What’s the largest waterfall in the world? If you’re talking by flow rate, it’s Inga Falls. If you mean the tallest, it’s Angel Falls. The widest? Khone Falls. But if you want to know the very largest waterfall in the world, you’ll have to look beneath the ocean. That’s where you’ll find the Denmark Strait Cataract, an underwater waterfall with measurements that make the others look laughable.
Don’t go looking for this Waterfall?
Buried far underneath the water’s surface in the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland hides the largest waterfall known to man. Underwater waterfalls, known as cascades—or, when they’re really big, cataracts—exist when cold and warm water meet. The molecules in cold water don’t move around much, so they stay close together and make the water denser than warm water, whose molecules tend to buzz around and leave more space between them. That makes cold water sink straight down through warm water, creating a steady and consistent flow.
The water coming from the Greenland Sea is Arctic cold, literally. When it enters the warmer water in the Irminger Sea, it drops 11,500 feet straight down, flowing at 175 million cubic feet per second. That absolutely annihilates any records on the surface—Angel Falls is only 3,212 feet high; Inga Falls flows just shy of a million cubic feet per second. Sure, it is slower—cold water falls through air much faster than it can sink through warm water—and it is, again, underwater, but does that make it any less of a waterfall?
Looking towards the future
The Denmark Strait Cataract and other cataracts like it aren’t just natural oddities. They’re part of a delicate ecosystem, and many are relied upon not only by commercial fishing crews, but deep-sea creatures that depend on them for their constant flow of nutrients. With evidence of climate change negatively affecting other underwater currents, and given the fact that its flow is so reliant on temperature, its future and the future of those who rely on it is shaky at best.
This plays around with the definition of a waterfall, but keep your mind open because this is is pretty amazing.The Denmark Strait, in the Atlantic Ocean between Greenland and Iceland, is an underground waterfall that tumbles almost 11,500 feet and carries 175 million cubic feet of water per second.
The reason it exists is due to temperature differences in the water on either side of the strait. Cold water is more dense than warm water. And the eastern side of the strait is a lot colder than the western side. So when the waters meet, the cold water sinks below the warmer water, creating a strong downward flow of water — one that can be (and is) considered a waterfall.
There are other areas of the ocean where the same thing happens, but the Denmark Straight is hands down the largest of them.