“On this day in 2000, an expedition led by the National Geographic Society pinpointed the source of the Amazon River as a sheet of water falling from a high cliff in the snowcapped Andes. The newly designated point of origin meant that the official length of the mighty Amazon stretched, albeit barely, beyond that of the Nile–previously considered the longest river in the world.
The Rio Amazonas, as it is known in Portuguese, flows over 6,683 kilometres (4,150 miles) through Peru, Colombia and Brazil before draining into the Atlantic Ocean. Its enormous length is equal to the distance between Rome and New York City. Researchers have long claimed that the Amazon is greater in length than the Nile River. Accurate measurements are nearly impossible given the complexity of the river, not to mention the seasonal climatic shifts. However, the National Geographic-led team staked their claim using advanced Global Positioning System (GPS) navigational tools to identify the glacial water flow in the Peruvian Andes. The point of origin is high on the slope of the Nevado Mismi–some 5,597 metres (18,363 feet) above sea level. Although scientists had previously identified the mountain as the source, it wasn’t until 2000 that it could be verified.
There is still some dispute in regards to its length, but in terms of water flow the Amazon is the undisputed champion. It is responsible for draining two fifths of South America and the region surrounding the Amazon basin contains approximately 20 percent of the planet’s available fresh water. Its annual floods create the Earth’s largest area of flooded forests which result in an incredible eco-region, home to pink freshwater dolphins, giant river turtles, short-tailed monkeys and the hoatzin–a blue-faced tree-dwelling bird.
Explorers have travelled up and down the Amazon for centuries. Early European explorers encountered indigenous people who were highly skilled at navigating the river in their dugout canoes and sailing rafts called jagandas. In the 19th century, exploration began in earnest, leading to considerable exploitation of local people to tap the rubber trees, among other things. Fortunately, following World War II, scientists concerned with the region’s ecological and cultural devastation led several conferences dedicated to the Amazon’s problems–resulting in a treaty dedicated to sound ecological decisions for the future.”
Credit: © John Warburton-Lee Photography / Alamy
Caption: A view of the Nanay River in Peru, one of the many tributaries of the Amazon River.