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Drainage Network

Rivers serve the purpose of draining water from basins and transporting it downstream as part of the water cycle. Waters in these rivers come from runoff of winter snowmelt, and the movement of groundwater, from higher elevations. Rivers and their tributaries carry water from higher elevations to the sea. Streams and tributaries are called a drainage network or a "network" for short. The shape of the network can take on a number of different patterns, including the one shown here. Without adequate drainage, basins and plains would flood.

A network seems to follow certain rules which are illustrated in the drawing:

The Misissippi Valley is a good example of a large network of rivers which drain the entire basin east of the Rocky Mountains. The Mississippi Valley network ends at the Gulf of Mexico. Another good example of a network is shown by the Colorado River.

Although there seem to be rules which govern how a network provides drainage, there seems to be no rules about which way the waters will move. As rivers meander back and forth across a river valley, laying down deposits of gravel, sand, and silt, they create a floodplain.


This picture shows how tributaries feed a major river.

Return to the Water Cycle

Rivers Image Archive


Rivers and their Tributaries carry water downstream

Rivers serve the purpose of draining water from basins and transporting it downstream to the ocean as part of the water cycle. Waters in these rivers come from runoff of winter snowmelt, and the movement of groundwater, from higher elevations to lower elevations. Smaller rivers, creeks, steams and brooks are also known as "tributaries" when they connect to a very large river. The tributaries in this drawing are numbered 1, 2, and 3. Rivers and their tributaries carry water from higher elevations to the sea. Streams and tributaries are called a drainage network or a "network" for short. Without adequate drainage, basins and plains would flood.

A network seems to follow certain rules which are illustrated in the drawing:

The Misissippi Valley is a good example of a large network of rivers which drain the entire basin east of the Rocky Mountains. The Mississippi Valley network ends at the Gulf of Mexico. Another good example of a network is shown by the Colorado River.

Although there seem to be rules which govern how a network provides drainage, there seems to be no rules about which way the waters will move. As rivers meander back and forth across a river valley, laying down deposits of gravel, sand, and silt, they create a floodplain.


This picture shows how tributaries feed a major river.

Return to the Water Cycle

Rivers Image Archive


Rivers and their Tributaries carry water downstream

Rivers serve the purpose of draining water from higher elevations and transporting it downstream to the ocean as part of the water cycle. The drawing shows rivers of different sizes and how they connect together in a "network". Waters in these rivers come from runoff of winter snowmelt, and the movement of groundwater, from higher elevations to lower elevations. Smaller rivers, creeks, steams and brooks are also known as "tributaries" when they connect to a very large river. The tributaries in this drawing are numbered 1, 2, and 3.

The Misissippi Valley is a good example of a large network of rivers which drain the entire basin east of the Rocky Mountains. The Mississippi Valley network ends at the Gulf of Mexico. Another good example of a network is shown by the Colorado River.

Without adequate drainage, basins and plains would flood. As rivers meander back and forth across a river valley, they create a floodplain.


This picture shows how tributaries feed a major river.

Return to the Water Cycle

Rivers Image Archive




Last modified January 15, 1998 by the Windows Team

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