Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Paraná River (Rio Paraná in Spanish and Portugese) is a river in south central South America, running through Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina over a course of some 2,570 kilometers (1,600 miles). This length increases to 3,998 km (2,484 miles) if the distance is counted from the headwaters of the Paraiba river in Brazil. It is considered to second in size only to the Amazon River among South American rivers.
The Paraná river is formed at the confluence of the Paraiba and Grande (Rio Grande) rivers in southern Brazil. From the confluence the river flows in a generally southeastern direction for about 619 km (385 miles) before encountering the city of Saltos del Guaira, Paraguay. This was once the location of the Sete Quedas waterfall, where the Paraná fell over a series of seven cascades. This natural feature was said to rival the world famous Iguaçu Falls to the south. The falls were flooded, however, by the construction of the Itaipu dam which began operating in 1984.
For the next approximately 190 km (118 miles) the Paraná flows southward and forms a natural boundary between the countries of Paraguay and Brazil until the confluence with the Iguaçu River. Shortly upstream from this confluence, however, the river is dammed by the impressive Itaipu dam, the largest hydroelectric generating station in the world, and creating a massive, shallow reservoir behind it.
After merging with the Iguaçu, the Paraná then becomes the natural border between Paraguay and Argentina. The river continues its general southward course for about 468 km (291 miles) before making a gradual turn to the west for another 820 km (510 miles) before encountering the Paraguay River (Rio Paraguay), the largest tributary along the course of the river. Before this confluence the river passes through a second major hydroelectric project, the Yacyretá dam, a joint project between Paraguay and Argentina. The massive reservoir formed by the project has been the source of a number of problems for people living along the river, most notably the poorer merchants and residents in the low lying areas of Encarnación, a major city on the southern border of Paraguay. River levels rose dramatically upon completion of the dam, flooding out large sections of the cities lower areas.
From the confluence with the Paraguay River, the Paraná again turns to the south for another approximately 820 km (510 miles) through Argentina, making a slow turn back to the east near the city of Rosario for the final stretch of less than 500 km (311 miles) before merging with the Uruguay River to form the River Plate (Rio de la Plata) and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Paraná along with its tributaries creates a massive watershed that spreads throughout much of the south central part of the continent, essentially encompassing all of Paraguay, much of southern Brazil, northern Argentina, and even reaching into Bolivia. If the Uruguay River is counted as a tributary to the Paraná, this watershed extends to cover much of Uruguay as well. The volume of water flowing into the Atlantic Ocean through the River Plate is roughly equal to the volume at the Mississippi River delta. This watershed services a number of large cities, including Buenos Aires, Asuncion and Brasilia. The Paraná and its tributaires are a source of income and even daily sustenance for a number of fishermen who live along its banks.
Much of the length of the Paraná is navigable and is used as an important waterway linking inland cities in Argentina and Paraguay to the ocean, providing deep water ports in many of these cities. The construction of massive hydroelectric dams along the river's length has blocked its use as a shipping corridor to cities further upstream, but the economic impact of those dams is considered to offset this. The Yacyreta and Itaipu dams on the Paraguay border have made the small, largely undeveloped nation the world's largest exporter of hydroelectric power.
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