The Amazon River

The Amazon River

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The Amazon River Amazon River is the world's second longest river and the chief river
of South America. Only the Nile River in Africa is longer. The Amazon
is 6,437 kilometres long. The Amazon carries more water than any other
river--more than the Mississippi, Nile, and Yangtze rivers together.

The Amazon is too wide at many points for a person on one bank to see
the opposite shore. The river ranges from 2.5 to 10 kilometres wide
during most of its course. It widens to about 150 kilometres at its
mouth. The depth of the Amazon averages about 10 metres and increases
to more than 90 metres at some places.

The AmazonRiver Basincovers about 7,000,000 square kilometres and is
the world's largest tropical rainforest. The temperature averages 29
°C and varies little throughout the year. Rainfall in the Amazon
region ranges from 130 centimetres in the low-lying areas to 305
centimetres near the AndesMountainsin Peru. The air is very humid

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throughout most of the river basin.

Most ships enter the Amazon Riverby way of the ParaRiver, on the
southern side of MarajoIsland. Ocean vessels can sail about 3,700
kilometres up the Amazon to Iquitos, Peru. Belem, at the mouth of the
Para River, and Manaus, 1,600 kilometres upstream from the mouth of
the Amazon, are important ports. Ships bring in clothing, food, tools,
and other products. They pick up such raw materials as animal skins,
Brazil nuts, timber, and rubber. The ships also take aboard live
birds, fish, and other animals bought by pet shops and zoos.

The course of the Amazon begins high in the AndesMountainsof Peruas a
small stream called the ApurimacRiver. The Apurimaclies 5,240 metres
above sea level. It flows northwest into the UcayaliRiver, the lower
branch of the Amazon in Peru. The Ucayaliflows north through the Andesand
then turns east and joins the MaranonRiver, the Amazon's upper branch.
This junction takes place near Iquitos, Peru, and forms the main
channel of the Amazon. The river continues eastward across Braziland
flows into the Atlantic Oceanon the northern side of MarajoIsland.

The Amazon tumbles rapidly through the Andesand falls about 5,000
metres during the first 970 kilometres. It falls only about 240 metres
more during the rest of its course. The river flows at a speed of
about 2.5 kilometres per hour during the dry season. Its flow
increases to about 5 kilometres per hour when the river is swollen by
rain.

More than 200 tributaries flow into the Amazon River. These smaller
rivers include the Japura, the Jurua, the Madeira, the Purus, the
Tapajos, and the Rio Negro.

An unusually high ocean tide occasionally overpowers the current at
the mouth of the Amazon. This creates a wall of water called a bore
that measures up to 4.5 metres high and rushes upstream.

Animal and plant life. Many kinds of fish live in the Amazon River.
They include the fierce, flesh-eating piranha and the pirarucu, one of
the largest fresh-water fish of South America. The basin area is the
home of such animals as alligators, anacondas, monkeys, parrots,
sloths, and many species of insects.

The Amazon rain forest has a great variety of plant life. Scientists
have found more than 3,000 species of plants in 2.5 square kilometres
there. The trees stand as tall as 60 metres. Their tops grow so close
together that only a little sunlight can reach the ground.

History. Indians lived in the AmazonRiver basinbefore white people
first came to the area. Vincente Pinzon, a Spanish explorer, was
probably the first European to see the Amazon. In 1500, he sailed to
the coast of what is now Brazil. During 1541 and 1542, another
Spaniard, Francisco de Orellana, led the first exploration of the
river by a European. His expedition followed the Amazon from the mouth
of the NapoRiverin Peruto the Atlantic. During Orellana's journey, his
group was attacked by what appeared to be female Indian warriors. The
Spaniards called their attackers Amazons, after the female warriors in
Greek mythology (see AMAZONS). The name was later given to the river
and the nearby area.

During the mid-1800's, the Amazon basin became an important source of
rubber, obtained from trees in the region. But after about 1910,
plantations in Southeast Asiabegan to produce rubber more cheaply. The
demand for Amazon rubber fell, and the economy of the region
collapsed. Since the 1960's, the Brazilian government has built roads
and airports in the Amazon basin. New towns and farms have been
established in the basin, and its population has grown.
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