QuickCheck: Is the world’s biggest waterfall underwater?

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Close your eyes and imagine standing next to a waterfall. What do you see? Probably something breathtakingly beautiful like a massive river flowing off a cliff and crashing into a black pool and continuing further down.


The concept of a waterfall is pretty simple. After all, it’s right there in the name. A continuous flow of water from a higher elevation falling to a lower elevation.

Some of you might have pictured in your mind one of the world’s most famous waterfalls – like the Niagara Falls in North America, the Iguazu Waterfalls in South America (The one in Marvel’s Black Panther), the Victoria Falls in Africa or the Angel Falls in Venezuela (The one in Pixar’s movie Up). As majestic as these waterfalls are, they are tiny compared to the world’s largest waterfall. In fact, it may look nothing like the picture you have in your mind when you think about a waterfall. Is the world’s biggest waterfall actually underwater?

The terrain below the surface of our oceans is a lot more uneven than what we have on dry land. There are bigger mountains and deeper gorges. For example, while Mount Everest is considered the highest peak in the world, if measured from the base to the peak – the tallest mountain is Mauna Kea – a long-dormant volcano in Hawaii. In total, it is roughly 10,205m in height, dwarfing Mount Everest’s 8,849m. Over half of Mauna Kea is underwater in the Pacific Ocean.


So naturally, the waterfalls below the surface must also be bigger. But how are there waterfalls underwater? Well the biggest waterfall – the Denmark Strait Cataract – located between Greenland and Iceland, occurs due to the difference in temperature and densities of two bodies of water.

Cold water coming from the East hits warmer water coming from the West, making it plunge underneath the warm water with a 3,500m drop, from the Greenland Sea into Irminger Sea. The waterfall’s flow rate is five million cubic metres per second (surpassing that of the Niagara Falls by 50,000 times). Did I mention that the whole thing is about 160km wide?

So next time you try picturing yourself next to a waterfall, remember to imagine yourself in a scuba suit.

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