10 spectacular, record-setting waterfalls
By Jaymi Heimbuch, Mother Nature Network, 29 June 2015.
By Jaymi Heimbuch, Mother Nature Network, 29 June 2015.
From the tallest to the most powerful, to even the biggest underwater waterfall, you don't want to miss these natural wonders.
1. The tallest waterfall in the world: Angel Falls
Photo: Yosemite/Wikimedia Commons
Next time you’re in Venezuela, make sure you add a visit to Canaima National Park. This is the home of Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall with a drop of 3,212 feet. The main plunge is an impressive 2,648 feet and a spectacle not to miss if you have the chance to visit the area. The best time to go is June through December, and you should be prepared for a trek since the falls are in an isolated jungle.
It's undisputed that Angel Falls has the tallest single uninterrupted drop of any waterfall in the world. However, there is a dispute over whether or not it is actually the tallest waterfall in the world. Our next slide features the contender.
2. The second tallest (or maybe the first tallest) waterfall: Tugela Falls
Photo: Safari Now
The claim to tallest waterfall is one rife with controversy thanks to some questionable measurements, and Tugela Falls in South Africa is in the running for the title.
Not only is Angel Falls likely shorter than initially measured in 1949, but Tugela Falls is likely taller than its measurements indicate. So rather than 3,110 feet as usually stated (which makes it a bit shorter than the possibly erroneously stated 3,212 feet of Angel Falls) Tugela Falls may more likely be somewhere between 3,255 feet and 3,320 feet in height.
If the two waterfalls are re-measured with more accuracy, we just may see the title for world's tallest waterfall change hands.
3. The largest waterfall by flow rate: Inga Falls
Photo: toxnaija/YouTube screenshot
Another way to measure the size of a waterfall is by flow rate, or how much water rushes over the edge of the falls, regardless of the height of the drop. For this category, Inga Falls in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the clear winner. This waterfall is a cascade that drops 315 feet over the course of 9 miles on the Congo River. Water rushes down Inga falls at the rate of 910,000 cubic feet per second! For comparison, Niagara Falls (the largest waterfall in North America) gets just 85,000 cubic feet per second.
Lest you think this is a set of rapids and not a true waterfall, it is indeed a fully fledged waterfall, with one section dropping a full 70 feet. The World Waterfall Database states, "Many, if not most accounts seem to discount it as nothing but rapids but we suspect that the most substantial portion of the falls are actually quite steep and can be legitimately considered to be a true waterfall..."
4. Largest curtain of water in the world: Victoria Falls
Photo: Chris Parker/Flickr
Just to prove there are about as many ways to compare waterfalls as there are actual waterfalls, we're going to look at the record-holder for largest curtain of water. The winner is the outstandingly beautiful and weird Victoria Falls, which lies on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
This waterfall rushes into a deep chasm, making it look like the river is disappearing into a mist-filled hole. That alone is pretty neat, but Victoria Falls adds in even more flare.
The falls is 5,604 feet across and 354 feet in height. While the flow is split into smaller channels during the dry season, during times when the river is high, the tiny islands that split the water disappear and the falls create the largest curtain of falling water anywhere on earth.
5. The widest waterfall in the world: The Khone Falls
Photo: Hiroo Yamagata/Flickr
Though the Chutes de Khone, or Khone Falls, may not be the most visually stunning of waterfalls it is the widest waterfall in the world by far. The falls measures 35,376 feet wide. The next widest is Pará Falls which is a measly 18,400 feet wide. In other words, the Khone Falls is nearly double the width of its closest competitor.
The Khone Falls in Laos is the reason that the Mekong river isn't fully navigable into China; there is simply no floating down these powerful falls and rapids that stretch down 69 feet of river, including a 45-foot drop. About 410,000 cubic feet of water rush down this waterfall every single second.
6. Most famous waterfall in the world: Niagara Falls
Photo: Saffron Blaze/Wikimedia Commons
This is a little bit subjective, of course. But Niagara Falls is considered the most well-known waterfall anywhere in the world. And the number of visitors it receives proves it. Niagara Falls gets somewhere between 9 and 28 million visitors annually (sources vary and really, no one actually knows). Even on the lower end, it's way more visitors than other waterfalls receive anywhere in the world. It has been the site of countless stunts, and more than two dozen films have featured the falls.
The flow has been reduced by half by power plants, and it is built up on both sides by businesses wanting to cash in on the tourist trade, but Niagara Falls is still a spectacular sight to behold - thanks in no small part to over 100 years of pushback against commercialism.
7. Most powerful waterfall in North America: Horseshoe Falls
Photo: Ryan Howley/Flickr
A section of Niagara Falls earns the title of most powerful waterfall on the continent. Niagara Falls is made up of three separate falls: Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Horseshoe Falls is almost entirely on the Canadian side of the boarder and is easily the most powerful of the three; it's also the most powerful on the continent.
Around 90 percent of the river tumbles over the 173-foot-wide and 793-foot-wide Horseshoe Falls, an amount of about 600,000 gallons per second during the day. (The rate changes at different times of day because the river is used for hydroelectric power generation.)
8. Largest underground waterfall: Gaping Gill
Photo: Tania81/Wikimedia Commons
There are quite a few amazing underground waterfalls in the world. The largest of them all that is open to tourists to visit is La Grotte aux Fées in Switzerland. Shown in the image above, it is a gorgeous 253-foot tall waterfall that tumbles down into a cave that was once used as a sheep pen during Roman times but is now known as the cave of fairies.
However, there is an even taller underground waterfall in Gaping Gill. This is the second largest natural cave shaft in the United Kingdom, and the 360-foot high waterfall within the cave is the tallest unbroken waterfall in the U.K. This underground waterfall is taller than La Grotte aux Fées, however, you can't just waltz into the cave to visit. There are special tours held twice a year.
(And there may be taller underground waterfalls out there yet to be discovered!)
9. Largest underwater waterfall: Denmark Strait cataract
Photo: MITgcm/YouTube screenshot
This plays around with the definition of a waterfall, but keep your mind open because this is is pretty amazing. The Denmark Strait, in the Atlantic Ocean between Greenland and Iceland, is an underground waterfall that tumbles almost 11,500 feet and carries 175 million cubic feet of water per second.
The reason it exists is due to temperature differences in the water on either side of the strait. Cold water is more dense than warm water. And the eastern side of the strait is a lot colder than the western side. So when the waters meet, the cold water sinks below the warmer water, creating a strong downward flow of water - one that can be (and is) considered a waterfall.
There are other areas of the ocean where the same thing happens, but the Denmark Straight is hands down the largest of them.
10. Largest descent over a waterfall: Palouse Falls
Photo: David Kingham/Flickr
The waterfall itself isn't the record-setter in this case but rather a human who went over it in a kayak - but it's spectacularly beautiful, so we had to include it.
Palouse Falls in Washington state is a 198-foot waterfall that tumbles into a beautiful pool of water. It is this falls that Tyler Bradt, a professional kayaker, chose to set a world record for the largest descent over a waterfall. The falls is made of a roughly 20-foot upper falls and the 180-foot lower falls. Bradt and his kayak set the record on the lower falls.
According to National Geographic, the previous record for the largest descent was set only a few weeks before this one, on a 127-foot waterfall in the Amazon. This new record with its extra 53 feet will likely hold for a long time to come.
Top image: Niagara Falls. Credit: caruba/Flickr.
[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited. Some images and links added.]