What Counts As The World’s Shortest River?


This is the Roe River. And if you believe
the hype, it is the shortest river in the world. And through the miracle of modern technology, the waterproof camera on this stick, I can show you the full length of it. All the way from the source, a crystal-clear
spring in Giant Springs State Park, Montana, flowing down 61 metres until it joins the much, much, much larger
Missouri River flowing to the ocean. Yeah, the river’s just there. And it really is crystal clear:
while I was setting up, someone came along with some bottles and
filled them up for drinking water. I was off in Vidcon in Los Angeles last week
as I record this, and I was having dinner with a few folks who
make educational videos when I mentioned that I was coming here to
talk about ‘the shortest river’. And if I’m honest, the conversation
didn’t go well. They kept raising different objections, and seemed to get angry just at the concept. So eventually I looked up the dictionary definition
of ‘river’ in the Oxford English Dictionary: “A large natural stream of water
flowing in a channel “to the sea, a lake, or another, usually larger,
stream of the same kind.” First objection: this is man-made. True, the course of this was
refined by people, but… …so was the Los Angeles River and that’s
still a river despite a lot of people thinking it’s just
an overgrown storm drain. Although to be fair, the Roe River here didn’t
even have a name until the 80s when some students surveyed it and campaigned
for it to be named the shortest river. The Guinness Book of Records did
eventually agree, at least for a while. Okay, said the folks I was talking to,
but how do you know it’s the shortest? That is a fair point. There have been long-documented arguments
about whether this river is even the shortest
in the United States… …and there are international claims too, like this short channel between two lakes
near Jyväskylä in Finland. And I was really skeptical before I got here,
but yeah, now I’m standing by it, I genuinely think
this is the shortest river in the world. It is a large, natural channel flowing in
one direction to a lake. Fits all the dictionary definitions, unless
you want to argue that it’s not large enough, but frankly if it’s large enough to drown in,
I think it should count. You could try adding more specifics. Forget arguing about whether this is natural: how about saying that a river
starts at a source, flows somewhere in a consistent direction, and ends at a much bigger bit of water? That seemed like a great definition to me, until someone pointed out that
that would include waterslides. Every time we tried to nail down a definition,
it slipped away. I’ll be honest, I’m not really here to show you
The World’s Shortest River, because I
can’t. Because there will always be quibbles about
definitions. All the categories that we try to put the
natural world into, to fit everything into maps and databases,
all those categories have to be fuzzy. Mapmakers have known for years that, as with
so many things in the real world, “is it a river” is not always a question that
can be answered with a binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’. There is almost always
an exception to the rule. The ‘river’ is whatever humans agree it is. The exact definition probably differs between
languages and cultures anyway. And in the end, the Guinness Book of Records
decided not to have a listing for shortest
river.

100 thoughts on “What Counts As The World’s Shortest River?

  1. While I do like the gag of going to Finland for one fifteen-second bit of a video, that'd be a horrifically wasteful joke, and I should be clear: I've been piecing this video together for a while now, when I happened to be in the right places!

  2. They had no right to take my name out of the records book Robert Perry was never part of that family no one should have to stole that money from me because I was the real one.
    SIR,

  3. Some viewers may be interested to know that the shortest (named) river in the United Kingdom is the Scavaig, which flows out of Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye, off the west coast of Scotland. It can be seen in Danny Mcaskill's very popular "The Ridge" movie.

  4. How are your fingerprints from 10 years ago? Did the pineapple remove them? Hahahaha

  5. You also need a definiton of what is actualy a river. If you find a stream that is half an inch wide, is that a river?

  6. But we can all agree that it's so crystal clear! If only we did more to take care of other rivers and make closer to this

  7. I've been trying to remember what Tom's presenting style, and his voice reminds me of and I've finally realised that it is James Burke in his Connections series. If you don't know James Burke, that is high praise indeed. See the youtube video "james burke rocket launch".

  8. I love these vids! As a biologist I also have trouble explaining to lay-people that the natural world isn't always binary!

  9. Well…down the road from my cottage…we have the “D” River….apparently, it too is the worlds shortest river.
    Lincoln City Oregon.

  10. WHAT?! YOU WENT TO MY HOMETOWN SUMIAINEN?! AND I WASN'T AWARE OF THAT?! My heart just skipped a large beat….

  11. It feels like a lot of Tom videos lately are "This is widely considered a record of some sort, but it's not really."

  12. It’s a problem of what’s the shortest large? How do you define a specific length for a relative term?

  13. Watching your video on Bitrates in video a while ago, I came back to this video to see if the bitrate was low due to the flowing water. I was not disappointed when your explanation to bitrates proved correct!

  14. How is a youtube channel supporting a life-style that sees you travel to finland for a 20 second segment?

  15. I live in Great Falls and go to Giant Springs all the time!! I’m sad I missed you there!

  16. There is a river in Slovenia that's 55 meters long, it's called Jezernica and it connects siphon lake Divje jezero to a river Idrijca. Due to the nature of the lake, river sometimes dries out or even weirder, flows backwards.

  17. Title or your channel should be "eh…"
    What makes a mountain? Eh… What we say it is.
    Where's the border between these countriers? Eh… Depends on the time of day.

  18. River= a natural stream of fresh water that flows in a consistent way from its spring to a bigger body of water

  19. Guinness has no listing for shortest river because a lack of definition? But they have a longest listed. Even without a definition though, The Nile is clearly the generally agreed upon longest. Does this account for the difference in Guinness listing status?

  20. The shortest river in the world is from my toilet to the sewer system. Regular flows to a larger body of water.

  21. Genuinely came back to watch this again after the latest two of these people are lying.

  22. i would define a river as the main channel of an aquafer.
    for example the ocean is a river to the Mediterranean. it is literally the river that flows around the world, and drains into the mediterranean.
    most rivers would be described as offshoots of that main oceanic aquafer.

    you still have the problem of 'how many aquafers are there?' and how long an aquafer has to be for it to be identifiable. it is the same type of problem as realizing england has an infinite coastline.

    another problem is pragmatics and utility. most people differentiate streams from rivers in that rivers are hard to ford- to cross. that proximal category of a stream can be ignored in some contexts and not in others.

    the last characteristic which matters is water volume and rate, again relative to other proximal categories. chasm volume matters but so does flow, so does it have enough?

    the shortest river would be probably on a draining glacier. you would get a large pool of water, similar to a lake, and it would catestrophicalyl become a river, be a river, and then also stop.

    but does a river have to have continuous flow? or could dry river bed be shorter at least in time?

    speaking of that, do you measure a river by the part of the aquafer above ground? or by the tract of erosion?

  23. So what about that river in North Yorkshire? it's about 3 feet long.
    I can't remember much about it but I can say I heard it from a very reliable source.

  24. I know what you mean about quibbling about definitions. Shouldn't that bit in Finland be a strait? I've heard some folks say that about the water flowing between lakes Erie and Ontario… the Niagara River. But the Niagara Strait doesn't have the same ring to it.

  25. 2:06 "flows in a consistent direction"… the Mississipi and Thames can flow backwards during storms

  26. Crazy to see someone with millions of subscribers featuring my humble home town. Really really cool

  27. > casually cuts to him standing in LA and Finnlad just for 3 seconds of the video each

  28. The shortest river is definitely in my bathroom when I piss while sitting on the toilet. It’s a natural path from the source, with a consistent direction of flow, to a much larger body of water! That’s legit, right?

  29. Water that begins at a natural source (defined as a source without active machines) and progresses to an end point or convergence with other (natural source) waters ?

  30. Gee, I thought the Oxford English Dictionary definition was fine. So the shortest we know of is in Finland. Let's stay with that until someone finds a shorter one.

  31. In order for a river to be considered a river instead of a creek it has to be at least 100 miles long. At least in the United States

  32. I can know a smaller natural river, in kraig, austria (no cangoroos) its about 2m long

  33. Hah I knew that Finland would be featured as the subject is "the world's [insert obscure attribute]"

  34. Try to explain reality with a finite set of rules and reality will go out of its way to find an exception.

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