In a rainforest in the heart of Amazonian Peru, scientists believe they have discovered the world’s largest thermal river, running hot for nearly four miles and reaching up to 80 feet at its widest point and 16 feet at its deepest.
While the river’s extreme temperatures are not unusual for a geothermal surface, it is deemed remarkable in that it is non-volcanic. The nearest active volcanic area is actually more than 430 miles (700km) away.
The so-called ‘Boiling River’ is said to be the “crown jewel” of an unusual collection of three non-volcanic rivers in the area which also include the Salt River (a salty thermal stream) and the Hot River (a thermal freshwater stream) – both much smaller in comparison to the Boiling River.
Fed by both boiling and near-boiling hot springs, the river also feeds several thermal waterfalls along its length, the most impressive of which has a 20ft-drop into a large thermal pool, the Boiling River Project, which is investigating the phenomenon, reports.
Some parts of the river are said to be so hot that various animals that have fallen into it have boiled instantly, according to geoscientist Andrés Ruzo who discovered the river and leads the project.
“The first thing to go are the eyes. Eyes, apparently, cook very quickly. They turn this milky-white color. The stream is carrying them,” he said.
“They’re trying to swim out, but their meat is cooking on the bone because it’s so hot. So they’re losing power, losing power, until finally they get to a point where hot water goes into their mouths and they cook from the inside out.”
Though what’s believed to be the river’s ancient name, Shanay-timpishka, translates to ‘boiled with the heat of the sun’, “the river boils because of fault-fed hot springs”, Mr Ruzo revealed in a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference seminar in 2014, which was released on Ted.com this month.
“As we have blood running through our veins and arteries, so too, the Earth has hot water running through its cracks and faults.
“Where these arteries come to the surface, these earth arteries, we’ll get geothermal manifestations: fumaroles, hot springs and in our case, the boiling river” he said.
The PhD student in geophysics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas,Texas, first heard about the river several years ago from his father who shared a story about Spanish conquistadors encountering a mysterious terrifying river that boils from below while they were attempting to kill the last Inca emperor.
The river came up in conversation again, years later, from his aunt who claimed she’d seen this river before and even swam in it. Curious to get to the bottom of its existence, in 2011 he went on a hike, led by his aunt, through the jungle where it was said to be found, and was amazed to see the legendary river with his own eyes.
“At a time when everything seems mapped, measured and understood, this river challenges what we think we know,” he said at the TED conference.
“It has forced me to question the line between known and unknown, ancient and modern, scientific and spiritual. It is a reminder that there are still great wonders to be discovered.”
Since his discovery, Mr Ruzo launched the Boiling River Project for the research and protection of the river and its surrounding area, including its rich and diverse plant and wildlife, which preliminary studies have indicated are found in the jungles along the river.
Shrouded with layers of legends, spirituality and mysticism, the Boiling River is considered a sacred place to its local community.
The river area is also home to the Santuario Huistin and the Mayantuyacu, two native Amazonian healing communities, who have long considered it a sacred site and place of spiritual powers that only the most powerful community healers would visit “to commune with the spirits” and learn about the secret healing powers and rituals of their predecessors.