A Landing a Day

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Posts Tagged ‘New Madrid Earthquakes’

Little River, Arkansas

Posted by graywacke on February 1, 2016

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-every-three-or-four days blog), I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”  I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location.  To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is) please see “About Landin above.

Landing number 2243; A Landing A Day blog post number 671.

Dan:  After an Arkansas landing, what do I do?  Why, I landed once again in . . . AR!  Of course, this makes my Score go up (from 1123 to 1126).  Have no clue what I’m talking about?  Check out my Grand Rapids Post.  Don’t care?  Just continue reading!

So this was my 57th double (where I landed in the same state two times in a row).  This was the second double for Arkansas, the first being landings 516 and 517 (August 2004).

Here’s my regional landing map:

landing 1

And my very local landing map:

landing 2a


Obviously, (based on the title of this post), there will be more about Little River coming up (and more about the peculiarly-named Left Hand Chute).

Zooming back a little, here’s a not-so-local landing map:

landing 2b

As it turns out, my watershed analysis is very central to this entire post, so I think I’ll jump first to my Google Earth (GE) spaceflight in to NE AR.  Click HERE, enjoy the trip, and then hit your “back” button.

I have excellent GE Street View (SV) coverage; here’s a map:

ge landing sv map


And here’s what the orange dude sees.

ge landing sv

Look back up at my local landing map and you’ll notice the “town” of Little River.  It would be a fair guess that I’m featuring that town for this post.  Fair guess, but wrong.

Let’s use GE to take a closer look at this thriving metropolis:

ge little river town

I won’t bother showing you a closer-in look, but there are five or six homes there.  The town has no internet presence at all.  Nothing in Wiki, no entry on the Encyclopedia of Arkansas website (which is a great website with lots of detail).  So what’s going on?

Well, as mentioned above, this post turned on my watershed analysis.  So here’s my typical local streams-only map:

landing 3a

So, I landed in the watershed of the Left Hand Chute of the Little River.  As you can see, with just a little poking around, I discovered that there is also a Right Hand Chute of the Little River.  But zooming back (and losing a lot of waterway detail), it sure looks like the Left Hand Chute of the Little River doesn’t do what might be expected:

landing 3bb


It doesn’t hook up with the Right Hand Chute; in fact, the Right Hand Chute seems to have disappeared altogether, replaced by the nattily-named “Ditch 2”; and there is no plain ol’ Little River anywhere to be seen. 

Mysteriouser and mysteriouser . . . 

So what the heck.  I took the plunge and Googled “Left Hand Chute Little River.”  I saw that the Encyclopedia of Arkansas had an entry entitled “Little River (Northeast Arkansas).”  Google being Google, I knew that the article must reference that pesky Left Hand Chute somewhere.  And it did.

Here are some excerpts:

The Little River starts in southeast Missouri, and flows southward.  After crossing the Missouri-Arkansas state line, it enters the Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Manila. Running a length of 148 miles, the Little River is a tributary of the St. Francis River.

Before the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811–1812, the Little River was a swift, free-flowing stream. In the twenty-first century, it is not much more than a series of stagnant mud holes due to the channeling and ditching of the Little River Drainage District.

Wow.  This is really getting interesting.  The Little River is (or was) 148 miles long, but lost its identity because of the New Madrid Earthquakes?  This is getting my geological juices flowing!  Continuing:

Before the 1811–1812 earthquakes, the Little River was fed by the Whitewater River.  Flatboats traveled and traded up and down the Little River and made connection to the St. Francis River.

However, the three major earthquakes of 1811–1812 changed that. Travel by flatboats to and on the Little River became impossible, and the connections to the St. Francis River had also disappeared. Falling trees and caving banks had blocked the river and bayous connecting them. Natural depressions made by the quakes soon filled with water, forming lakes and swamps.

Water could no longer move smoothly downstream through the Little River channel. The flow was forced out of the channel and spread through the hardwood forest lining the river bank. Yearly spring floods forced the water deeper into the woods. What had been small area of lowlands became major wetlands.

Between 1914 and 1929, the Little River Drainage District was formed to drain an area ninety miles long and ten to twenty miles wide. This was accomplished by digging 958 miles of ditches and building 304 miles of levee.

The area is heavily channeled, with the Little River losing most of its identity.  The floodway leaving the Big Lake area is roughly one mile wide enclosed by ten-foot levees.

Finally!  Here comes the reference to the Left Hand Chute:

Running through the floodway are waterways that include various numbered ditches as well as the Left Hand Chute of Little River and the Right Hand Chute of Little River.

Well there you have it.  Being the watershed nerd that I am, I rolled up my sleeves to get a closer look.  Using the Streams Only feature of StreetAtlas, I found a couple of stretches of stream that were actually identified as “Little River.”  The stretches didn’t connect with each other, so I added some blue lines (and added the location of New Madrid for reference):

landing 3d

Peculiarly, it looks like the very upstream portion of the Little River actually connects with another stream or river.  Hey.  That’s not how nature works, so I took a closer look:

landing 3e

So the Whitewater River (which, as mentioned in the Encyclopedia  of Arkansas article, flows to the Little River) seems to begin very closer to a waterway labeled “Headwaters Access,” whatever the heck that is.  Wow.  Thanks to the earthquakes, this is one screwed up watershed.

Going back to my landing area.  The E of A article mentioned 958 miles of canals and ditches.  Here’s a patch of said waterways near my landing:

landing 3b

Before I forget, this is my first landing in the Little River watershed.  The Little (sort of) discharges to the St. Francis (5th hit, making the St. Francis the 162nd river on my list of rivers with 5 or more hits).  Here’s a map showing the St. Francis discharging into the MM (879th hit):

landing 3c

Before focusing on the New Madrid Earthquakes, here’s a GE map showing SV coverage for the Left Hand Chute:

ge sv left hand map

And here’s what the orange dude sees:

ge sv left hand

So now you know my hook (the New Madrid Earthquakes) and how I found it.  I immediately had the feeling that I had never featured the New Madrid Earthquakes on this blog, and a quick search proved that out.  It’s about time!

I’ll start with a USGS map showing the earthquake zone:

100628.New.Madrid.EQ usgs

From Wiki, here’s a quick rundown on the series of quakes in 1811 and 1812:

  • December 16, 1811 (2:15 a.m.); (mag. 7.5 -7.9) epicenter in northeast Arkansas.
  • December 16, 1811 (aftershock) (8:15 a.m.); (mag. 7.4) epicenter in northeast Arkansas. This shock followed the first earthquake by five hours and was similar in intensity.
  • January 23, 1812 (9:00 a.m.); (mag. 7.3 -7.6) epicenter in the Missouri Bootheel.
  • February 7, 1812 (3:45 a.m.); (mag. 7.5 -8.0) epicenter near New Madrid, Missouri. New Madrid was destroyed. In St. Louis, Missouri, many houses were severely damaged, and their chimneys were toppled. Uplift along a segment of the ruptured fault (now known as the Reelfoot fault) created temporary waterfalls on the Mississippi at Kentucky Bend, created waves that propagated upstream, and caused the formation of Reelfoot Lake by obstructing streams in what is now Lake County, Tennessee,

To keep us all oriented, here’s a map showing Reelfoot Lake:

landing reelfoot lake

What an amazing sequence.  Four very large earthquakes (just one termed an aftershock), all about the same magnitude, all very powerful.  It’s hard to imagine the damage and chaos that this same series of earthquakes would cause today.

Here are some great eye-witness descriptions (from Wiki):

John Bradbury was on the Mississippi on the night of December 15, 1811, and describes the tremors in great detail in his Travels in the Interior of America in the Years 1809, 1810 and 1811.

After supper, we went to sleep as usual: about ten o’clock, and in the night I was awakened by the most tremendous noise, accompanied by an agitation of the boat so violent, that it appeared in danger of upsetting … I could distinctly see the river as if agitated by a storm; and although the noise was inconceivably loud and terrific, I could distinctly hear the crash of falling trees, and the screaming of the wild fowl on the river, but found that the boat was still safe at her moorings.

By the time we could get to our fire, which was on a large flag in the stern of the boat, the shock had ceased; but immediately the perpendicular banks, both above and below us, began to fall into the river in such vast masses, as nearly to sink our boat by the swell they occasioned … At day-light we had counted twenty-seven shocks.

Pretty intense, eh?  And the riverbanks all collapsed into the river!

Eliza Bryan in New Madrid, wrote the following eyewitness account in March 1812.

On the 16th of December, 1811, about two o’clock, a.m., we were visited by a violent shock of an earthquake, accompanied by a very awful noise resembling loud but distant thunder, but more hoarse and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by the complete saturation of the atmosphere, with sulphurious vapor, causing total darkness. The screams of the affrighted inhabitants running to and fro, not knowing where to go, or what to do—the cries of the fowls and beasts of every species—the cracking of trees falling, and the roaring of the Mississippi— the current of which was retrograde for a few minutes, owing as is supposed, to an irruption in its bed— formed a scene truly horrible.

As a geologist, I should roll up my sleeves and try to understand the underlying geologic setting of the New Madrid Seismic Zone.  But what I should do and what I actually do are not always aligned.  I’ll settle with this brief (and vague) Wiki write-up:

The underlying cause of the earthquakes is not well understood, but modern faulting seems to be related to an ancient geologic feature buried under the Mississippi River alluvial plain, known as the Reelfoot Rift. The New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) is made up of reactivated faults that formed when what is now North America began to split apart during the breakup of the supercontinent Rodinia (about 750 million years ago). Numerous faults were created along the rift. The resulting fault system failed but has remained as an aulacogen (a scar or zone of weakness) deep underground.

That’s enough for me!

It’s time to put a wrap on this post.  Here’s a GE shot near my landing showing numerous Pano shots up near Big Lake):

ge pano shot map

I picked three for your viewing pleasure.  I’ll start with this shot of a cypress tree by Duckman870:

pano duckman870

And then this watery vista by RedCloudSky:

pano redcloudsky

I’ll close with a sunset shot, also by RedCloudSky:

pano redcloudsky2

That’ll do it . . .




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