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The Amazon and Water

Why Is Water Important?
Water is the Source of Life.

The Amazon river begins as a small stream in the Peruvian Andes, and winds its way east over the northern half of South America, growing and fanning out to carry approximately 20% of the planet’s fresh water to sea. The Amazon River has 1,100 tributaries and It discharges the largest volume of water with twenty eight billion gallons of water released into the Atlantic every minute, decreasing the oceans salinity for more than 100 miles offshore. The water discharged daily from the Amazon rivers into the Atlantic is enough to supply 9 years of fresh water to New York City. Amazonia receives about 9 feet of rain every year. Fifty percent of this returns to the atmosphere through the foliage of trees. There are so many trees in the Amazon that they make their own rainfall. On an average sunny day the trees of the Amazon release 20 billion tons of moisture into the atmosphere seeding the clouds with rain.

The Amazon River carries 20% of the planet’s fresh water to sea

At 6,400 kilometers, or 4,000 miles, in length, the Amazon River is the second longest river in the world. The fresh water flows through it and into the ocean at an astonishing rate of 209,000 cubic meters per second—more than the next six largest rivers combined. The width of the river extends anywhere between 4 and 50 kilometers, reaching its maximum width during the wet season when increased rainfall swells the river and floods the banks. As the largest watershed in the world, the Amazon River supplies anywhere from 9 to 30 million gallons of freshwater to the Atlantic Ocean each day. This water is then swept around the world on ocean currents.

The Amazon River is the second longest river in the world.

A majority of the water in the Amazonia Rivers is attributed to glacial melt from the Andes in the western Amazon and the rains created by the Amazon’s trees. The mighty river begins in the Andes flowing from West to East, eventually reaching a drainage basin of over 7,000,000 square kilometers—nearly 40% of South America.

The Amazon basin contains the largest share of freshwater species in the world due to the immense size of the basin and the variety of aquatic habitat. Freshwater species in the Amazon most commonly include fish, crustaceans, mollusks and insect larvae and are food sources for a number of aquatic animals. Freshwater fish are also eaten by land-dwelling salamanders, mammals and birds. There are at least 3,000 species of freshwater fish species in the Amazon River basin. Though the inhabitants of the Amazon River are numerous and diverse, there is limited information on Amazonian aquatic species due to the difficulty of studying such an extensive river system.

The Amazon also provides essential ecosystem services such as the transport of nutrients and sediment. It also provides services for humans, such as water for agriculture, power generated by hydroelectric plants, transportation, and food.

While many rivers in Amazonia are still relatively pristine, many are now threatened by the development of dams, roadways and other infrastructure. Pollution is also a significant threat, particularly due to runoff from nearby agricultural and industrial activities, as aquatic species are sensitive to changes in the biogeochemistry of their watershed. Mercury residue from illegal gold mining is an especially dangerous pollutant because it does not easily degrade, but instead accumulates in the sediments or is absorbed by algae and other plankton. When other organisms consume the plankton, the mercury is not excreted and is stored in their tissue Therefore organisms higher up in the food chain tend to bioaccumulate mercury, and older, larger fish and predatory birds contain the greatest amounts of mercury. This is dangerous because mercury is a neurotoxin causing damage to the central nervous system, and poses a serious health threat to wildlife and humans that consume affected fish.

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