Summarizing this, Potter-McIntyre said what her team’s research showed was that the Mississippi River was flowing long before it was commonly believed to have been. Initially, it was believed the Mississippi River began flowing about 20 million years ago. However, because of Potter-McIntyre’s and Breeden’s work, it is now believed to have started flowing 70 million years ago.
The discovery was significant enough to earn a nod from Smithsonian Magazine last month. The article said the “extraordinary new findings” are “helping us better understand the monumental events, beginning in late Cretaceous North America, that gave rise to the Mississippi, swelling it to gargantuan proportions.”
In practical terms, Potter-McIntyre said this could have implications for the oil industry in the region.
“What it says is that the oil could have … become mature in places that they really wouldn’t have thought prior to this,” she said.
Potter-McIntyre said this research was a good example of how science works.
“This isn’t something that we go out, ‘oh hey, look at this,’ and 10 minutes later it’s a thing. It’s a yearslong process of trial and error,” she said. She said the research didn’t start until 2013, wasn’t completed and published until 2017, and wasn’t even recognized until this year.