poison the other I didn't. I didn't two weeks after go into the basin model, Ryan met Janey at the: U S, army, engineer, research and Development Centre, Burdick Short in the Burg Mississippi. I keep forgetting that you actually work for the army and Light badge in the real deal. Now. No doubt yeah walking round Ervic feels like being on the backlog of a Hollywood studio RO after row of big hangers full of miniature landscapes, hangers over there There is over there. Hangers with model a model and model a model, just land up, engineer, zip around and trucks and golf cart, they test all kinds of things here, including of the things that have nothing to do with water, in one hangar. I saw engineers developing a temporary airplane runway there,
we're driving over it. With a modified dumptruck on fourteen for tyres to stimulate the weight of a plain, but mostly ervic, scale models of rivers and dams and water projects smaller, more manageable ones than the Mississippi so we're looking at bluestone dam in in turn, West Virginia its on the new river, a place that actually did flood recently and the army. Cores models helped to manage that flood. The MC were also uses the models as a public relations tool the core invites people from local communities. Over to Iraq they can see how new projects like building new navigation channels or removing old dams will affect the area into nears. At Artic, say they take community feedback and incorporate that into their designs, but here's the most surprised thing I learned about these physical models. The rest The engineer continue to rely on them is because today into
Sixteen we still not have the computers or the science to do all the things that physical models can do, there's actually this realm of human knowledge of physical behaviour and how the earth works. That we don't understand. This is Stanford a senior hydraulic engineer for the army, for this is a guy with a ph. And three masters degrees, and even the math he can do isn't sufficient to fully described what happens in a river. I think that there needs to be a little bit of scientific humility to say well, maybe some of these processes are outside of our reach, or at least outside of the reach of our generation. Are we going allegedly when Albert Einstein, son huh, hydraulic engineering get to the some of the most complicated matter is allegedly when Albert Einstein, Son HANS, said he wanted to study how sediment moves Underwater Einstein asked,
why he wanted to work on something so complicated. The physics involved have non such a small scale that we still have an built equations complex enough to capture them, and so Stanford Gibson a word. Class. Numerical modular is actually one of the most ardent supporters of physical model, because a fiscal mottled doesn't require equations at all. The physical model will stimulate the processes, on its own and even at Stanford Gibson develops new numerical models, the process is inherently tied to the natural world. When I started new Project I go and I rented kayak and I followed the river because there are too many processes that you don't understand that you can't represent an equations. Four Stanford, the more time you spend on a river, the more you learn secrets kind of like Mark TWAIN and all those years, he spent working on steamboats law learning to read the Mississippi like a book. You know
Did you ever read Mark TWAIN Life on the Mississippi? I did so. You remember that whole lake, maybe a hundred pages near the beginning. Where he's talking about them The city for him was like this magical. Mystical thing imbued with mystery and that, once he learned the river that was lost to him forever, I remember that moment exactly because that is, I not my understand of science down the idea that science Miss defies the world. I just don't Understand that I feel, like the kind of deeper the scientific rather like? Oh, the bigger and grandeur and more magical the world seems and the same goes for going down the rabbit holes of history in engineering and mathematics and design. If there's one thing I believe more than anything Is there no ice cream? Its wonder.
Ninety nine percent abysmal, was produced this week by Ryan Khilakku seem Greenspan in Delaney, Hall was review, said Katy, mingle, critical stead, Avery, gentlemen and me roman moors. Mark TWAIN was played by KEN Toys and Herbert Hoover Luxury Fuse s alone. Music in this episode came from some of our favorite favorite musicians include. Mother tone, melodious and ok coming you get a full list at ninety nine p I dot org This episode is part of Pierre axes stories in science projects supported by the outward Peace Loan foundation, to enhance public understanding of science, technology and economic performance. We are,
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.