When you think of the Amazon, what comes to mind? Some may envision thick, impenetrable jungle. Others may imagine monkeys and other exotic creatures thriving in a tropical environment. Adventurers may remember ancient legends about lost civilizations and ancient cities of gold.
But what about small villages of indigenous peoples living near a small river that shamans believe is the home of powerful spirits? A river so hot that anything that happens to fall into it gets boiled alive?
Does that sound like the stuff of myths and legends? That's what Andrés Ruzo always thought when his grandfather would tell him stories about a river deep in the Amazon jungle of Peru called Shanay-timpishka, which loosely translates to "boiled with the heat of the Sun."
According to legend, the headwaters of this river were marked by a boulder shaped like a serpent's head. The hot waters of the river supposedly came from a giant snake spirit called Yacumama ("Mother of the Waters").
Ruzo believed the river was only a myth until he created a thermal map of Peru as part of his graduate studies to become a geophysicist. He noticed a large hot spot in the central Peruvian Amazon. He was eventually able to find and study the Boiling River of the Amazon, which flows near a small indigenous community called Mayantuyacu.
Although known by local shamans and indigenous peoples for hundreds of years and even discovered by foreign oil field researchers in the 1930s, the Boiling River has only been studied recently after Ruzo took an interest in this geologic anomaly.
The total Boiling River system is about 5.5 miles long. The waters of the river start off cold, but they heat up and flow hot for about the last four miles of the river. How hot? The steaming waters can reach temperatures of about 200˚ F, which is hot enough to kill just about any creature unlucky enough to fall into its waters.
This unusually-large thermal river is about as wide as a two-lane road for most of its length. It reaches up to 80 feet at its widest point, and its deepest point reaches nearly 16 feet. Despite its tremendous volume, the Boiling River is a natural feature that's non-volcanic.
Ruzo's studies indicate that the Boiling River is the result of fault-fed hot springs. The fault lines and cracks that run deep underneath the ground like arteries fill with water that seeps down from the surface after it rains.
Earth's geothermal energy heats this water to near the boiling point. Through various faults and cracks, it eventually makes its way back to the surface. Geothermal features aren't uncommon, as hot springs and thermal pools can be found in many places.
What makes the Boiling River so unique is that there's such a large volume of extremely hot water that's not related to a volcanic source. This means the water must come from very deep below the surface, but it also must come very quickly with a tremendous volume.
The underground features that make this possible are very rare. In fact, Ruzo believes there's no other thermal river of this magnitude anywhere else on Earth.
Recognizing what an incredible phenomenon the Boiling River is, Ruzo is now working with the Peruvian government to have the Boiling River and the surrounding jungle declared a national monument. He hopes to protect the area from deforestation and other activities that could endanger the unique ecosystem.