Ruzo Unravels The Mystery of the Boiling River In The Amazon Rainforest

Image Via: Ted.com

Imagine being recounted the tales of a mythical city of gold and a Boiling River in the deep and dark forests of Peru. This is exactly how Andrés Ruzo’s young mind was fired with imagination when his grandfather told such tales. Such was their impact of these stories on this young boy that it remained with him, even when he stepped into adulthood and became a geothermal scientist.

Anyone would have rejected these stories as a figment of the imagination, like the experts, with whom Ruzo spoke about the existence of such a river, did. According to them, such rivers only existed in the vicinity of volcanoes and Amazon rainforests have no volcanoes.

But, the thought stuck with Ruzo and he waited to complete his PhD project on geothermal energy potential in Peru. As a geothermal scientist, he took upon himself to discover the Boiling River. Ruzo got the much-needed boost by ‘National Geographic Young Explorers’ grant for this venture, and was also greatly encouraged by his mother and aunt, who claimed to have swum in it!

The Discovery

In 2011, Ruzo ventured into the Amazon rainforest with his aunt and managed to reach the river. The river lies in the middle of a low forest in central Peruvian Amazon.


boiling river of amazon
Image Via: Ted.com

They first reached Pucallpa, the largest city of central Peruvian Amazon, from Lima by flight in an hour. They then hit a dirt road for a two-hour drive from Pucallpa to Pachitea River. This 984-feet (300-meter) wide river is a tributary of the Amazon River. From here, they took about 30 minutes in a motorized canoe, locally known as ‘peke-peke’, to reach the mouth of the Boiling River.   

The Boiling River turned out to be an enormous 82-feet (25-meter) wide and 20-feet (6-meter) deep river that runs for an unbelievable distance of 3.87 miles (6.24 kilometres)! And to top it, the nearest volcanic system lies 435 miles (700 kilometres) from this river. 

Ruzo tells in 2014 TED talk, “When I saw this (river), I immediately grabbed for my thermometer. The average temperature in the river was 86 degrees Celsius (186.8 degrees Fahrenheit), not quite boiling, but definitely close enough…. It’s not a legend.”

The waters of this river are so hot that steam rises from its surface. Any bird or animal that happens to fall into it is scalded to its very bones! Posting temperatures of 200-degree Fahrenheit (93.33-degree Celsius) that neared the boiling point of water of 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius), the river is hot enough to give anyone third-degree burns within seconds.What is more puzzling is the fact that no natural phenomena come even close to this Boiling River.


boiling river of amazon
Image Via: Ted.com

The river initially originates as a cold stream, heats up and again cools down slightly during the night. In terms of temperature, it goes from around 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) to about 201 degrees Fahrenheit (94 degrees Celsius) at its hottest point.

Locals knew of it

It is not that Ruzo was the first human to discover this sizzling river, Peruvian locals had known about it for centuries. In fact, they had named it Shanay-Timpishka, which means ‘boiled with the heat of the sun’.


boiling river of amazon
Image Via: Ted.com

It was even recorded by the Spanish conquistadors, who were foolhardy enough to venture into the Amazon rainforest in search of gold. Most of them perished, but those who survived and returned told tales of a river that boiled from below.

What makes the water heat up?

Ruzo has taken upon himself to discover what makes the river boil. He took special permission from the Shaman of the area to camp around this river to study it and the surrounding ecosystem. His research went on for five long years. He learned about this river in detail and tested its waters in the lab. All this to figure out the mysteries that surround it.


boiling river of amazon
Image Via: Ted.com

The secrets are slowly being revealed. For one, it is not the sun that boils the water, but hot springs that emerge from fault lines in the Earth’s crust. These fault lines are much like the arteries in a human body that, instead of carrying blood, carry boiling water.

On chemical analysis, the water of this river turned out to be rainwater. Putting the jigsaw puzzle together, Ruzo surmised that when it rains as far away as the Andes Mountains, the water seeps into the ground and travels underground towards the Amazon forest.

The Earth’s geothermal energy heats this water up, which then gurgles up the fault line in the middle of the rainforest and takes the form of the Boiling River. This, according to Ruzo, is a part of a mammoth hydrothermal system that is unique on this planet, as it is found nowhere else.

The discovery of this Boiling River has also brought life science researchers to its banks. Biologists, such as Spencer Wells and Jonathan Eisen, studied the microbes living in and around this river and how they survive the deadly heat.

As to the question of how Ruzo’s mother and aunt were able to swim in the Boiling River, this was made possible by the heavy rainfalls that turned the steaming hot water into lukewarm water, much like that in a bathtub!

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