All the rivers of Mississippi drain into the Gulf of Mexico, either directly or by way of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi follows a meandering course along the state’s western edge. The river was designated the state line in 1817, but subsequent shifts in its sluggish course transferred small sections of Louisiana and Arkansas to points east of the river, while some sections of Mississippi are now on the western bank. During the flood season the surface of the river in its lower course is elevated more than 3 m (10 ft) above the surface of the land. As a result, artificial levees and other flood-control structures are needed to contain the river.
The major tributaries of the Mississippi in the state include the Yazoo, Big Black, and Homochitto rivers. The Yazoo River flows generally southward across the Mississippi Alluvial Plain between the Mississippi River and the Bluff Hills. It is formed by the junction of the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha rivers and joins the Mississippi at Vicksburg.
The major rivers draining directly to the gulf are the Pearl and Pascagoula. The Pearl is fed by the Yockanookany and the Strong rivers. In its lower reaches the Pearl forms 187 km (116 mi) of the state line between Louisiana and Mississippi, the boundary following the East Pearl River when the river divides below Picayune. The West Pearl River flows through Louisiana. The Pascagoula, fed by the Leaf and Chickasawhay rivers, enters the Gulf of Mexico about 30 km miles (about 20 mi) east of Biloxi.
The northeastern section of the state is drained by tributaries of the Tennessee River and the headwaters of the Tombigbee River.
Mississippi has no large natural lakes. The chief lakes in the state are all artificially created reservoirs behind dams. The largest lakes include Arkabutla Lake, on the Coldwater River, a tributary of the Tallahatchie; Sardis Lake, on the Tallahatchie; Enid Lake, on the Yocona River, a tributary of the Tallahatchie; Grenada Lake, on the Yalobusha; and Ross Barnett Reservoir, on the Pearl River. In addition, there are numerous oxbow lakes and other standing water bodies on the Mississippi Alluvial Plain.
Oxbow lakes are formed when a river cuts through the neck of one of its loops, or meanders, thus establishing a shorter course and leaving the former loop as a lake separate from the river.
Mississippi’s coastline on the Gulf of Mexico measures only 71 km (44 mi) in a straight line, but has a total length, including all bays, inlets, and promontories, of 578 km (359 mi). The coastline is extremely irregular. Offshore lies a series of low barrier islands, of which the largest are Cat, Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois islands. Behind the islands and partly protected by them from the gulf lies Mississippi Sound, which is traversed in part by the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. "Mississippi" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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