The Amazon River Basin is home to the largest rainforest on Earth. The basin covers some 40% of the South American continent and includes parts of eight South American countries. It is drained by the Amazon River, which is the world’s largest river in terms of volume, and the second largest river after the Nile. The Amazon has over 1100 tributaries, and this river system is the lifeline of the forest.
The Amazon rainforest is a tropical rainforest which means it is warm and wet all year round, with days and nights of equal length. Most of the Amazon River’s water comes from the annual snowmelt high in the Peruvian Andes. Between June and October, the water level rises by 9 to 12 meters. Tens of millions of acres of rainforest are covered by water as the flood advances, reaching as far inland from the main channel as 20 km.
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Like all rainforests, the Amazon rainforest has a dense ceiling of leaves and tree branches called the canopy, formed by the giant trees that crowd together. The canopy is more than 30 meters above the forest floor, creating a green roof, through which little light filters down, making the rainforest a shadowy mysterious place. The huge trees that make the canopy are twined by vines and creepers that use these giants for support. The lowest part of the forest floor is made up of shrubby plants and saplings.
The Amazon is home to more species of plants and animals than any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet – perhaps 30 percent of the world’s species are found there. Its biodiversity is astounding- a single bush in the Amazon may have more species of ants than the entire British Isles.
The Amazon rainforest is one of the world’s greatest natural resources. Because its vegetation continuously recycles carbon dioxide into oxygen, it has been described as the ‘lungs of our planet’. About 20 percent of the earth’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest, one of the many reasons we call Amazon ‘the lungs of the earth’.