What is the name of the longest river in the world?

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By Kristy Tolley

The mystery of the longest river

Rivers are fascinating waterways that have captured the imagination of humans for centuries. They are important sources of water, food, transportation, and energy. But among the many rivers in the world, which one is the longest? This question has puzzled geographers and explorers for centuries, and has led to many debates and controversies. In this article, we will explore the different contenders for the title of the longest river in the world and examine the evidence behind each claim.

Definition: What is a river?

Before we can determine which river is the longest, we need to define what a river is. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a river is "a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing toward an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river." Rivers can be small or large, short or long, and can have different shapes and features. They can be fed by springs, glaciers, rain, or snowmelt, and can have different flows depending on the season and the terrain they cross. Rivers are important ecosystems that support a variety of plants and animals, and are also important for human activities such as agriculture, industry, and recreation.

Length: The importance of measuring rivers

Measuring the length of a river is not a simple task, as rivers can have different channels, tributaries, and deltas. The length of a river is usually measured from its source to its mouth, or from its longest tributary. However, different methods of measuring can result in different lengths, and there is often debate about which measurement is the most accurate. Despite these challenges, the length of a river is an important factor in understanding its role in the environment and its impact on human activities. The longest rivers in the world are also important landmarks and symbols of their countries and regions.

The Nile: The contender for the title

The Nile is one of the most famous rivers in the world, and has been venerated by ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians and the Nubians. It is a north-flowing river that originates in the highlands of East Africa, and flows through several countries including Uganda, Sudan, and Egypt, before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile has a length of about 6,650 km (4,130 mi) according to the USGS, which makes it the longest river in Africa and one of the longest in the world. However, some sources suggest that the Nile could be even longer, up to 7,088 km (4,400 mi), if its longest tributary, the Kagera River, is included.

The Amazon: The wild card in the race

The Amazon is the largest river in the world by discharge, volume, and drainage basin, and is often regarded as the "lifeline of the Amazon rainforest". It originates in the Andes Mountains of Peru, and flows through several countries including Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador, before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The Amazon has a length of about 6,400 km (4,000 mi) according to the USGS, which makes it the second longest river in the world after the Nile. However, some sources suggest that the Amazon could be longer, up to 7,050 km (4,380 mi), if its most distant source, the Mantaro River, is included. The Amazon is also known for its rich biodiversity, with thousands of species of plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world.

The Congo: The underestimated river

The Congo River is the second longest river in Africa after the Nile, and is often overlooked in the race for the title of the longest river in the world. It is a west-flowing river that originates in the highlands of East Africa, and flows through several countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, and Angola, before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The Congo has a length of about 4,700 km (2,920 mi) according to the USGS, which makes it the ninth longest river in the world. However, some sources suggest that the Congo could be longer, up to 4,670 km (2,900 mi), if its longest tributary, the Chambeshi River, is included. The Congo is also known for its rapids, waterfalls, and wildlife, including the endangered bonobo ape.

The Yangtze: The longest river in Asia

The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia, and the third longest river in the world after the Nile and the Amazon. It is a east-flowing river that originates in the Tibetan Plateau, and flows through several provinces of China including Sichuan, Yunnan, and Shanghai, before emptying into the East China Sea. The Yangtze has a length of about 6,300 km (3,915 mi) according to the USGS, which makes it the longest river in China and in Asia. The Yangtze is also important for China’s economy, as it provides water for irrigation, transportation, and hydroelectric power, and is home to many species of fish and other aquatic life.

The Mississippi-Missouri: The longest river in the USA

The Mississippi-Missouri River System is the largest river system in North America, and is often regarded as the "spine of the continent". It is a east-flowing river that originates in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, and flows through several states including Missouri, Illinois, and Louisiana, before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi-Missouri has a length of about 6,275 km (3,902 mi) according to the USGS, which makes it the fourth longest river in the world. However, some sources suggest that the Missouri River could be longer, up to 4,090 km (2,540 mi), if it is considered as a separate river from the Mississippi. The Mississippi-Missouri is also important for the United States’ economy, as it provides water for agriculture, navigation, and recreation, and is a major source of fish and wildlife.

The Yenisei-Angara-Selenge: The longest system

The Yenisei-Angara-Selenge River System is the longest river system in Eurasia, and is often regarded as the "heart of Siberia". It is a north-flowing river system that originates in the mountains of Mongolia and Russia, and flows through several regions including Siberia and the Arctic Ocean, before emptying into the Laptev Sea. The Yenisei-Angara-Selenge has a total length of about 5,539 km (3,445 mi) according to the USGS, which includes the length of its longest tributary, the Selenge River. However, some sources suggest that the Yenisei River could be longer, up to 5,539 km (3,445 mi), if its most distant tributary, the Angara River, is included. The Yenisei-Angara-Selenge is also important for Russia’s economy, as it provides water for navigation, hydroelectric power, and fishing, and is a habitat for many species of animals and plants.

The Ob-Irtysh: The longest river in Russia

The Ob-Irtysh River System is the longest river system in Russia, and is often regarded as the "lifeblood of Siberia". It is a west-flowing river system that originates in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia and Russia, and flows through several regions including Siberia and the Arctic Ocean, before emptying into the Gulf of Ob and the Kara Sea. The Ob-Irtysh has a total length of about 5,410 km (3,360 mi) according to the USGS, which includes the length of its longest tributary, the Irtysh River. However, some sources suggest that the Ob River could be longer, up to 5,410 km (3,360 mi), if its most distant tributary, the Katun River, is included. The Ob-Irtysh is also important for Russia’s economy, as it provides water for transportation, hydroelectric power, and irrigation, and is a habitat for many species of fish and wildlife.

Conclusion: And the winner is…

After examining the different contenders for the title of the longest river in the world, it is clear that there is no single answer to this question. The length of a river depends on the method of measurement, the inclusion of tributaries, and the accuracy of the data. However, according to the USGS, the Nile River is currently regarded as the longest river in the world, with a length of about 6,650 km (4,130 mi). The Amazon River is the second longest river in the world, with a length of about 6,400 km (4,000 mi), followed by the Yangtze River, the Mississippi-Missouri River System, the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge River System, and the Ob-Irtysh River System. Each of these rivers has its own unique features, history, and significance, and all of them play an important role in the environment and the human societies they cross.

References: Sources for further information

  • United States Geological Survey (USGS). (n.d.) Rivers. Retrieved from
  • National Geographic Society. (2019). Nile River. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/nile-river/
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF). (n.d.). Amazon River. Retrieved from
  • The Congo River. (n.d.). Stanford University. Retrieved from https://web.st
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Kristy Tolley

Kristy Tolley, an accomplished editor at TravelAsker, boasts a rich background in travel content creation. Before TravelAsker, she led editorial efforts at Red Ventures Puerto Rico, shaping content for Platea English. Kristy's extensive two-decade career spans writing and editing travel topics, from destinations to road trips. Her passion for travel and storytelling inspire readers to embark on their own journeys.

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