Age of the Amazon River

The Amazon River is a little over 4,000 miles long and covers about 2.7 million square miles; it is supported geologically by the The Amazon River is a little over 4,000 miles long and covers about 2.7 million square miles; it is supported geologically by the Guiana Highlands to the north, the Central Brazil Plateau to the south, and the Andes Mountains to the west. The Amazon River empties into the Atlantic Ocean dumping about eight trillion gallons of fresh water a day. It is the second longest river in the world (largest river basin) and its formation has led to the development of some of the most unique ecosystems in the world with some of the highest levels of biodiversity that can be found. Not only does it provide one of the most breathe taking sights in the world but also many scientist claim that if a cure for cancer exists then it can be found in the Amazon River Basin. But where did all of this come from and how did it form?

Geologically we know that all of the continents used to be together as one, a supercontinent called Pangaea. But as the different tectonic plates began to shift and separate different things began to form across each one like Mountain Ranges such as the Himalayas. But where and how the Amazon River fits into this has always been a question that has puzzled researchers. Knowing the origin of this basin and how old it is helps the scientific world gauge its development over time and its effect on surrounding geological structures.

So up until recently this information was not known. Fortunately, a team was able to locate sediment from the Amazon deep-sea fan (area at the mouth of the Amazon where sediment has gathered over the years) that dates back to some of the oldest parts of the plates. From these samples it was determined that the Amazon River was once a transcontinental river around 11 million years ago and took its present shape somewhere around 2.4 million years ago. Petrobras, the national oil drilling company of Brazil, was able to drill down through the 10 kilometers of sediment to one of two boreholes about 4.5 kilometers beneath the sea floor exposing some ancient parts of this plate.

Scientists have always wanted to know the history and timeline for the formation of the Amazon River in order to correctly determine and study the evolution of Amazonian creatures and organisms, some of which can be found nowhere else in the world. Knowing the origin of this great ecosystem will provide insight into the development of the delicate and complex ecosystems that can be found in the Amazon River Basin. From here we can use this information with the knowledge that we currently have to correctly monitor and understand the biodiversity in this area and take appropriate steps to protect it. Other factors such as deforestation and mining are threatening the biodiversity of this area so it is important to know all we can to help sustain these environments.


About SamParton

I am a senior, Biology major at Queens University of Charlotte look for an engaging and meaningful career path.
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