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This Is The Longest River In Europe

The longest river in all of Europe is the Volga river, which winds it ways through central Russia and drains in the Caspian Sea. The Volga river runs 3,530 kilometers long (2,192 miles), and the Volga river basin is populated with many of Russia’s largest cities.

Physical Attributes Of The Volga

The Volga River sits on an endorheic basin, a basin that has limited drainage and usually retains water except under certain circumstances. This closed basin is the Caspian Sea. The Volga river begins somewhere within the Valdai Hills around 225 meters (740 feet) above sea level. The hills are located to the northwest of Moscow and to the southeast of St. Petersburg.

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The Volga river flows southeast and turns south around the city of Kazan, where it continues moving south until it meets with the Caspian Sea. The cities of Lake Sterzh, Dubna, Rybinsk, Samara and Saratov, Volgograd and Astrakhan are located along the river. The river drains into the Caspian sea at around 28 meters below sea level.

The Volga river has many different tributaries, such as the Sure, the Oka, and the Vetluga. The entire Volga river system, the Volga river, and its tributaries, have an area of around 1,350,000 square kilometers (521,238 square miles). The Volga river functions as a major waterway for Russia and provides many western Russian cities hydroelectric power and irrigation. There are nine major hydroelectric dams on the Volga river, as well as seven substantial artificial lakes and reservoirs. These are Rybinsk, Nizhny Novograd, the Volgograd reservoirs, and Samara. The Volga river valley is fertile and provides cities along it with wheat and mineral resources.

The Volga river is primarily fed by snowmelt, which makes up approximately 60% of its annual discharge. Underground water sources and rainwater make up the rest of the Volga river’s water sources. Before the river was regulated by a series of reservoirs, high spring floods were frequent occurrences. Annual fluctuations in river level ranged from 10 feet to 49 feet. The climate of the Volga basin changes dramatically as one follows it from north to south. The northern portion of the Volga basin is in a temperate climatic zone with warm, humid summers and snowy, cold winters. From around the Kama to the Volga Hills, hot dry summers are common and winters are cold but with little snow, and as the river continues to move southward temperature continues to increase while precipitation continues to decrease. The middle and upper parts of the Volga River are usually frozen and packed with ice from November until mid-march when the ice begins to break up.

Human Relationship With The Volga

Photo: CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1122527

The Volga is navigable for around 2000 miles, and the more than 70 tributaries of the Volga carry approximately half of all Russian inland freight. The Volga is also responsible for carrying almost half of all the passengers who use inland waterways for transportation. The Volga-Baltic waterway joins the Volga to the Baltic Sea. The northern lakes – Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega, are connected with the Volga thanks to the Volga-Baltic waterway as well. Connections with the Black Sea and river Don are possible through the Volga-Don canal.

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The downstream area of the Volga was is thought to be one of the cradles of civilization for Proto-Indo-European civilization. Downstream Volga was settled by the Huns and others in the first millennium CE. The river basin was important to people from Europe to Asia, and Volga region cities like Sarai, Atil, and Saqsin were amongst the largest cities in the world during the medieval era. The river was an important trade route that connected Scandinavia with Volga Bulgaria and Persia.

The Volga river valley supports a large petroleum industry. It also has many natural resources like natural gas, potash, and salt. The Caspian Sea and Volga Delta are major fishing grounds. The Volga Delta is the largest estuary in all of Europe and is one of the few places, perhaps the only place, within Russia where pelican, lotuses, and flamingoes can be found.

Many notable species of sturgeon can be found within the Volga river delta, such as the Russian sturgeon, the Sterlet, the Beluga and the Stellate sturgeon. There are also migratory species like Herrings and Whitefish that can be found within the region. The Volga lamprey is endemic to the region, while the White-eyed bream is also endemic. Some unusual birds can be found in the area, including the Great white egret, the Dalmatian pelican, and the Penduline tit. Some of the sturgeons are prized for their caviar and as a result, have been poached almost to extinction within the Volga river. The IUCN Red List of Endangered species list all of the species of sturgeon, save two, classifies them as threatened. Six species of sturgeon are endangered, six are vulnerable, and eight are critically endangered.

Dams found upstream of the delta, in the middle regions of the Volga have altered much of the natural flow of the Volga. This has not only negatively affected the productivity of the Volga basin, but it has also harmed much of the fauna present in the area. Domestic pollution, industrial pollution, and agricultural operations also threaten the health of the ecosystem of the Volga delta. Deoxygenation and large cyanobacteria blooms have increased substantially in recent years.

The Second Longest River In Europe

Photo: falco via Pixabay, CC0

While the Volga river is the longest river in all of Europe, the Danube river is the longest river in all of western Europe, in the European Union countries. The Danube river is mainly within Eastern and Central Europe. The river starts in Germany in the Black Forest Mountains and runs for around 2,850 kilometers (1770 miles) along the European continent before it drains into the Black Sea in Romania.

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Much like the Volga, the Danube played a pivotal role in the settling of Central and Eastern Europe. The Danube winds its way through ten different countries, more countries than any other river in the world touches. The countries are Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. The cities the river cuts through include Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Bratislava.

The Danube was an important mode of transportation prior to and during the industrial revolution. The Danube still serves as a major mode of transportation today and many old castles and fortresses can be seen on its banks.

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