Enormous Underground River Discovered in the Amazon

Photo: EduardoDuarte / cc

The sprawling Amazon rainforest is easily one of the most fascinating and mysterious regions on the planet, what with its dark, dense vegetation that stretches across the horizon like an unimaginable vast sea of green, home to an untold number of undiscovered species -- but the depths of the Amazon's secrets just got a whole lot deeper. According to a team of Brazilian scientists, over 2 miles beneath the region's lush surface lies an enormous underground river which runs nearly the entire length of the Amazon river.At a recent meeting of the Congress of the Brazilian Geophysical Society in Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian National Laboratory geologist Elizabeth Tavares Pimente presented her team's findings on what may be the largest subterranean river on Earth. The massive water system is thought to stretch for 3,700 miles across the Amazon basin with an average width of about 200 miles, flowing west to east into the Atlantic Ocean at a rate of 350 feet a year.

Researchers have named the massive underground river 'Hamza', after team supervisor Valiya Hamza.

The existence of an additional freshwater outflow of the Hamza into the Atlantic is believed is to have contributed to the rise of a unique estuary ecosystem which has allowed freshwater species to thrive along the coast where they otherwise could not.

"It is likely that this river is responsible for the low level of salinity in the waters around the mouth of the Amazon." the National Observatory released in a statement.

In order to arrive at their conclusion in regards to Hamza, Pimente and her team studied hundreds of deep wells drilled throughout the Amazon during the 1970s and 80s. Still, the researchers say that further study will be needed to confirm the Hamza's full extent, though if early indication are correct, it is likely to be the largest underground watershed yet discovered.

Update: Since this story was first released, Scientists involved in the discovery of the Hamza have clarified its description in an interview with BBC News. Unlike what was previously reported, the water source beneath the Amazon likely does not 'flow' at a rate of 350 feet per year, but rather "inches" -- deeming our usage of the term 'river' to describe it as inaccurate. Also, the original statement implied that the Hamza was composed of freshwater which diluted the salinity of ocean water near its outflow point in the Atlantic Ocean; this has been challenged as, at the depth reported, "there is no possibility that we have freshwater."

While the discovery is still noteworthy in terms of understanding Amazon basin geophysics, the Hamza's potential as a source of freshwater and its overall impact on surrounding ecosystems is likely to be much less significant than originally reported.

Via G1.Globo, Mongabay
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Tags: Amazonia | Brazil | Rivers