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Rio de la Plata

The Rio de la Plata — which is often referred to in English-speaking countries as the River Plate (as in the Battle of the River Plate), or sometimes as the [La] Plata River — is the estuary formed by the combination of the Uruguay River and the Parana River. It is a funnel-shaped indentation on the southeastern coastline of South America, extending from the rivers' confluence to the Atlantic Ocean.

Where the rivers join, it is wide, and it runs to the southeast growing to wide where it opens on the Atlantic Ocean, making it the widest estuary in the world. It forms part of the border between Argentina and Uruguay, with the major ports and capital cities of Buenos Aires in the southwest and Montevideo in the northeast. Isla Martin Garcia, off the coast of Uruguay, is under Argentine sovereignty.

The basin drained by the main tributaries of the Rio de la Plata covers approximately one fifth of South America, including area in southeastern Bolivia, southern and central Brazil, the entire nation of Paraguay, most of Uruguay and northern Argentina. An estimated 57 million cubic metres (2 billion cubic feet) of silt is carried into the estuary each year, where the muddy waters are stirred up by winds and the tides. The shipping route from the Atlantic to Buenos Aires is kept open by constant dredging.


The river's first sighting by a European was in 1516, when Spanish seaman Juan Diaz de Solis discovered it during his search for a passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. He and a group of his men disembarked in what is today the Uruguayan Department of Colonia and were attacked by the natives (probably Guarani although for a long time the fact was adjudicated to the Charruas). Only one of them survived, a 14-year-old cabin boy named Francisco del Puerto, allegedly because the natives' culture prevented them from killing elderly people, women and children.

Years later, from a ship commanded by Sebastian Caboto, "a huge native making signals and yelling from the coast" was seen; when some of the crew disembarked, they found Francisco del Puerto, brought up as a Charrua warrior. He went back with the Spaniards and, after some time, returned to Uruguay, leaving no further trace of his whereabouts.

The area was visited by Francis Drake's fleet in early 1578, in the early stages of his circumnavigation. The first European colony was the city of Buenos Aires, founded by Pedro de Mendoza on 2 February 1536, abandoned and founded again by Juan de Garay on 11 June 1580.

An early World War II naval engagement between the German (heavy cruiser) Admiral Graf Spee and British ships, the Battle of the River Plate, started several miles off the coast of the estuary. The German ship retired up the estuary and put into port. A few days later, rather than fight she was scuttled in the estuary.


The English name "River Plate" is not, in fact, a mistranslation, as "plate" was used extensively as a noun for "silver" or "gold" from the 12th century onwards, especially in Early Modern English and the estuary has been known as the River Plate or Plate River in English since at least the time of Francis Drake Sir Francis Drakes Famous Voyage Round the World; A Narrative by Francis Pretty, one of Drake's Gentlemen at Arms. A modern translation of the Spanish Rio de la Plata is "Silver River", referring not to colour but to the riches of the fabled Sierra del Plata thought to lie upstream.


The Rio de la Plata is a habitat for the rare La Plata Dolphin, sea turtles , and many species of fish.

See also

British invasions of the Rio de la Plata

Government of the Rio de la Plata

Rioplatense Spanish

Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata

Rio de la Plata Earthquake 1888


Rela, Walter. Espana en el Rio de la Plata: Descubrimiento y Poblamientos (1516-1588). Montevideo: Club Espanol. 2001. ISBN 9974-39-317-5.

Primary sources, with commentary.

Simionato, Claudia G., Vera, Carolina S., Siegismund, Frank (2005). "Surface Wind Variability on Seasonal and Interannual Scales Over Rio de la Plata Area" Journal of Coastal Research. 21 (4): 770-783. Abstract online

Piola, A. R., R. P. Matano, E. D. Palma, and E. D. Campos (2005): "The influence of the Plata River discharge on the western South Atlantic shelf". Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 32, L01603, doi:10.1029/2004GL021638.

External links

Hydrological report published by the OAS

Treaty between Uruguay and Argentina concerning the Rio de la Plata and the Corresponding Maritime Boundary (19 November 1973)

Aquatic Habitat Modifications in La Plata River Basin, Patagonia and Associated Marine Areas

Water and Land Management on the Uruguayan Coast of the Rio de la Plata

RioPla.com Rio de la Plata on-line information : tides, weather, wind. Charts for Garmin GPS.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Rio de la Plata

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