The World's Largest Waterfalls By Flow Rate

By Amber Pariona on August 1 2017 in Environment

The world famous Victoria Falls.

Waterfalls have attracted the attention of humans for generations. These geological formations are popular tourist attractions and, in some cases, have the added benefit of producing hydroelectricity. Waterfalls can be measured in several manners including height, width, and flow rate. This article takes a look at the largest waterfalls in the world by flow rate.

7. Victoria

Victoria Falls, located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, has the 7th highest annual flow rate in the world. On average, the flow rate of this waterfall is 38,430 cubic feet per second. Additionally, Victoria Falls is considered the largest sheet of falling water in the world (a calculation that takes both height and width into consideration). The source of this waterfall is the Zambezi river which flows over a flat, basalt plateau before falling 354 feet into the 260-foot wide First Gorge below. The flow rate here is so strong that it creates a spray which reaches 1,300 feet above the surface of the water. This spray can be seen from as far away as 30 miles. Victoria Falls is one of the only waterfalls in the world where a moonbow (similar to a rainbow) can be seen during a full moon.

6. Iguazú Falls

Iguazú Falls, Brazil.
Iguazú Falls, Brazil.

Iguazu Falls has the 6th highest annual flow rate in the world, falling at a rate of 62,010 cubic feet per second on average. It is located on the border between Argentina and Brazil, although the majority of the falls are on the Argentinian side. Iguazu Falls is characterized by the presence of numerous drops - of which there are 275 in total. The largest of these is known as the Devil’s Throat, which measures 269 feet in height. The source of this waterfall is the Iguazu River, which primarily runs through the Paraná Plateau in Brazil and is divided into an upper and lower section by the falls. The lower section flows into the Paraná River. Iguazu Falls cascades with such force that the edge of the plateau is receding by .1 inch per year.

5. Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, located on the border between Canada and the United States, has a flow rate of 85,000 cubic feet per second, making it the 5th largest waterfall flow in the world. The source of this waterfall is the Niagara River, which connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. Niagara Falls is comprised of 3 separate waterfalls: Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and American Falls. Both the American Falls (created by Goat Island) and Bridal Veil Falls (created by Luna Island) are located on the US side. This waterfall is also known for its popularity with adventurous individuals who try to travel the length of the falls. Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to travel over the falls in a barrel in 1901. Since then, 14 other people have gone over the falls.

4. Celilo Falls

Celilo Falls is the 4th largest waterfall in the world, flowing at a rate of 191,228 cubic feet per second. These falls are located on the Columbia River, which forms the border between the US states of Oregon and Washington. Celilo is the name of both the waterfall and the settlements surrounding the falls. These settlements were the oldest continuously inhabited areas in North America until the Dalles Dam was constructed in 1957, flooding the area and forcing the inhabitants out. For over 15,000 years, these falls played an important part in the survival of native peoples, who built wooden platforms over the water in order to catch migrating salmon. The dam created Lake Celilo which covered the wooden platforms and the village here. It produces 6,180 GWh of power every year.

3. Khone Phapheng Falls

Khone Phapheng Falls, Laos.
Khone Phapheng Falls, Laos.

The third largest waterfall in the world by flow rate is the Khone Phapheng, located in the Champasak Province of Laos. It falls at an average annual rate of 390,000 cubic feet per second. The source of these falls is the Mekong River, which begins in the Tibetan Plateau of China. During the 19th century, French settlers attempted to navigate the full course of this river only to discover that the Khone Phapheng waterfall blocks its complete passage into China. Because the falls block navigation, the Don Det - Don Khone Railway was built. Locally, the area where these falls are located is known as “the 4,000 islands” in recognition of the many islands and waterways that come together here, splitting the waterfall into various sections. The tallest of these measures 69 feet, while the rapids take up 6 miles of the river. This waterway is also rich with wildlife and is home to the endangered plabuck, the largest freshwater fish in the world.

2. Guaíra Falls

The Guaira Waterfall is considered the second largest waterfall in the world, although today, it is completely submerged. Prior to the 1982 construction of the Itaipu Dam, the largest hydroelectric project in the world, this waterfall had an annual average flow rate of 470,000 cubic feet of water per second. The dam, along the border-creating Paraná River, was a combined effort between the governments of Brazil and Paraguay. This river originally flowed into a narrow gorge, falling over 18 cataracts separated into 7 groups for a total of 375 feet. Tourism to the waterfall increased during the 1982 dam construction, as people hoped to see Guaira before it was destroyed. On January 17 of that same year, dozens of these tourists were killed as the bridge located over the falls collapsed.

1. Boyoma Falls

Boyoma Falls, located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the largest waterfall by flow rate in the world. It falls at approximately 600,000 cubic feet of water per second over 7 separate cataracts. These sections of the falls are spread for more than 62 miles and drop approximately 200 feet over the Lualaba River between the cities of Kisangani and Ubundu. The water from these falls flows into the Congo River. The local inhabitants of this area, called the Wagenya, depend on the Boyoma Falls for fishing activities. They have developed special wooden tripods that are anchored by the holes the rushing water has created in the rocks. These tripods stretch across the falls with baskets attached to them in order to catch large fish.

The World's Largest Waterfalls By Flow Rate

RankWaterfallMean annual flow rate (m³/s)RiverCountries
1Boyoma Falls17,000LualabaDemocratic Republic of the Congo
2Guaíra Falls (submerged)13,300ParanaParaguay and Brazil
3Khone Phapheng Falls11,610MekongLaos
4Celilo Falls (submerged)5415ColumbiaUnited States
5Niagara Falls2407NiagaraCanada and the United States
6Iguazú Falls1746IguazúArgentina and Brazil
7Victoria1088ZambeziZimbabwe and Zambia

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