The Amur River

Khabarovsk, Russia at Christmastime, as seen from the frozen Amur River running beside it.

5. Description

The Amur, the tenth longest river in the world, is an East Asian river that forms a border between the Far Eastern District of the Russian Federation and northeastern China. The river arises from its headwaters in the Shilka and Argun Rivers, the former rising at the confluence of the Ingoda and Onon Rivers in Siberia, and the latter arising in Inner Mongolia. After flowing for 2,825 kilometers, the Amur River finally drains into the northwest Pacific Ocean via the Tatar Strait. The river and its tributaries drain a basin of area 1,855,000 square kilometers. In the course of its flow, the Amur also forms the natural boundary between China’s Heilongjiang Province and southeastern Siberia in Russia.

4. Historical Role

In ancient times, the Amur River basin was inhabited by a large number of hunter-gatherer nomadic groups who depended heavily on fishing in the Amur's waters for their livelihoods. In 1644, the Qing dynasty of China was established by the successors of the Manchu tribes living in the region. For a long period of time thereafter, the Amur River basin was ruled by the Qing dynasty of China. Though Russian explorers, like Vasily Poyarkov and Yerofey P. Khabarov, and Russian traders commonly approached the Amur River territory since the 17th Century, Chinese sovereignty prevailed, as confirmed by the 1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk. However, in the late 19th Century, the Russian Empire, as per the Treaty of Aigun in 1858, acquired all lands north of the Amur and, in 1860, by the Convention of Peking, Russians also occupied lands in the lower Amur basin and those east of the Ussuri River. China soon grew wary of the Russian acquisitions of land along the Amur and, in 1969, a Sino-Soviet border conflict broke out between the Chinese and Russian powers along the Ussuri, a tributary of the Amur. With the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, tensions between China and Russia decreased, and attempts were made for a more peaceful distribution of territories along the Amur between these two countries.

3. Modern Significance

The Amur river offers a significant navigable waterway for the transport of goods and personnel from the interiors of Siberia and China to ports along the coast of the Pacific. Pokrovka, Leninskoye, and Khabarovsk in Russia, and Aihui in China, are some of the significant ports along the course of the Amur River. The river is also an important source of fishing, and a large number of people settled along the river’s banks depend on fisheries for their livelihoods. From the ecological perspective, the Amur River hosts some of the most species-rich temperate forests and wetlands of the world. It is also the longest un-dammed river in the Eastern Hemisphere.

2. Habitat

The Amur River basin has a large number of vegetation zones across different parts of the river basin. Taiga forests and wetlands, Manchurian mixed forests, Amur meadow steppes, forest steppes, grasslands, and Tundra types of vegetation all occur along various courses of the river and its tributaries. The wetlands along the Amur River basin are some of the most valuable ecosystems along the river basin, and these are seen housing a diversity of flora and fauna. These wetlands serve as a key point in the migration routes of millions of birds, including White storks and Japanese cranes. The Amur River Basin is inhabited by over 5,000 species of vascular plants, 70 species of mammals, and 400 species of birds. The rare and endangered Siberian (or Amur) tiger and the Far Eastern leopard are some of the most iconic mammalian species inhabiting the Amur River Basin. The Amur River is also inhabited by a diversity of fish species, with 100 species found in the lower reaches of the river, and 60 in the upper reaches. Siberian salmon, Burbots, and Sigs are some of the most commercially important northern species. Chinese carp and perches, meanwhile, are found being fished in the southern reaches of the river.

1. Threats and Disputes

Pollution is a major threat to the Amur River. In 2005, a major pollution event occurred. It was triggered by the release of a massive level of pollutants into the Songhua tributary of the Amur in China. Industrial pollutants like benzene, pyrene, and nitro-benzene are some of the major pollutants that entered the Amur. Mercury poisoning of the bottom sediments of the Amur River is also a major threat to the water quality of this river. Investigation into the issue has shown that reckless cinnabar mining practices near the river and improper waste management are held responsible for the release of mercury into the river's waters. Besides pollution issues, the Amur River Basin has long served as a sensitive border between China and Russia, and the economic significance of this river for both parties has often led to conflicts between these two countries for control over the river and its surrounding basin areas.


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