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Agriculture Alters Mississippi

Riverboat on Mississippi River, New Orleans

The hand bone's connected to the wrist bone, the wrist bone's connected to the arm bone, and so on and so on.

That was a great campfire song. Turns out it illustrates a key environmental concept as well.

Here's how. Researchers from Yale and Louisiana State Universities, treasure hunters of sorts, discovered a collection of hundred-year-old data in the attic of a New Orleans water treatment plant. The old documents provided scientists with a peek back in time at the water quality of the Mississippi as it poured into the Gulf of Mexico.

They concluded that farming practices -- like modern irrigation and drainage -- are most likely responsible for the increases in the amount of water and carbon in the Mississippi. The river meanders down through the Midwest states to the ocean. The ocean then absorbs the carbon dioxide the river contained and becomes more acidic, which in turn makes it more difficult for creatures like crabs and lobsters to form hard shells.

So, here's the refrain to our little song. The carbon runoff is connected to the cornfield that's connected to the stream, that's connected to the ocean, that's connected to the crab... that could have been your dinner! You get the picture.

Script by Bob Rhein