How I found a mythical boiling river in the Amazon | Andrés Ruzo


As a boy in Lima, my grandfather told me a legend of the Spanish conquest of Peru. Atahualpa, emperor of the Inca,
had been captured and killed. Pizarro and his conquistadors
had grown rich, and tales of their conquest
and glory had reached Spain and was bringing new waves of Spaniards,
hungry for gold and glory. They would go into towns and ask the Inca, “Where’s another civilization
we can conquer? Where’s more gold?” And the Inca, out of vengeance, told them, “Go to the Amazon. You’ll find all the gold you want there. In fact, there is a city called Paititi —
El Dorado in Spanish — made entirely of gold.” The Spanish set off into the jungle, but the few that return
come back with stories, stories of powerful shamans, of warriors with poisoned arrows, of trees so tall they blotted out the sun, spiders that ate birds,
snakes that swallowed men whole and a river that boiled. All this became a childhood memory. And years passed. I’m working on my PhD at SMU, trying to understand
Peru’s geothermal energy potential, when I remember this legend, and I began asking that question. Could the boiling river exist? I asked colleagues from universities, the government, oil, gas and mining companies, and the answer was a unanimous no. And this makes sense. You see, boiling rivers
do exist in the world, but they’re generally
associated with volcanoes. You need a powerful heat source to produce such a large
geothermal manifestation. And as you can see from the red dots
here, which are volcanoes, we don’t have volcanoes in the Amazon, nor in most of Peru. So it follows: We should not expect
to see a boiling river. Telling this same story
at a family dinner, my aunt tells me, “But no, Andrés, I’ve been there.
I’ve swum in that river.” (Laughter) Then my uncle jumps in. “No, Andrés, she’s not kidding. You see, you can only swim in it
after a very heavy rain, and it’s protected by a powerful shaman. Your aunt, she’s friends with his wife.” (Laughter) “¿Cómo?” [“Huh?”] You know, despite all
my scientific skepticism, I found myself hiking into the jungle,
guided by my aunt, over 700 kilometers away
from the nearest volcanic center, and well, honestly,
mentally preparing myself to behold the legendary
“warm stream of the Amazon.” But then … I heard something, a low surge that got louder and louder as we came closer. It sounded like ocean waves
constantly crashing, and as we got closer, I saw smoke, vapor,
coming up through the trees. And then, I saw this. I immediately grabbed for my thermometer, and the average temperatures in the river were 86 degrees C. This is not quite
the 100-degree C boiling but definitely close enough. The river flowed hot and fast. I followed it upriver and was led by,
actually, the shaman’s apprentice to the most sacred site on the river. And this is what’s bizarre — It starts off as a cold stream. And here, at this site, is the home of the Yacumama, mother of the waters,
a giant serpent spirit who births hot and cold water. And here we find a hot spring, mixing with cold stream water
underneath her protective motherly jaws and thus bringing their legends to life. The next morning, I woke up and — (Laughter) I asked for tea. I was handed a mug, a tea bag and, well, pointed towards the river. To my surprise, the water was clean
and had a pleasant taste, which is a little weird
for geothermal systems. What was amazing is that the locals had always
known about this place, and that I was by no means
the first outsider to see it. It was just part of their everyday life. They drink its water. They take in its vapor. They cook with it, clean with it, even make their medicines with it. I met the shaman, and he seemed like an extension
of the river and his jungle. He asked for my intentions and listened carefully. Then, to my tremendous relief — I was freaking out,
to be honest with you — a smile began to snake across his face,
and he just laughed. (Laughter) I had received the shaman’s blessing
to study the river, on the condition that after I take
the water samples and analyze them in my lab, wherever I was in the world, that I pour the waters
back into the ground so that, as the shaman said, the waters could find their way back home. I’ve been back every year
since that first visit in 2011, and the fieldwork has been exhilarating, demanding and at times dangerous. One story was even featured
in National Geographic Magazine. I was trapped on a small rock
about the size of a sheet of paper in sandals and board shorts, in between an 80 degree C river and a hot spring that, well,
looked like this, close to boiling. And on top of that,
it was Amazon rain forest. Pshh, pouring rain, couldn’t see a thing. The temperature differential
made it all white. It was a whiteout. Intense. Now, after years of work, I’ll soon be submitting my geophysical
and geochemical studies for publication. And I’d like to share, today,
with all of you here, on the TED stage, for the first time,
some of these discoveries. Well, first off, it’s not a legend. Surprise! (Laughter) When I first started the research, the satellite imagery was too
low-resolution to be meaningful. There were just no good maps. Thanks to the support
of the Google Earth team, I now have this. Not only that, the indigenous name
of the river, Shanay-timpishka, “boiled with the heat of the sun,” indicating that I’m not the first
to wonder why the river boils, and showing that humanity
has always sought to explain the world around us. So why does the river boil? (Bubbling sounds) It actually took me three years
to get that footage. Fault-fed hot springs. As we have hot 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. What’s truly incredible, though,
is the scale of this place. Next time you cross the road,
think about this. The river flows wider than a two-lane road along most of its path. It flows hot for 6.24 kilometers. Truly impressive. There are thermal pools
larger than this TED stage, and that waterfall that you see there is six meters tall — and all with near-boiling water. We mapped the temperatures
along the river, and this was by far the most
demanding part of the fieldwork. And the results were just awesome. Sorry — the geoscientist
in me coming out. And it showed this amazing trend. You see, the river starts off cold. It then heats up, cools back down,
heats up, cools back down, heats up again, and then has
this beautiful decay curve until it smashes into this cold river. Now, I understand not all of you
are geothermal scientists, so to put it in more everyday terms: Everyone loves coffee. Yes? Good. Your regular cup of coffee, 54 degrees C, an extra-hot one, well, 60. So, put in coffee shop terms, the boiling river plots like this. There you have your hot coffee. Here you have your extra-hot coffee, and you can see
that there’s a bit point there where the river is still hotter
than even the extra-hot coffee. And these are average water temperatures. We took these in the dry season to ensure
the purest geothermal temperatures. But there’s a magic number here
that’s not being shown, and that number is 47 degrees C, because that’s where things start to hurt, and I know this from very
personal experience. Above that temperature,
you don’t want to get in that water. You need to be careful. It can be deadly. I’ve seen all sorts of animals fall in, and what’s shocking to me,
is the process is pretty much the same. So they fall in and the first thing
to go are the eyes. Eyes, apparently, cook very quickly.
They turn this milky-white color. The stream is carrying them. 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. (Laughter) A bit sadistic, aren’t we? Jeez. Leave them marinating for a little longer. What’s, again, amazing
are these temperatures. They’re similar to things that I’ve seen
on volcanoes all over the world and even super-volcanoes like Yellowstone. But here’s the thing: the data is showing
that the boiling river exists independent of volcanism. It’s neither magmatic
or volcanic in origin, and again, over 700 kilometers away
from the nearest volcanic center. How can a boiling river exist like this? I’ve asked geothermal experts
and volcanologists for years, and I’m still unable to find another
non-volcanic geothermal system of this magnitude. It’s unique. It’s special on a global scale. So, still — how does it work? Where do we get this heat? There’s still more research to be done to better constrain the problem
and better understand the system, but from what the data is telling us now, it looks to be the result
of a large hydrothermal system. Basically, it works like this: So, the deeper you go
into the earth, the hotter it gets. We refer to this
as the geothermal gradient. The waters could be coming
from as far away as glaciers in the Andes, then seeping down deep into the earth and coming out to form the boiling river after getting heated up
from the geothermal gradient, all due to this unique geologic setting. Now, we found
that in and around the river — this is working with colleagues from National Geographic,
Dr. Spencer Wells, and Dr. Jon Eisen from UC Davis — we genetically sequenced
the extremophile lifeforms living in and around the river,
and have found new lifeforms, unique species living
in the boiling river. But again, despite all of these studies,
all of these discoveries and the legends, a question remains: What is the significance
of the boiling river? What is the significance
of this stationary cloud that always hovers
over this patch of jungle? And what is the significance of a detail in a childhood legend? To the shaman and his community,
it’s a sacred site. To me, as a geoscientist, it’s a unique geothermal phenomenon. But to the illegal loggers
and cattle farmers, it’s just another resource to exploit. And to the Peruvian government,
it’s just another stretch of unprotected land ready for development. My goal is to ensure
that whoever controls this land understands the boiling river’s
uniqueness and significance. Because that’s the question, one of significance. And the thing there is, we define significance. It’s us. We have that power. We are the ones who draw that line between the sacred and the trivial. And in this age, where everything seems mapped,
measured and studied, in this age of information, I remind you all that discoveries
are not just made in the black void of the unknown but in the white noise
of overwhelming data. There remains so much to explore. We live in an incredible world. So go out. Be curious. Because we do live in a world where shamans still sing
to the spirits of the jungle, where rivers do boil and where legends do come to life. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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100 thoughts on “How I found a mythical boiling river in the Amazon | Andrés Ruzo

  1. When has humans ever stopped from destroying everything natural in the name of development? In a few years of we're lucky amazon rain forest with be stripped down to fragments and patches of forests surrounded by cities and Suburbs and tourist attractions.. It will no longer be self sustainable and the balance will be lost.

  2. Wrong. There are at least 30 volcanoes in Peru, some of them active. And since there are volcanoes to the north and in the south, it stands to reason there are magma chambers all up and down the coast. It's not part of what's called "the ring of fire" because it's cold.

  3. …………and did you PROBE the ground for magma chambers? or just believing in magical boiling water for the heck of it?

  4. Good talk! Though i almost wish he didnt share this news. Tourists will come and wreck the local economy and litter the whole place. itll be a tourist trap pdq.

  5. He shouldn’t have told google . Now people will come a destroy his legend . Its better to be known to keep it a legend then to let the greed of humanity destroy for money ! And know you are responsible for the damage. 🤦‍♀️ look at the rain forest . The Hawaiian islands , the last of the Native people on the Earth all being destroyed for profit.

  6. I would think that a rainforest would have incredibly deep wide and complex aquifers. Wouldnt surprise me if it went down to the Earth's mantle and used convection currents to bring hot water up.

  7. There are boiling lakes, rivers and waterfalls all over the earth. I've even seen hot water in the r middle of the ocean. Its was like a hot tub in the ocean.

  8. It's not passion only or mostly what makes him great. It's his absolute perfection as a speaker. NOT ONE FILLER WORD in the entire presentation, PERFECT pausing, TOTAL COMMAND and, MOST LIKELY on his second language. Very hard to find a person that can deliver like this now a days. Congratulations to you sir !

  9. Looking at history we can see that the word 'Legend' is generally used to mean 'history Europeans don't know therefore it must not be real'.

  10. "Food is grown on the earth above, but down below, the earth is melted as by fire..They search the sources of the rivers and bring hidden things to light." Job 28:1-12
    "Always learning but never able to come to an accurate knowledge of the truth." 2Tim 3:7
    Waters above and Waters below and to either side and all around, compacted firmly in Ice.
    "They will say [there is no God] because they want to forget that long ago the heavens and the earth were made at God's command * the earth came out of water and was made from water.* 2peter 3:5 – how deep is that! 😉
    Read Genesis carefully and know where you are and how amazing God is.. not corny people. The only worthy cause is the vindication of His Great Name and His original purpose for humanity, while being peaceable and kind.
    Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
    Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
    Into the blue again after the money's gone
    Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground
    -Talking Heads

  11. This is a really enthralling talk. At the same time it's really, really sad. We're going to destroy everything and there is no power that can stop us. 🙁

  12. When I was travelling around Australia me and my family were walking down a river and I start to walk in the water the further I walked the hotter the water seemed to get warmer to the point were I jumped out of the water and I went back to my camper van and the next day I had burns all over my foot

    Edit: I went back to this location later on and discovered that at the hottest point of the river it was 60 degrees C it’s absolutely crazy how much we don’t know about the world we live in and how much we haven’t even seen of our own world

  13. its sad that these people that live their lives by the river have nothing to do with the government are still treated ike government property "the purivian govenrment se it as unprotected land ready for develpoment"… there are people that live on the land and have donw done for more years then there has been a gocvernment yet the government want to make a claim because there is no peice of paper that says the natives own it…

  14. This is pretty cool, and the guy is a good and very passionate speaker. That said, hot springs of geologically mysterious origin far from any active volcanic structures may not be at every second bend on every river system, but they are far from being unheard of- check out Liard river hot springs in British Columbia Canada if you ever drive the Alaska highway.

  15. Well let's see spiders that eat birds
    Check
    Snakes that eat humans
    Check
    Shamans that are powerful
    Check
    Poison arrows
    Check
    Okay that rivers got to be around here somewhere

  16. In Colorado the French were told about the "Fountaine qui boile" – the fountain which boils. It is a creek whose water is minerally effervescent. Big medicines in these springs were used to treat TB

  17. Asombrosa y maravillosa mi tierra Perú ❤️ gracias por enseñarnos también a los peruanos otra maravilla más de mi país.

  18. I clearly see the face of the snake in the rock but it's completely different from the one he drew in red over it. The eye is not so high up and the mouth is also lower

  19. I wanna know what kind of unique flora and fauna can thrive in such a setting. The Amazon is as wild as wild is the Amazon

  20. 🙂 How ? Answer is to problematic and quite hard to believe for most of people. This is the same stuff like with the oil mystery, where is come from? Science cant explain origins of oil, and we can't reproduce this from organic matter in any way. And i'm not surprised at all, because it was not create from it in the first place

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