In late January, 2013, heavy sediment poured from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers, staining the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. A large tan plume surrounded the Mississippi delta, while the waters of Vermillion Bay and West Cote Blanche Bay, turning those waters so brown that was difficult to discern the boundaries of Marsh Island from the muddy waters from space. At the edges of the plumes, where the sediment begins to sink, the stain turns green; further along the edges the sediment-stain appears blue.
At high resolution, the swamps of Marsh Island are more easily visible in the tan soup, as are the spectacular twists of the rivers, which are mud-filled through the entire image. To the east, the waters of Mobile Bay also carry significant sediment.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on January 23, after several weeks of rain and snow fell across the Mississippi River basin. The region has been suffering from drought conditions, with earlier predictions suggesting that the water level in the Mississippi could threaten an all-time low water record of 6.2 feet below normal set in 1940. Should that occur, barges, most of which required nine feet of water, would find navigation difficult.
Shortly after this image was captured, the river level in St. Louis was reported to be down more than four feet below normal. By January 29 the level stood at 2.86 below normal, with hope to see a rise to about 1.4 feet below normal by early February.