List of rivers by length

List of rivers by length

This is a list of the longest rivers on Earth. It includes river systems over 1,000 kilometers.

Definition of length

The length of a river is actually very hard to calculate. It depends on the identification of the source, the identification of the mouth, and the precise measurement of the river length between source and mouth. As a result, the length measurements of many rivers are only approximations. In particular, there has for long been disagreement as to whether the Amazon or the Nile is the world's longest river.

The source of a river may be hard to determine because a river typically has many tributaries. Among the many sources, the one that is farthest away from the mouth is considered as the source of the river, thus giving a maximal river length. In practice, the tributary with the farthest source is not always the one given the name of the river. For example, the farthest source of the Mississippi River system is the source of the Jefferson River, a tributary of the Missouri River which in turn is a tributary of the Mississippi. However, a different (and shorter) tributary is identified as the Mississippi. When the river is measured from mouth to farthest source, it is called the "Mississippi-Missouri-Jefferson". Also, it is hard to state exactly where a river begins as very often rivers are formed by seasonal streams, swamps, or changing lakes. In this article, "length" means the length of the river system, including all tributaries.

The mouth of a river is hard to determine in cases where the river has a large estuary that gradually widens and opens into the ocean; examples are the River Plate and the Saint Lawrence River. Some rivers like the Okavango do not have a mouth; instead they dwindle to very low water volume and eventually evaporate, or sink into an aquifer, or get diverted for agriculture. The exact point where these rivers end will vary seasonally.

The length of a river between source and mouth may be hard to determine because of a lack of precise maps. In these cases, the measured length of a river will depend on the scale of the map on which the measurement is based; in general, due to the fractal quality of a river, the finer the scale, the longer the resulting length measurement. This issue was discovered by Lewis Fry Richardson and also applies when measuring borders between countries and coastlines. Ideally, length measurements should be based on maps that are of a large enough scale to show the width of the river, and the path measured is the path a small boat would take down the middle of the river.

Even when precise maps are available, the length measurement is not always clear. A river may have multiple arms. It may depend on whether the center or the edge of the river is taken as reference point. It may not be clear how to measure the length through a lake: this may also vary by season. These points make it difficult, if not impossible, to get a precise (or comparable ) measurement of the length of a river or stream.

List of rivers longer than 1000 km

One should take the aforementioned discussion into account when using the data in the following table. For most rivers, different sources provide conflicting information on the length of a river system. The information in different sources is between parentheses.


*When the length of a river is followed by an asterisk , it is an average of multiple information sources. If the difference in lengths between given information sources is significant, all lengths are listed. Likewise, if the lengths from secondary information sources are similar, they are averaged and that figure has an asterisk.
*Most scientists have considered the Nile to be the longest river on Earth, and some believe a fair statement is that the Nile is the longest in the world and the Amazon is the strongest. The big differences in the recorded length of the Amazon depends on whether or not it is valid to take a course south of the Ilha de Marajó at the Amazon's mouth. [ New evidence] , (dated Saturday 16 June 2007) obtained from a high-altitude scientific venture in the Andes, claims that "the Amazon is longer than the Nile by 100km, with its longest headwater being the Carhuasanta stream originating in the south of Peru on the Nevado Mismi mountain's northern slopes and flowing into the Río Apurímac, and not from a place in the north of Peru as was thought before: this adds about 284 km = 176 miles to the length of the Amazon." [Daily Telegraph, Monday 18 June 2007, page 18] ; but this is likely a confused re-description of what was known before, as atlas maps made long before this show Amazon headwaters in this position.
*Generally, the most commonly used/anglicised name of the river is used. The name in a native language or alternate spelling may be shown.
*The exact percentage of each river in countries may be disputed (including the effects of political frontier disputes) or unknown.
**Formerly Lake Tanganyika drained northwards into the Albert Nile, making the Nile somewhere around 700 miles longer, until in the Miocene the Virunga Volcanoes arose and blocked its course.
**While the Mediterranean Sea was dry during the Messinian Salinity Crisis, the Nile extended northwards over the dry seabed and thus may have gained 100 miles or more in length.

River systems that may have existed in the past


The Amazon basin formerly drained westwards into the Pacific Ocean, until the Andes rose and reversed the drainage. [cite web
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title = Amazon river flowed into the Pacific millions of years ago
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The Congo basin is completely surrounded by high land, except for its long narrow exit valley past Kinshasa, including waterfalls around Manyanga. That gives the impression that most of the Congo basin was formerly on a much higher land level and that it was rejuvenated by much of its lower course being removed. In Permian and early Triassic times Africa and South America were close against each other with no sea between (see continental drift and plate tectonics), and the Congo probably drained into the Amazon basin and eventually into the Pacific.Fact|date=June 2008 Including part of its course that was completely lost when the South Atlantic opened, its total course may have been anything up to approximately 12,000 km (7,500 miles) long.

West Siberian Glacial Lake drainage

This river would have been about 6000 miles = 10000 km long, in the last Ice Age. See West Siberian Glacial Lake. Its longest headwater was the Selenga river of Mongolia: it drained through ice-dammed lakes and the Aral Sea and the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea.

ee also

*D River and Roe River, both of which are claimed to be the world's shortest river.
*List of drainage basins by area
*List of rivers by average discharge
*Eridanos (geology) (a big river flowing between 40 million and 700 thousand years ago from Lapland to the North Sea through where the Baltic Sea is now)


* Time Almanac 2004
* [ Principal Rivers of the World]
* [ EarthTrends Watersheds of the World] World Resources Institute
* [ Amazon river 'longer than Nile'] (BBC)


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