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The Amazon River, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil

March 17th, 2007 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

The Amazon River or River Amazon (Portuguese: Rio Amazonas; Spanish: Río Amazonas) of South America is the largest river in the world by volume, with greater total river flow than the next eight largest rivers combined, and the largest drainage basin in the world. Because of its vast dimensions it is sometimes called The River Sea. Most sources regard the Amazon as the second longest river; however, some sources disagree. The Amazon has been measured by different geographers as being anywhere between 6,259km/3,903mi and 6,712km/4,195mi long. The Nile River in Africa is reported to be anywhere from at 5,499km/3,437mi to 6,690km/4,180mi long.

The area covered by the water of the River and its tributaries more than triples over the course of a year. In an average dry season 110,000 square km of land are water-covered, while in the wet season the flooded area of the Amazon Basin rises to 350,000 square km.[citation needed] At its widest point the Amazon River can be 11 km/6.8 mi wide during the dry season, but during the rainy season when the Amazon floods the surrounding plains it can be up to 40 km/25 mi wide.

The quantity of fresh water released by the Amazon to the Atlantic Ocean is enormous: up to 300,000 m³ per second in the rainy season. The Amazon is responsible for a fifth of the total volume of fresh water entering the oceans worldwide. Offshore of the mouth of the Amazon, potable water can be drawn from the ocean while still out of sight of the coastline, and the salinity of the ocean is notably lower a hundred miles out to sea.

The Amazon estuary is over 325 km/202 mi wide. The main river (which is between approximately one and six miles wide) is navigable for large ocean steamers to Manaus, 1,500 km (more than 900 miles) upriver from the mouth. Smaller ocean vessels of 3,000 tons and 5.5 m (18 ft) draft can reach as far as Iquitos, Peru, 3,600 km (2,250 miles) from the sea. Smaller riverboats can reach 780 km (486 mi) higher as far as Achual Point. Beyond that, small boats frequently ascend to the Pongo de Manseriche, just above Achual Point.

The Amazon drains an area of some 6,915,000km² (2,722,000 mile²), or some 40 percent of South America. It gathers its waters from 5 degrees north latitude to 20 degrees south latitude. Its most remote sources are found on the inter-Andean plateau, just a short distance from the Pacific Ocean.

The Amazon has changed its course several times. In early Cenozoic times , before the uplifting of the Andes, it flowed westward.[2

The Upper Amazon comprises a series of major river systems in Peru (many of which originate in Ecuador) that flow north and south into the Marañón and Amazon. Among others, these include the following rivers: Morona; Pastaza; Nucuray; Urituyacu; Chambira; Tigre; Nanay; Napo; Huallaga; and Ucayali. Originating in the snow-crested Andes high above Lake Lauricocha in central Peru, the headstream of the Marañón River rises in the glaciers in what is known as the Nevado de Yarupa. Rushing through waterfalls and gorges in an area of the high jungle called the pongos, the Marañón River flows about 1,000 miles from west-central to northeast Peru before it combines with the Ucayali River, just below the provincial town of Nauta, to form the mighty Amazon River. The primary tributaries of the Marañón River are--from south to north--the Crisnejas, Chamayo, Urtcubamba, Cenepa, Santiago, Moroña, Pastaza, Huallaga, and Tiger Rivers (Cavero-Egusquiza 1941:49-51).

The most distant source of the Amazon has only recently been firmly established as a glacial stream on a snowcapped 5,597 metre (18,363 ft) peak called Nevado Mismi in the Peruvian Andes, roughly 160 km west of Lake Titicaca and 700 km S.E. of Lima. The mountain was first suggested as the source in 1971 but this was not confirmed until 2001. The waters from Nevado Mismi flow into the Quebradas Carhuasanta and Apacheta, which flow into the Río Apurímac which is a tributary of the Ucayali which later joins the Marañón to form the Amazon proper. Formally, though, the union of the Ucayali and the Marañón form the Río Amazonas, which changes its name to Solimões on the triple frontier between Peru, Colombia and Brazil, and later changes its name back to the Amazon only after it meets the Rio Negro near Manaus.

After the confluence of Río Apurímac and Ucayali, the river leaves Andean terrain and is instead surrounded by flood plain. From this point to the Marañón, some 1,600 km (1,000 mi), the forested banks are just out of water, and are inundated long before the river attains its maximum flood-line. The low river banks are interrupted by only a few hills, and the river enters the enormous Amazon Rainforest.

The river systems and flood plains in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela whose waters drain into the Solimões and its tributaries are called the "Upper Amazon".

From the east of the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest begins. It is the largest rainforest in the world and is of great ecological significance, as its biomass is capable of absorbing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide. Conservation of the Amazon Rainforest has been a major issue in recent years.

The rainforest is supported by the extremely wet climate of the Amazon basin. The Amazon, and its hundreds of tributaries, flow slowly across the landscape, with an extremely shallow gradient sending them towards the sea: Manaus, 1,600 km (1,000 mi) from the Atlantic, is only 44 m (144 ft) above sea level.

The biodiversity within the rainforest is extraordinary: the region is home to at least 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and some 2,000 birds and mammals. One fifth of all the world's species of birds can be found in the Amazon rainforest.

The diversity of plant species in the Amazon basin is the highest on Earth. Some experts estimate that one square kilometre may contain over 75,000 types of trees and 150,000 species of higher plants. One square kilometre of Amazon rainforest can contain about 90,000 tons of living plants.

The breadth of the Amazon in some places is as much as 6 to 10 km (4 to 6 mi) from one bank to the other[citation needed]. At some points, for long distances, the river divides into two main streams with inland and lateral channels, all connected by a complicated system of natural canals, cutting the low, flat igapo lands, which are never more than 5 m (15 ft) above low river, into many islands.

At the narrows of Óbidos, 600 km (400 mi) from the sea, the Amazon narrows, flowing in a single streambed, 1.6 km (1 mile) wide and over 60 m (200ft) deep, through which the water rushes toward the sea at the speed of 6 to 8 km/h (4 to 5 mph).

From the village of Canaria at the great bend of the Amazon to the Negro 1,000 km (600 mi) downstream, only very low land is found, resembling that at the mouth of the river. Vast areas of land in this region are submerged at high water, above which only the upper part of the trees of the sombre forests appear. Near the mouth of the Rio Negro to Serpa, nearly opposite the river Madeira, the banks of the Amazon are low, until approaching Manaus, they rise to become rolling hills. At Óbidos, a bluff 17 m (56 ft) above the river is backed by low hills. The lower Amazon seems to have once been a gulf of the Atlantic Ocean, the waters of which washed the cliffs near Óbidos.

Only about 10% of the water discharged by the Amazon enters the mighty stream downstream of Óbidos, very little of which is from the northern slope of the valley. The drainage area of the Amazon basin above Óbidos is about 5 million km² (2 million mile²), and, below, only about 1 million km² (400,000 mile²), or around 20%, exclusive of the 1.4 million km² (600,000 mile²) of the Tocantins basin.

In the lower reaches of the river, the north bank consists of a series of steep, table-topped hills extending for about 240 km (150 mi) from opposite the mouth of the Xingu as far as Monte Alegre. These hills are cut down to a kind of terrace which lies between them and the river.

Monte Alegre reaches an altitude of several hundred feet. On the south bank, above the Xingu, an almost-unbroken line of low bluffs bordering the flood-plain extends nearly to Santarem, in a series of gentle curves before they bend to the south-west, and, abutting upon the lower Tapajos, merge into the bluffs which form the terrace margin of the Tapajos river valley.

The waters of the Amazon support a diverse range of wildlife. Along with the Orinoco, the river is one of the main habitats of the Boto, also known as the Amazon River Dolphin. The largest species of river dolphin, it can grow to lengths of up to 2.6 m.

Also present in large numbers are the notorious Piranha, carnivorous fish which congregate in large schools, and may attack livestock and even humans. Although many experts believe their reputation for ferocity is unwarranted, a school of piranha was apparently responsible for the deaths of up to 300 people when their boat capsized near Óbidos in 1981.[citation needed] However, only a few species attack humans, and many are solely fish-eaters, and do not school.

The Anaconda snake is found in shallow waters in the Amazon basin. One of the world's largest species of snake, the Anaconda spends most of its time in the water, with just its nostrils above the surface. Anacondas have been known to occasionally attack fishermen.

The river also supports thousands of species of fish, as well as crabs and turtles.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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