Thursday, June 6, 2013

The River Beneath the Amazon

The Amazon’s sheer size is enough to impress even the most stubborn “glass half empty” sort of person, not to mention the river’s incomprehensible power and force. The Amazon River extends from the peaks of the Andes Mountains all the way east and eventually spills into the Atlantic Ocean, some 6,400km away. The many wonders of the Amazon fascinate people from all regions of the world. Wonders that include the river’s infamous tidal bores, the diversity of wildlife, and now a newly discovered underground river which flows almost parallel to the Amazon. The river, named Rio Hamza, serves as a major drainage system for the surrounding Amazon Rainforest. This is quite convenient for the rainforest since nearly two-thirds of our planet’s freshwater is located in the Amazon Basin.

A team of researchers who examined 241 abandoned deep wells in the Amazon basin discovered the underground waterway. The team used a mathematical model that was based on change in well temperature in order to predict the underground water flow. The wells were originally dug in the 1970’s and 1980’s by a Petrochemical company called Petrobras. The researchers’ study says that water still flows almost entirely vertically through the rocks until a depth of around 2,000m and then it suddenly changes and flows horizontally.

Rio Hamza is thought to differ from the Amazon in both size and rate of drainage. As the Amazon’s width ranges from about 1km – 100km, Rio Hamza is believed to be as much as 200km – 400km wide. With that said, the Amazon stills flows much faster than its underground companion and therefore drains an estimated 129,100 metres3 more water per second than the more lethargic Rio Hamza. All of this freshwater in and around the Amazon basin feeds the Amazon Rainforest which is the largest rainforest in the world as well as one of the planet’s most dense concentrations of wildlife.

The discovery of Rio Hamza provides interesting insight into South America’s geology and underground irrigation systems that allow such extravagant plant life to flourish aboveground in the rainforests and mountains. Continued research in the greater Amazon basin will allow for more significant breakthroughs that will offer an even deeper look into one of our planet’s most impressive waterways. One can only imagine the new species that will be discovered kilometers underneath the Amazon in a river much darker and much more secluded from human beings.

Photo Credit:
Pedro Martinelli/ISA


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