The Amazon River: Location, Special Features & Facts

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  • 0:03 The Amazon River
  • 0:50 Location and Size
  • 2:00 Features
  • 3:07 Animals and Humans
  • 4:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Amazon River is a truly unique natural drainage system. In this lesson, we'll check out the dimensions, locations, and use of this river and see what makes it so special.

The Amazon River

In 1541, Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana entered into a vast rainforest in South America. In the middle of this dense ecosystem was a tremendous river, unlike anything the Spanish had ever seen. There were also warriors, lots of them, who defended this river and rainforest. Many of these warriors were women, leading Orellana to name this region the Amazon, after the legendary female warriors of Greek mythology.

Today, the Amazon River is the second longest in the world, surpassed only by the Nile. It has been a source of fascination for outsiders ever since Orellana's time, and a constant source of life for the millions of people who call it home. It's a river system unlike any other, definitely deserving of a name from mythology.

Location and Size

The Amazon River is the largest river in South America, flowing through parts of Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Brazil. The Amazon River starts as a series of streams originating from snowmelt and natural springs high in the Andes Mountains. From there, it flows roughly 4,000 miles to the coast of Brazil, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. By comparison, that's roughly the distance from Hawaii to Japan. However, defining the river's exact size is somewhat difficult. With multiple sources in the Andes, as well as over 200 tributaries, the Amazon connects to a number of water systems in the continent.

What makes the Amazon really impressive isn't just its size but the amount of water that it moves. Along with its tributaries, the Amazon River drains an area of 2.7 million square miles. In terms of size, that's equal to about 1/3 of the entire continent of South America. In terms of flow, that's more water than the next 7 largest rivers in the world combined. In fact, the Amazon River dumps so much fresh water into the Atlantic that the salinity of the ocean is diluted for a hundred miles.

Features

The Amazon River twists and turns, curving like a snake through the Amazon Rainforest. That's what gives it its length. Its volume comes from its width and depth. In fact, it's the widest river in the world, known to some as the River Sea. In general, the Amazon River is roughly 6.8 miles wide at the widest parts. During the rainy season, however, the river floods its banks and inundates an additional 140,000 square miles of land. When this happens, the widest point of the river reaches roughly 24.8 miles.

Annual flooding is a common feature of most major rivers, but this experience is a little different in the Amazon. Not everything around the Amazon is really floodable. While the river is mostly within a flat basin, there are large parts of it that are also bordered by highlands that are too elevated to be flooded. The river gets deeper, but never inundates its banks. In addition, about 2/3 of the river is immediately surrounded by dense rainforest. The massive amount of foliage keeps the soil together and soaks up a lot of the floodwaters.

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