Major Rivers of the World: Names & Locations

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  • 0:04 The Importance of Rivers
  • 0:36 The Mississippi River
  • 1:26 The Amazon River
  • 2:23 The Nile River
  • 3:19 The Mekong & The Ganges Rivers
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

Although you might think of rivers as swimming holes, they have an entire host of benefits that are important for plants, animals, and humans. In this lesson, we'll look at five of the most important rivers of the world, the Mississippi, Amazon, Nile, Mekong, and Ganges.

The Importance of Rivers

Rivers have been an important part of human and animal life since the beginning of time. Although it might be hard to see the importance of rivers in your daily life, particularly if you live in a city, you might be surprised at what they do. Rivers not only provide drinking water for animals, but even us humans in the city. They also act as fisheries, providing us with delicious seafood.

There's more to it than just fish though - rivers host an entire range of species, creating the biodiversity necessary for a delicate ecosystem. Today, we'll look at five rivers in detail, examining their location and characteristics.

The Mississippi River

Picture setting off on an adventure in the early 1800s. The president of the United States has just commissioned you to take a boat ride up the Mississippi River to explore uncharted territory. Not known to you at the time, the Mississippi River, which stretches from Minnesota down to the Gulf of Mexico, is over 2,300 miles long, ranging between 20 feet and 11 miles wide. With your trusty keelboat, you're ready to take on the challenge with your team.

Although this depiction of the famous expedition of Lewis and Clark is history, the Mississippi River is still incredibly important today. Connecting Itasca in Minnesota with the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, it supports a large amount of wildlife, particularly in the Mississippi Delta marshes, which are rich in endangered species, like the green sea turtle. The watershed covers 31 states and two Canadian provinces, acting as a water source for many communities and agriculture.

The Amazon River

Imagine a place so rich in plant and animal life that many species are yet to be discovered. Pink dolphins frolic, while flesh-eating fish find their next victim. Monkeys howl from the trees and carnivorous plants try to trap insects instead of the other way around. This is the Amazon Basin in South America. This region is filled with dense jungle supplied with nutrients and water from the Amazon River, the longest river in the world. The Amazon spans well over 4,200 miles, beginning high up in the Andes mountains and traveling through Brazil to the Pacific Ocean. The Amazon isn't just long either: at some points, the river stretches over 1,700 miles wide.

Like explorers in North America, native tribes used the Amazon River for thousands of years as a means of transportation. It also provides a water source for local tribes, as well as supports plants and animals needed for medicine, food, and shelter. Even people in the United States depend on resources from the Amazon that are supported by the river, such as rubber, fruits, and medicinal plants.

The Nile River

Visualize an ancient Egyptian civilization. In February, the Nile River, the longest river in Africa, has receded from summer floods, which provided a bounty of fish for Egyptian civilizations. As winter sets in, farmers gather with plows, gently overturning the nutrient-rich soil. Other Egyptian workers followed behind, carrying baskets of emmer wheat and barley seeds ready for planting. Although we have more sophisticated methods of farming today, the Nile still serves as an important water source. The Nile River hosts 25 cities and over 100,000 people dwelling in its watershed.

Although we typically associate the Nile with Egypt, it actually starts south, near the equator at Lake Victoria and flows north. Reaching about 4,100 miles long, the Nile Basin serves many countries in addition to Egypt, such as Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, making it a vital part of African life.

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