|Yup. #3 here.|
|Almost hitting a hive of killer bees while|
out and about at night
I knew the Amazon River and its surrounding rainforest was big. And, well, biologically diverse. I guess it didn't hit me until I went there HOW big and HOW diverse.
For starters, let's look at the river itself. Most write-ups of rivers generally list them by length (The Ten Longest Rivers In The World!) or by volume of water carried (The Ten Largest Rivers In The World!). The Amazon is the second longest river, nudged out by a nose by the Nile River (4,180 miles for the Nile, 3,912 for the Amazon) [Never fear, America, the Mississippi-Missouri complex is third at 3,710 miles]. This is from one source; others claim different lengths for each of these rivers, but I'm not going to be picky here because the Amazon comes in at #2.
It's the volume of this magnificent river that makes it shine in the statistical books. The Amazon is #1 by a long shot. The Amazon holds about 1/5 (20%) of the world's river-based freshwater. It is larger, by volume, than the next 7 largest independent rivers combined (two more rivers in that top ten list are tributaries of the Amazon, the Madeira, #6 and the Rio Negro, #8, and those aren't included). The Nile doesn't even enter the picture in the top 30 of this list [the Mississippi-Missouri complex ranks 15th]. The Amazon carries, on average (so this is averaging the highest flows during the 6-month rainy/flood season with the lowest flows of the dry season) 209,000 cubic meters per second (or for us U.S. people, 7,380,765 cubic feet per second). At high flows, the volume has been estimated to be 11,000,000 cubic feet per second.
The Amazon River drains a 1.4-billion acre watershed; over half of this watershed is in Brazil in the region known as "Amazonas." The rest is shared with Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Guyana, Bolivia, Suriname, and French Guiana. Two general drainage areas split the main tributaries of the Amazon--the Andes Mountains drains into the southern/western part of the watershed, ultimately landing in the river the Brazilians call the Rio Solimoes (So-lee-MOE-ez; but others refer to as the Amazon proper), and the Guyanan Highlands across northern South America drain into the Rio Negro and other northern/eastern tributaries. The Amazon and its tributaries enter Brazil with only one-fifth of the flow it finally discharges into the Atlantic, yet already at that point has a greater flow than the discharge of any other river in the world.
The Solimoes drainage carries quite a bit of sediment from the Andes Mountains. The water tends to have more nutrients--and is cloudier--due to this sediment load. The Rio Negro, draining the volcanic substrate of the Guyanan Highlands, doesn't have that sediment load. It does pick up tannic acid from the tannin-heavy rainforest vegetation, and is therefore clear but dark (think of a glass of clear iced tea), and--fortunately for us and the humans that live along it--too acidic for mosquitoes to breed. Unless you get into the interior of the rainforest beyond the edges of the Rio Negro and its acidic tributaries, you don't see or experience mosquitoes while on this river. An added bonus is that the Rio Negro water is like a vinegar rinse--good for your skin and hair.
|Rio Negro, at left; Rio Solimoes, at right; we're now|
on the Amazon River
That's alot of water. And a huge watershed. Let's turn to the Amazon rainforest. If it was a country, it would rank 9th in size. Ten percent (some reports say up to one-third, or over 30%) of the world's known species live in the Amazon rainforest (over half the world's species can be found in all of Earth's rainforests combined). 20% of the world's birds live here, as do 2.5 million insect species, 40,000 plant species, and 3,000 fish species. There are so many plants that for the most part, native cultures would only bother to name those plants that are either beneficial/used or poisonous. The rest they didn't name; what a headache that would be, eh?
Some people refer to rainforests, especially the largest ones, as "the world's lungs," attributing the carbon absorption and oxygen-producing qualities of plants offsetting carbon build-up in our atmosphere. However, this is a misnomer; the decomposition of plant matter here absorbs about as much oxygen as the trees produce. It's more accurate to state that our planet's rainforests have a cooling effect on global climate, as they absorb a huge amount of heat from the sun. About 30% of our carbon emissions actually come from one thing--burning of the rainforests for agricultural uses/exploitation and human growth.
The Amazon and most of its tributaries are characterized by forests that become seasonally flooded during the 6-month rainy season. The river can rise up to (at times exceeding) 30 feet, flooding about 100,000 square miles of land every year. At the river's height, one can travel to normally inaccessible areas by canoe, effectively floating through the rainforest at mid-canopy height. Trees can be seen beneath the water, fully leafed out; birds and other animals can be observed more easily as you glide through the middle of the forest canopy in your canoe.
|A flooded tree|
|Floating through the mid-canopy layer of the rainforest|
|Hello, nice to meet everyone, what are we in for???|
|Our home for two weeks, the Dorinha|
We'd then head into our three canoes as the day broke for a morning float into the forest.
A few hours later, we'd head back to the Dorinha for breakfast/brunch, and spend the heat of the day traveling further upriver on the boat with that time to ourselves for whatever we wanted to do: nap, watch the trees float by and see birds along the way, or in my case, pull out my crochet while sitting on the canopied upper deck and watch the forest and water glide by.
We'd then land somewhere fascinating and go for an afternoon canoe ride until sunset.
Back at the Dorinha, we'd have dinner and review "the checklist" (a gathering of the group to review every species observed that day).
Many evenings after dinner, we'd head back on out for a night-time spotlighting excursion. Let me say here that there's nothing like floating in the dark of night in the jungle, more stars overhead than you've ever witnessed before, with only a spotlight lighting your way as we looked for reflections of eyes that could belong to snakes, frogs, caimans, birds, tarantulas, or sloths. Shiver.
So come join me and hear my stories of Amazonas, which I'll be posting over the next several weeks. I hope you enjoy!