The Longest Rivers In The World

Rivers are defined as natural flowing freshwater bodies that move from a high elevation to a lower elevation, finally draining into oceans, lakes, seas, or other rivers. It is challenging to precisely determine the world's longest river from so many long rivers located throughout the different continents of the planet. Although most of us believe that the Nile River is the longest, some scholars have claimed that the Amazon River is the longest of all rivers. In 2009, a peer-reviewed article published in the "International Journal of Digital Earth" cleared the confusion and declared the Nile River - the longest river in the world. The following article discusses the ten longest rivers in the world.

  1. Nile River – 6,650km
  2. Amazon River – 6,400km
  3. Yangtze River – 6,300km
  4. Mississippi/Missouri River – 6,275km
  5. Yenisey-Angara-Selenga River – 5,539km
  6. Yellow River – 5,464km
  7. Ob-Irtysh River – 5,410km
  8. Rio de La Plata-Parana-Rio Grande River - 4,880km
  9. Congo-Chambeshi River System – 4,700km
  10. Amur River – 4,444km

1. Nile River – 6,650km

Aerial view of the sunset over the River Nile in Cairo, Egypt
Aerial view of the sunset over the River Nile in Cairo, Egypt. 

Also known as the “Father of the African Rivers,” the 6,650km long River Nile is considered the world’s longest river as well as the longest river in the continent of Africa. The Nile River is formed by the combination of its two principal tributaries: the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The two tributaries of the river Nile meet at Khartoum - the capital city of Sudan. From Khartoum, the first portion of the river Nile flows for approximately 1,380km to Lake Nasser, while the second portion flows for about 80km over a series of five cataracts before reaching the final cataract. The Nile River finally enters a delta region in North Cairo and splits into two distinct distributaries, eventually emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile drainage basin is about 3,349,000 sq. km which includes portions of 11 African Nations such as Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Republic of Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

2. Amazon River – 6,400km

The Amazon River in Brazil.
The Amazon River in Brazil. 

The 6,400km long Amazon River, which drains about 40% of the continent of South America, is considered the world’s second-longest river and the largest in South America. It is also the world’s largest river in terms of discharge volume, having an average discharge of about 209,103 cubic meters per second. A peer-reviewed publication in 2014 revealed that the headwaters of the Mantaro River, which rises in Peru’s Cordillera Rumi Cruz, be considered the origin of the Amazon River. The waters of the Mantaro River then join the waters of the Apurimac River, which is further joined by various other tributaries downstream to form the Ucayali River. The Ucayali River then merges with the Maranon River to form the Amazon River’s main stem. The Amazon River finally drains into the Atlantic Ocean, close to the Brazilian city of Belem. The Amazon River Basin covers about 7,050,000 sq. km, and its entire watershed spans the South American nations of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, and Venezuela.

3. Yangtze River – 6,300km

Qutang Gorge and Yangtze River in Baidicheng, Chongqing, China
Qutang Gorge and Yangtze River in Baidicheng, Chongqing, China. 

The 6,300km long Yangtze River, which drains about one-fifth of China’s land area, is considered the world’s third longest river and the longest river in the People’s Republic of China and the continent of Asia. The mighty Yangtze River originates at Jari Hill, located at an elevation of 5,710m in the Tanggula Mountains. Considered the world’s longest river that flows entirely within the boundaries of a single country, over 700 tributaries join the Yangtze River throughout its entire course. Finally, it drains into the East China Sea close to the city of Shanghai. The Yangtze River Basin covers about 1,808,500 sq. km and is the world’s seventh-largest river in terms of discharge volume, with an average discharge volume of 30,166 cubic meters per second. The Yangtze River flows through the eleven Chinese provinces, namely Anhui, Chongqing, Hunan, Hubei, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Qinghai, Sichuan, Shanghai, Tibet, and Yunnan.

4. Mississippi/Missouri River – 6,275km

Aerial view of Mississippi River snaking around farmlands in Louisiana
Aerial view of Mississippi River snaking around farmlands in Louisiana. 

The Mississippi-Missouri-Jefferson River system is considered the fourth-longest river in the world. The Mississippi River, which is North America’s second-longest river, measures 3,770km from its origin in Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico’s Mississippi River Delta. North America’s longest river – the Missouri River, measures 3,767km from its source in the Rocky Mountains to its confluence with the lower Mississippi River. The Mississippi-Missouri-Jefferson River System drains 32 US States and 2 Canadian provinces.

5. Yenisey-Angara-Selenga River – 5,539km

The Yenisei River flows through a picturesque valley
The Yenisei River flows through a picturesque valley. 

The Yenisey-Angara-Selenga River system is considered the world’s fifth-longest river and the largest that empties into the Arctic Ocean. The 992km long Selenga River is the headwater of the Yenisey-Angara River system and empties into Lake Baikal. The headwater tributary of Yenisey River – the Angara River, originates from Lake Baikal close to the urban settlement of Listvyanka and then flows northwards through the cities of Russia’s Irkutsk Oblast before merging with the Yenisey River close to Strelka. The Yenisey River originates in Mongolia’s Mungaragiyn-gol and flows northward through a large portion of Siberia before draining via the Yenisei Gulf into the Kara Sea of the Arctic Ocean.  

6. Yellow River – 5,464km

Lanzhou city on the other side of the Yellow River, Gansu Province, China
Lanzhou city on the other side of the Yellow River, Gansu Province, China. 

Also referred to as Huang He, the 5,464km long Yellow River is the world’s sixth-longest river and China’s second-longest river. The Yellow River originates from the Bayan Har Mountains close to the eastern tip of the Qinghai province’s Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It then flows across the vast North China Plain before emptying into the Gulf of Bohai. The Yellow River Basin drains an area of 752,546 sq. km flowing through seven Chinese provinces and two autonomous regions. The Yellow River has an average discharge volume of 2,571 cubic meters per second.

7. Ob-Irtysh River – 5,410km

The Novosibirsk Hydroelectric power plant is a hydroelectric power station on the Ob river in the Soviet district of the city of Novosibirsk
The Novosibirsk Hydroelectric power plant is a hydroelectric power station on the Ob river in the Soviet district of the city of Novosibirsk. 

The Ob-Irtysh River system is considered the world’s seventh-longest river. The Ob River rises at the meeting point of the Biya and Katun rivers in the Altai Mountains. At about 69° East longitude, the Orb River is joined by the large Irtysh River. The river ultimately drains via the Gulf of Ob into the Kara Sea of the Arctic Ocean. The combined Ob-Irtysh River system drains an area of 2,990,000 sq. km.

8. Rio de La Plata-Parana-Rio Grande River - 4,880km

View of the skyline of Buenos Aires, Argentina from Rio de la Plata
View of the skyline of Buenos Aires, Argentina, from Rio de la Plata. 

The Rio de La Plata-Parana-Rio Grande River system is considered the world’s eighth-longest river. The Parana River originates at the meeting point of the  Rio Grande and Paranaiba rivers in the southern part of Brazil. The river then joins the Paraguay River and the Uruguay River and forms the Rio de la Plata River, which finally drains into the Atlantic Ocean. The Rio de La Plata-Parana-Rio Grande River system drains an area of 2,582,672 sq. km.

9. Congo-Chambeshi River System – 4,700km

A small village in green hills at Congo River, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa
A small village in green hills at Congo River, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. 

The Congo-Chambeshi River system is considered the world’s ninth-longest river. The Congo River is Africa’s second-longest river and the world’s second-largest river in terms of discharge volume. The Chambeshi River, which is the Congo River’s most remote headstream, originates high in the mountains at an elevation of 1,760m, close to Lake Tanganyika. The river then flows into the Bangweulu Swamps, from which it flows out as the Luapula River. The Chambeshi River is actually a tributary of the 1,800km long Lualaba River, which is the Congo River’s biggest headstream by water volume. The Congo Basin drains an area of 4,000,000 sq. km accounting for about 13% of the entire landmass of the African continent and covers portions of nine African nations, including Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia.

10. Amur-Argun-Kherlen River System – 4,444km

Sunset on the embankment of the Amur River in Khabarovsk, Russia
Sunset on the embankment of the Amur River in Khabarovsk, Russia. Editorial credit: Dmitrii Rud / Shutterstock.com

The Amur-Argun-Kherlen River system is considered the world's tenth longest river. Also referred to as Heilong Jiang, the 2,824 km long Amur River originates at the meeting point of the Argun and Shilka Rivers in the western portion of Northeast China. The river forms a boundary between Southeast Siberia and Northeastern China. The Amur River drains an area of 1,855,000 sq. km and has an average discharge volume of 11,400 cubic meters per second. Together with the Amur River, the 1,620km long Argun River forms a portion of the eastern boundary between China and Russia. Originating on the southern slopes of the Khentii Mountains, the 1,254km long Kherlen River flows in the eastern direction, eventually draining into Hulun Lake, the waters of which finally meet the Argun River. 

The above article discusses the ten longest rivers in the world. Out of these ten long rivers, two long rivers are from Africa, two from South America, one from North America, and five from Asia. As seen in the above discussion, a majority of the world’s major cities are located along the shores of a river and use the waters of the river as a source of drinking water, hydroelectric power generation, navigation, and for various recreational activities.

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