Ranked: The 10 Longest Rivers in the World

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Rivers are among the various bodies of water that can be found in the world. According to National Geographic, it is a ribbon-like body of water that flows downhill from the force of gravity, and it can be wide and deep or shallow enough for someone to walk across. [1] There are rivers that flow all year, while some only flow on certain seasons or during rainy days. Like other bodies of water, rivers also vary in size, particularly in length. Some can be thousands of miles long, while others can be very short.

The starting point of a river is referred to as the headwater. It can come from rainfall or snowmelt in the mountains, bubble up from groundwater, or form at the edge of a lake or big pond. The other end of the river, on the other hand, is called the mouth. It is where the water empties into a larger body of water, such as an ocean or a lake. Rivers may also travel through wetlands, where plants slow the water’s flow and filter away contaminants. [1]

The water flowing in rivers is fresh. This means that it contains less than one percent salt. But it still contains and distributes essential salts and nutrients to support animal and plant life. The planet is home to a large number of rivers, but in this post, we’ll focus on the longest ones. The longest rivers in the world are those that measure thousands of miles from headwater to their mouth. But in addition to that, the location of the river is also a factor in determining its size.

It is actually quite challenging to know precisely the longest river in the world as there are so many rivers located throughout the various continents of the Earth. Many believe that the Nile River is the longest, but some scholars claim that the Amazon River is the longest of all rivers. However, according to World Atlas, in 2009, this confusion was cleared through a peer-reviewed article that was published by the “International Journal of Digital Earth,” declaring the Nile River to still be the longest river in the world. [2]

The Nile River and Amazon River are the top two longest rivers worldwide. But in addition to them, there are more, which are found in different continents and countries. Read on to learn more about the longest rivers in the world.

The Ten Longest Rivers in the World

Below is an infographic that shows the longest rivers in the world. However, keep in mind that the lengths of the rivers on this list are only approximations, and they can indeed change over time. It can be complex to measure a river through a lake, and there are also other factors that impact the measurements, such as seasons, annual changes, and how they are measured. [3] Therefore, it means that it is virtually impossible to get a universally agreed exact measurement of length for every or any river.

The 10 Longest Rivers in the World

The 10 Longest Rivers in the World

Rank

River

Length in Kilometers

Length in Miles

Location

1

Nile River

6,600 km

4,100 miles

Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan

2

Amazon River

6,400 km

4,000 miles

Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana

3

Yangtze River

6,300 km

3,915 miles

China

4

Jefferson-Mississippi-Missouri River System

5,969 km

3,709 miles

USA, Canada

5

Yenisei-Angara-Selenga River System

5,550 km

3,448 miles

Russia, Mongolia

6

Huang He River (Yellow River)

5,464km

3,395 miles

China

7

Ob-Irtysh River

5,410 km

3,362 miles

Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia

8

Rio de la Plata-Parana-Rio Grande River System

4,880 km

3,032 miles

Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay

9

Congo River

4,700 km

2,900 miles

Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Angola, Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Cameroon, Zambia, Burundi, Rwanda

10

Amur River

4,444 km

2,763 miles

Russia, China, Mongolia

1. The Nile River – 4,100 miles long

the Nile River in the middle of Juba in South Sudan

The Nile River is located in North East Africa. It is approximately 4,100 miles long and was historically believed to be the longest river in the world. However, there is a lot of debate surrounding this because some people think the Amazon River in South America may be longer. But according to the United States Geological Survey, the Nile River is around 100 miles longer than the Amazon River. [4]

The basin of the Nile River spans the countries of Ethiopia, Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. It has two tributaries, which are the White Nile and the Blue Nile. Among the two, the White Nile is longer as it starts at Lake Victoria in Tanzania and flows north up to Khartoum, Sudan, converging with the Blue Nile. On the other hand, the Blue Nile starts around Lake Tana in Ethiopia. The Nile River empties in northern Egypt, specifically into the Mediterranean Sea. [4]

The Nile River has been used as a source of irrigation to transform the parched terrain around it into lush agricultural land for thousands of years. This made it critical to the development of ancient Egypt. At the present time, it continues to serve as a source of irrigation, as well as an essential transportation and trade route. [5]

2. The Amazon River – 4,000 miles long

the Amazon River’s aerial view

According to Britannica, most researchers believe that the Amazon River is around 4,000 miles long. However, there is no exact measurement available as no one is entirely sure where the river starts and ends. Given the complexity of its river system, the majority of it being in remote areas, researchers have proposed various locations in Peru as its source.

The Amazon River, as to its endpoint, has three outlets to the Atlantic Ocean, two on the north side of Marajo Island in Brazil and one on the south of the island that joins the Para River. Typically, scientists have picked one of the northern outlets because the Para is an estuary of the Tocantins River, which is separate from the Amazon River. [6]

It has over 1,100 tributaries, and 17 of those are more than 930 miles long. Based on the book Tropical Responses to Climate Change, the Amazon River also possesses the world’s largest drainage system. It is a massive, complex water system and by far the largest river on Earth when it comes to volume and width. In fact, during the rainy season, it can reach a span of around 30 miles in some parts. Numerous unusual animal, tree, and plant species can be found in the river and its basin. [7]

3. Yangtze River – 3,915 miles long

Yangtze River in Yunnan Province, China

The Yangtze River is approximately 3,915 miles long, making it the longest river in China and Asia and the third-longest river worldwide. [8] It runs from the Tibetan Plateau to the estuary of the East China Sea near Shanghai. Its basin features some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world, including high mountains, dense forests, fertile wetlands, and bustling waterways. The area of the Yangtze River covers about 448 million acres, which is four times the size of California. [9]

According to Britannica, the name Yangtze was derived from the name of the ancient fiefdom of Yang and has been applied to the river mainly by those in the West. In China, the name used was Chang Jiang or Long River, but it is also called Da Jiang or Great River. It is the most important river in China as it is the country’s main waterway, and its basin is the country’s great granary, which contains about one-third of the national population. [8]

Historically, it has sustained many local communities that rely on the river for fishing, farming, drinking water, and transportation. Also, the rich and complex terrains of Yangtze, as well as its climate, have made a wide range of natural ecosystems that give vital habitats for various animal species, such as the giant panda and snow leopard. However, due to extraordinary economic growth, fast urbanization, and the growth of industries, the basin is also putting a severe strain on the river. [9]

4. The Jefferson-Mississippi-Missouri River System – 3,709 miles long

aerial view of the Mississippi River

The fourth-longest river in the world is considered to be the Jefferson-Mississippi-Missouri River System, which is 3,709 miles long. The longest river in the United States, according to ThoughtCo., is the Missouri River, followed by the Mississippi River and the Jefferson River combined to form this river system. It begins in Montana at the Red Rocks River and quickly turns into the Jefferson River. [10]

The Jefferson River then combines with the Madison and Gallatin Rivers at Three Forks, Montana to form the Missouri River. The Missouri River forms a portion of the boundary between South Dakota and Nebraska, and Nebraska and Iowa after zigzagging through North and South Dakota. Upon reaching Missouri state, the Missouri River connects with the Mississippi River.

In the early 1800s, the dominant mode of transportation on the river ways of the system was steamboats. The rivers were used by the pioneers of business and exploration as a means of getting around and shipping various products. From the 1930s, the government facilitated the navigation of the waterways of the system by constructing and maintaining canals. At the present time, the Jefferson-Mississippi-Missouri River System is mainly used for industrial transportation, carrying mine products, iron, steel, agricultural, and manufactured goods from one end of the country to the other. [10]

5. The Yenisei – Angara – Selenga River System – 3,448 miles long

Automobile Communal Bridge (1961) with night illumination across the Yenisei River in Russia

With a length of 3,448 miles, the Yenisei is the fifth-longest river in the world and the greatest watershed of rivers entering the Arctic Ocean. It is a bit shorter compared to the Mississippi-Missouri River but has 1.5 times its flow. The Yenisei River originates in Mongolia and follows a northerly course going to the Kara Sea. Its watershed has the world’s largest lake by volume, which is Lake Baikal. [11]

Yenisei River can also be spelled Yenisey or Enisei. It is the river of central Russia and among the longest rivers in Asia. In terms of discharge, it is the sixth largest river in the world. [12] Ancient nomadic tribes, including the Ket people, and the Yugh people lived along the banks of the Yenisei River. However, the Ket, which is about 1,000 in population, are the only survivors at the present time, among those who originally lived throughout central southern Siberia close to the river banks. [11]

6. Huang He River (Yellow River) – 3,395 miles long

the Yellow River Bay and plateau mountainous areas in Yunnan Province

The Huang He River or Yellow River, has an approximate length of 3,395 miles, making it the second-longest river in China and the sixth-longest in the world. [13] The valley where the river is located was the birthplace of ancient Chinese civilization. For more than 2,000 years, its basin was the center of the Chinese economy, culture, and politics. [15] That is why it is also often called “Mother River.” It is called the Yellow River as its water carries silt, giving the river a yellow-brown color. When it overflows, a yellow residue is left behind. [14]

According to Britannica, the Yellow River originates in the Bayan Har Mountains, which is located in the eastern Plateau of Tibet at an elevation above 15,000 feet. It flows past some of the oldest cities in China, such as Taiyuan, Lanzhou, Zhengzhou, Jinan, Kaifeng, Luoyang, Baotou, and Xi’an. The drainage basin of the Yellow River is the third largest in China, with an area of around 290,000 square miles. [13]

7. The Ob-Irtysh River – 3,362 miles long

White mountain river in Altai where the rivers Ob and Irtysh have their headwaters

The Ob River is the river of central Russia, and it is among the greatest rivers in Asia. If the Irtysh River is regarded as part of the main course rather than the major tributary of the Ob, the maximum length from the source of the Black Irtysh in China’s sector of the Altai is 3,362 miles, which makes it the seventh-longest river in the world. [16]

It originates in the Altai Mountains at the confluence of the Biya and Katun rivers and runs through Siberia to the Gulf of Ob. Geographers refer to the two rivers as the Ob-Irtysh River. From five to six months of the year, the river is frozen. However, for the rest of the year, transportation is high for both sightseeing and trade. Also, a series of canals join the Ob with the Yenisei River. [17]

8. Rio de la Plata-Parana-Rio Grande River System – 3,032 miles

aerial view of the Parana River

The eighth-longest river in the world is the Rio de la Plata-Parana-Rio Grande River System. The Parana River starts at the meeting point of the Rio Grande and Paranaiba rivers in the southern part of Brazil. The Río de la Plata River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean, is formed when it joins the Paraguay and Uruguay rivers. [18] This river is among the most important economic resource for countries such as Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina because the estuary is the core fishing ground in the area and acts as the main water resource.

The Rio de la Plata is the world’s widest river. As it runs through South America, the shoreline of the river is the most densely populated part of both Argentina and Uruguay. It also includes the capital cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. [21]

9. The Congo River – 2,900 miles long

Congo River banks

The Congo River is located in west-central Africa. It is the second-longest river on the continent, next to the Nile, with a length of 2,900 miles. It flows through the countries of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa, but its tributaries drain huge areas of land in Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, Central African Republic and Cameroon. [22]

The river rises in the highlands of northeastern Zambia between Lakes Nyasa and Tanganyika as the Chambeshi River at an elevation of 5,760 feet above sea level. It is around 430 miles from the Indian Ocean. [19] This river also has the second-largest flow in the world next to the Amazon River.

Its name came from the ancient Kingdom of Kongo, which inhabited the lands at the mouth of the river. Both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo lie along the banks of the river and are named after it. However, from 1971 to 1997, the government used to call it the Zaire River. [20]

The whole Congo is easily navigable, and because of new railroads that avoid the three largest falls, a significant portion of trade in central Africa now moves via the Congo River. These include sugar, copper, cotton, palm oil, and coffee. In addition, the river is also valuable for hydroelectric power. [20]

10. The Amur River – 2,763 miles

view of Amur River and its channels from an airplane

The longest river in the far east of Russia is the Amur. It is the third-longest river in China, trailing only the Yangtze and Yellow rivers. It is 2,763 miles long, making it the tenth-longest river in the world. The headwaters of this river rise in Russia, Mongolia, and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China. The main river flows mainly east and southeast, forming the border between Heilongjiang province in China and southeastern Siberia. The Chinese name of this river is HeilongJiang, which means “Black Dragon River.” Its Mongol name, on the other hand, is Kharamuren, which means “Black River.” [22]

The Amur River is mainly fed by the monsoon rains that occur in summer and autumn. This occurrence leads to yearly flooding from May to October. The river is also home to around 100 species of fish. Among those, 20 species are indigenous carp, Chinese perch, and Siberian salmon. [3]

Conclusion

These are the ten longest rivers in the world. Note that the lengths we’ve given here are only estimates based on the data gathered by experts. As mentioned earlier, it is quite challenging to tell the exact lengths of these rivers as their sizes may change due to various factors. But with the number of rivers in the world, these ten amazingly stand out as their lengths span thousands of miles, covering several places.

Most of them have also helped ancient civilizations in developing their livelihood through fishing, farming, and trade among nearby places, and many of them still continue to help countries today. We hope this post helped you learn more about the longest rivers in the world.

References

  1. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/river
  2. https://www.worldatlas.com/rivers/the-longest-rivers-in-the-world.html
  3. https://safarisafricana.com/worlds-longest-rivers/
  4. https://www.britannica.com/place/Nile-River
  5. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/nile-river
  6. https://www.britannica.com/place/Amazon-River
  7. https://www.livescience.com/57266-amazon-river.html
  8. https://www.britannica.com/place/Yangtze-River
  9. https://www.worldwildlife.org/places/yangtze
  10. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-jefferson-mississippi-missouri-river-system-1435552
  11. https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/y/Yenisei_River.htm
  12. https://www.britannica.com/place/Yenisey-River
  13. https://www.britannica.com/place/Yellow-River
  14. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/huang-he-valley
  15. https://www.chinahighlights.com/yellowriver/
  16. https://www.britannica.com/place/Ob-River
  17. https://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/articles/geography/obirtyshriver.htm
  18. https://www.worldatlas.com/rivers/the-longest-rivers-in-the-world.html
  19. https://www.britannica.com/place/Congo-River
  20. https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/c/Congo_River.htm
  21. https://www.britannica.com/place/Amur-River
  22. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Congo_River

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