Around the Block: River

Just go with the flow!

The ocean is a scary place, deep and cold. But what if I told you there was another source of watery joy that’s shallow, warm, full of handy resources, and... oh, you know about rivers already? There goes my dramatic intro. Well, I will have to tell you all about them anyway, otherwise my editor is going to yell at me.

Rivers became a part of Minecraft in the Adventure Update in June 2011, which totally rewrote the terrain generation code. There was water in the game before that, in the form of oceans and lakes, but rivers didn’t formally exist as a biome of their own. 

Today, it’s usually pretty easy to find a river in Minecraft. They usually generate at the borders of land biomes, but it is possible that you’ll find one cutting across a single larger biome. They’re filled with water up to sea level, which means that they can run dry in particularly mountainous terrain.

So why hang out at a river? Well, for one they’re pretty safe places to be. No one-eyed laser monsters shooting at you. Fewer hostile mobs generally, in fact – and you can always cross the river to escape if you start getting swarmed from one of the neighbouring biomes, shooting at them with a bow or crossbow as they struggle through the water. Watch out for Drowned, though, which can spawn in the water.

Rivers are a great place to harvest a few key resources – sand, gravel, clay, seagrass, and sugarcane are all readily found in river biomes, as well as ink from squid, and salmon if you’re a fan of fishing.

In chilly biomes, like Snowy Tundra, rivers can spawn frozen – with ice above the regular water, sand, gravel, and clay. In these rivers, you’ll also see rabbits and polar bears patrolling, so be a little more cautious if you don’t want to end up as a tasty treat.

Minecraft’s rivers meander across the landscape rather aimlessly. But rivers in the real world always begin in areas of high ground and almost always flow into the ocean (occasionally flowing underground instead).

While rivers only cover about 0.1% of the surface of the world, they’ve been incredibly important to human civilization, and almost all of the world’s cities are sited next to rivers. Why? Because humans need water to drink and rivers are a great source of a lot of water. We also use rivers for obtaining food, for transport, as borders, as defense, as a source of power, for irrigation, for bathing, and for, er, waste disposal.

The coolest fact I know about rivers concerns the world’s largest river – the Amazon – which used to flow in the opposite direction. The Amazon has been flowing for a very, very long time – since at least 65 million years ago, when South America and Africa were still the same continent – Gondwana. Around then, a mountain chain in what is now Africa produced a river that flowed westward across what is now South America and emptied into the ocean there.

Until plate tectonics intervened. Gondwana broke up, and the proto-Amazon flowing across South America was split in two. Half flowed westward, and half flowed eastward. But then something else happened - the rising Andes mountain chain, at some point between 23 and 5 million years ago, blocked the westward river’s journey across the continent, and the water began pooling up into a huge lake. This lake eventually eroded its way through the mountain range that had split the river in too – and suddenly the entire Amazon was flowing eastward.

Minecraft’s rivers don’t flow at all, – they’re as calm as a editor who gets his article delivered on time! But if you’ve got a hankering for a flowing river, then there are plenty of mods that’ll do the trick. Now go forth and explore!

Duncan Geere
Written By
Duncan Geere