Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mismi: the source of Amazon River

In 1982 Jean-Michel Cousteau led a large scale scientific exploration of the Amazon from its mouth to its origin. The “Cousteau Amazon Expedition” budget was eleven million dollars and culminated in a six-hour television documentary titled “Cousteau’s Amazon” released in 1983.

It offered study information to last years and gave insights into the biology and geology of the largest river system on earth. This expedition was broken into three separate groups and the upper Amazon section was covered by “The Flying Expedition” tasked with exploring the upper third to Arequipa from the river's origin.

Traditionally, explorers and geographers defining the origin of a river system by tracking the larger tributaries using volume of flow while plying up stream, however in a system as complex as the Amazon basin with a dozen streams unpredictably occurring within any region at any time no consensus could plausibly be substantiated and the origin left to speculation, nonetheless half a dozen sites claimed title to “The Origin of the Amazon“ and until 1982 several were in the running.

Using an international team of twelve and bringing in expeditionary specialists from Germany, France, Argentina, Peru and the USA, Jean Michael Cousteau put together resources and logistics spanning a thousand miles of unknown jungle.

The Upper Amazon expedition (The Flying Expedition) included an Eastern European multi-axled reticulated Land Rover for use on land, a float plane Papagaiu, for air support and reconnaissance, and the Peruvian Air Force offered a high elevation helicopter to reach the upper levels of the
Cordillera de Chila mountain range in Peru.

Expedition support bases were established in
Cusco, in the mountains, in Arequipa on the Pacific coast, and high in the Cordillera de Chila at Caylloma for the quest to find the origin of the Amazon.

Many locations were remote, making it necessary to surmount language, terrain and logistical difficulties, as the mountain team made their way up the Río Selinque to the flanks of Nevado Mismi.

At this mountain's base, Jean Michael dispatched a team of German alpinists who climbed the 18,000 foot volcano and returned in two days. During their descent, they found melt water dropping into a fissure.

This cleft varied from two meters to half a meter wide, angling down the slope. This stream flowed nearly fifty meters before disappearing, emerging again lower down to flow between stones and continue its course.

They discovered that within the fissure, the water was deep enough to float a small craft and realized that they were presented with an opportunity. Utilizing pack llamas, kayaker Carl Ridley was brought to the site, and in June 1982, navigating by kayak, became the first person to run the origins of the Amazon. Later expeditions refined our understanding of the river's many origins and it's subsequent course to the Atlantic Ocean.
National Geographic Society Expedition

In 2001, it was verified that the main headwater of the
Amazon River has its glacial source on Nevado Mismi. An expedition of the National Geographic Society discovered that Carhuasanta stream flowing into Río Apurímac originates on the mountain's northern slopes and then runs its course through other tributaries and rivers to help form the main Amazon River. The fact that the headwaters of Río Apurímac are the source of the Amazon River was confirmed by Brazilian scientists in 2007, who pointed at Quebrada Apacheta as the most probable source of the Amazon.

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