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  • 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...

  • 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.

This is the Roe River. And if you believe the hype, it is the shortest river in the world.

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What Counts As The World's Shortest River?

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/04/01
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