An enormous, convoluted waterway crisscrossing one of the planet’s most critical and complex ecosystems, South America’s Amazon rainforest, the Amazon River flows through it. Due to its immense volume and widespread, it is the world’s most powerful river. During the rainy season, it can stretch for about 30 miles (48 kilometers). Animals, trees, and plants of all kinds live in the river and its basin.
At the beginning of its 6,437-kilometer (4,000-mile) trip, the Amazon River crests in the Andes Mountains. Heavy, constant rain is fed by this mountain range’s obstruction of the warm, wet air from the east. Brazil’s north-eastern shore is where the Amazon River ends up in the Atlantic Ocean after a journey through rainforests and lowlands. Even though the Nile River is the world’s longest at 4,258 miles (6,853 kilometers), some experts argue that the Amazon River is the second-longest river in the world because measuring methods vary and there is still some debate over the true source of the Amazon River, making it impossible to determine which river is longer. More than 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are over 930 miles (1,497 kilometers) long, make the Amazon River the world’s greatest drainage system. On Earth’s surface, approximately one-fifth of the water is carried by the Amazon River, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. It has more volume and discharge than the next six greatest rivers put together.
Roots and course of the river
The Amazon River originates in the Peruvian Andes at an elevation of 5,598 meters. The Amazon River begins as a little tributary called the Carhuasanta, only 192 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean. As it travels east, it mixes with the Hornillos, which becomes the Apurimac, an important tributary that eventually joins the Ene, Tambo, and Ucayali.
Following an initial dip in height, the Amazon River steadily descends into the Atlantic Ocean at a rate of 1.5 cm per kilometer over a distance of more than 6,400 miles. The river may reach a width of 10 kilometers in some areas, as much as 1,600 kilometers upriver, and enormous ships can dock up to Iquitos, Peru.
The brown waters of the Amazon River may be seen as far out to sea as 100 kilometers from the mainland, long before the continent can be seen in the distance. The presence of this phenomenon aboard ships going from Europe to South America in the early days of colonization would assist them to establish that they were on the right route before touching land.
According to recent research, over 5,600 species of fish have been identified in the Amazon River, including more than 100 species of electric fish and up to 60 different types of piranhas. The arapaima, also known as the pirarucu, is one of the world’s largest freshwater fish, reaching lengths of up to 15 feet (4.6 meters). It is also one of the world’s largest freshwater fish, reaching lengths of up to 15 feet (4.6 meters). When it comes to river dolphins, the Amazon River dolphin is the largest species on the planet, with a population of over a million individuals. Its color varies as it ages, changing from grey to pink to white in a matter of years. These tropical waterways are also home to a variety of animals, including the massive otter and the Amazonian manatee, among others.
A multinational team of scientists discovered a coral reef system blooming in the Amazon River’s plume, where the river meets the ocean, during a recent excursion to the Amazon.
River water entering the ocean frequently impedes reef establishment by altering salt levels and nutrient availability, as well as light penetration and sedimentation. The Amazon plumes, which can reach as far north as the Caribbean Sea, are especially sensitive to this occurrence.
Patricia Yager is an expedition scientist and associate professor of marine sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia. “The most astonishing feature about these reef systems,” she told Live Science, “Is that corals spend at least a chunk of their year living below a turbid Amazon plume.” “It was unexpected, and we’re still trying to figure out how their metabolism works.”
The Amazon’s turbid plume, which is 65 feet (20 meters) thick, obscures the reefs, which are hundreds of feet below the surface, according to her.
Scientists like Yager are still attempting to figure out how the reef animals survive in such a unique environment. They’re also bordered by a strong current (the North Brazil Current), which keeps them from becoming too muddy, but it may also be providing food particles at a high rate, allowing the reef animals to stop grazing. If their food comes from the river plume, this needs to be looked into more.
Even though these unique reefs, like the Amazon rainforest, are subject to human activity, oil drilling, phosphate mining, and fishing pressure are the most imminent human threats, according to Yager. Nonetheless, because they are located in the tropical surface layer, these reefs are expected to be damaged by ocean acidification and warming caused by human CO2 emissions (oil and gas). Despite this, we know that climate change is altering the tropical water cycle and, consequently, the Amazon River, though these relationships are still being studied.
Approximately two-thirds of the Amazon Basin is covered by a vast rainforest, and as a result, the Amazon River and the rainforest it feeds are inexorably bound together. More than a third of the known species in the world may be found in the Amazon jungle. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, one acre can contain up to 100 arboreal species, with only a handful occurring more than once. For this reason, the Amazon rainforest is frequently referred to as “the Earth’s lungs,” since it functions as an enormous air machine, capturing carbon dioxide and releasing enormous amounts of oxygen necessary for human life.
The rainforest is made up of four separate layers: the canopy, the understory, and the ground. 70% to 90% of the rainforest’s life is found in its canopy. A dense, continuous canopy of these trees rises 60 to 90 feet (18.3 to 27.4 m) above ground and can reach as much as 120 feet in height (36.6 m). Vines connect the branches, which are covered in other plants (epiphytes). A study by the World-Wide Fund for Nature shows that the canopy plays an important role in regulating the region’s climate and humidity, and they say that (WWF).
Large trees, known as emergent, poke out from the canopy to form this layer. These trees can reach a height of up to 200 feet (60 meters). Emerging layer animals include the scarlet macaw, capuchin monkey, and harpy eagle, according to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, the understory layer receives only 2–15% of the area’s total sunshine, making it extremely dark. A lack of sunshine has led to a sparse understory, which frequently contains young trees and other plants that require little sunlight to thrive. In terms of sunlight, the forest floor receives only 2% of the overall amount. Fallen leaves, berries, and seeds, as well as a thin layer of other organic matter, make up this ecosystem.
Amazonian rainforests have been under constant threat from human activity for the past three decades, prompting a surge in conservation efforts to protect the fragile ecology of the region. According to a 2009 study by the British newspaper The Guardian, deforestation in the Amazon basin is attributed in large part to Brazil’s cattle industry.
People in this country of dense forests and few roads still rely heavily on the Amazon River for transportation, particularly indigenous people. It is typical to see riverboats and ships ferrying people from one part of the Amazon to another.
Because of this, an age-old fear of piracy has been brought to the attention of an ever-increasing number of people who depend on the river for transit. According to a study in the New York Times, the present population expansion, coupled with the rise of drug gangs and organized crime in the Amazon basin, has increased the number of hijacking opportunities. Slow-moving riverboats are vulnerable targets for armed robbers, who frequently target them. Ships are frequently captured after dark, and local authorities and police are scrambling to maintain order.