Today, it is fair to assume that science has answered some of the biggest questions about the natural world, or at least those based on purely physical measurements. But a seemingly simple conclusion still confuses people: what is the longest river in the world? In fact, as of 2023, science is still trying to find answers.
Authoritative organizations such as Encyclopedia Britannica and Guinness World Records have officially awarded the Nile in Africa the title of “longest river in the world“. But an upcoming expedition to the Amazon River involving international explorers and scientists – with a raft, horseback and solar panel boat – is set to challenge that title.
“The Nile is like a worm, and the Amazon is like a python,” the researcher and veteran filmmaker, head of the Brazilian expedition, Yuri Sanada (55), said of his colleagues’ comments about the Amazon. A metaphor for volume, the Amazon River has four times the volume of water than any other river. “That’s why there’s nothing to compare – we have the biggest rivers. But we’ll see the longest.”
A 7,000-kilometer expedition.
This planned five-month expedition will begin in April 2024 and aims to sail the entire length of the Amazon River using advanced river mapping satellite technology to scientifically prove once and for all that the Amazon is not only the largest river in the world, but also the largest river in the world. It is worth noting that the Amazon is not a single body of water, but part of a larger “river system” that stretches across much of northern South America. Unlike the branches of a tree, its network includes several sources and tributaries. Controversy over length stems largely from the question of where the Amazon River begins. Although the Encyclopedia Britannica and others traditionally measure the river’s origins as the headwaters of the Apurimac River in southern Peru, 51-year-old American neuroscientist James “Rocky” Contos claims that the river’s source lies further afield. The Mantaro River in northern Peru, exploring the country’s rafting routes. “I knew that the furthest source of the Amazon was believed to be the Apurimac, but when I was gathering all the information – maps, hydrographic lines, etc. – in preparation for the trip to Peru, I realized that there seems to be another river further on,” Kontos said. He also confirmed this information using topographic maps, satellite images and GPS measurements while kayaking, and published the results in 2014.
“The discovery of the new source increases the length of the Amazon by 77 kilometers (48 miles) compared to previously considered sources,” he said. Sanada said the discovery of Kontos gave the expedition “an excuse to go there,” explaining that while mapping the river was its ostensible goal, the expedition’s larger goal was to more fully document and bring global attention to the rich biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest region. – and the global community must work together to help protect it.
The planned 7,000-kilometer spring expedition will cover the Amazon River through Peru, Colombia and Brazil, starting at the new source of Mantaro, deep in the Peruvian Andes. With Contos at the helm, the rafting adventure will take place in the Mantaro rapids; Once Mantaro meets Aena, a longer journey will begin on three custom-made solar-powered and pedal-powered boats. The boats will travel the rest of the Amazon River to the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil.
Another expedition will take place in early 2025, departing from Peru’s Apurimac River, the traditionally recognized headwaters of the Amazon, to take another set of measurements, Sanada said. According to reports, French explorer Céline Cousteau (granddaughter of the famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau) will accompany the passage on horseback along the river bank.
Sanada currently leads a team of about 50 associates from America and Europe. The expedition has already secured some prestigious partnerships: support from the Explorers Club, an IMAX deal to produce related films, and a mission to create a new map of the Amazon River for Harvard University.
Sanada said the expedition will also host international scientific researchers on a rotating basis, including from partner universities in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, the United States and other countries, who will participate in various stages with the aim of integrating sustainable technologies. a traditional Amazonian community. “In these projects, they will learn how to purify water, build better houses from natural materials, get electricity from renewable energy sources, waste management, electric transport and much more,” he explained. “It’s really going to change people’s lives there.”
The solar-powered and pedal-powered hybrid expedition vessel aims to demonstrate an affordable, efficient and less polluting alternative to the gas-powered powerboats currently used by local communities. Designed in collaboration with a local Brazilian university, the ships are built using locally sourced bioresins and natural fibers and engines made from 3D printers. At the end of the expedition, the ship’s engine will be donated to the site, which Sanada calls “part of the legacy of the expedition.”
Armed attendants and bulletproof cabins
However, despite these optimistic goals, it is not a journey without dangers. “A lot of things can go wrong on an expedition like this,” Sanada said, citing the possibility that the ship could capsize and risk the desert (there are jaguars, anacondas, poisonous frogs, etc. in the jungle).
However, Sanada said the “most dangerous part” is the “interaction between people”. He points out that whenever the team encounters someone in the desert, they wonder, “Are they drug lords? Are they enemies? Or is it just a friendly tribe trying to invite you to dinner with them? “
Therefore, the expedition team works with local authorities to provide an armed escort through illegal mining and drug-trafficking areas; the cockpit is also equipped with bullet and arrow proof fiber. Sanada has a lot of faith in his team. “I have local guides from the Amazon, from Peru, who really understand the country and how to survive there,” he said. Sanada decided it was worth the risk.
“You can’t stop (because of the risks). We do it for science. We’re bringing that legacy to Amazon,” he said. He said it was an honor to be one of about 10 explorers and the first South American explorer in history to attempt the river’s entire length.
Ultimately, however, Sanada admitted that the expedition might not be able to provide a definitive answer as to the length of the river or successfully prove that it was indeed the world’s largest river. dr. Susan Walters, an associate professor of environmental and marine sciences at the University of San Diego who specializes in river systems and measurement, explained that measuring rivers poses many challenges because of the dynamics and complexity of waterways and their potential for change. Human interpretation of assumed river sources and destinations.
Rivers “change in many ways over time,” she noted, referring to changes in river movement, water volume and seasonal patterns. “You can imagine that if you measure something and it moves, even if you measure it in exactly the same way, it can actually change the results,” she added.
“Whether it’s due to instruments and atmospheric disturbances or human factors, there’s always a little bit of uncertainty in every step we take.”
She noted that there is also some human motivation behind claiming outstanding geographical features, such as the longest river, which can boost national pride and provide potential tourism revenue. “It adds prestige to the place,” she said. “As humans, we appreciate these things, even if the river doesn’t care if they’re longer.”
A search for knowledge
Regardless of the outcome of this expedition, Sanada said he wants to use the same technology and measurement methods to explore the Nile next time. The Nile, which flows through northeastern Africa and enters the Mediterranean Sea through Egypt, has also faced controversy over its source, with more than one African country claiming control over its source.
“So let’s see if we can get through this first and then plan for the next one,” Sanada said. After the expedition, a long documentary and an IMAX film are expected to premiere in 2026.
Sanada believes these projects can boost conservation efforts in the Amazon, helping to increase regional pride and international tourism, showing “its value and why we need to protect it.”
Ultimately, Sanada said, documented or not, “it’s about the pursuit of knowledge. We want to show the world what Amazon is. “