Drainage basin

A drainage basin is an area of land where all flowing surface water converges to a single point, such as a river mouth, or flows into another body of water, such as a lake or ocean. A basin is separated from adjacent basins by a perimeter, the drainage divide,[1] made up of a succession of elevated features, such as ridges and hills. A basin may consist of smaller basins that merge at river confluences, forming a hierarchical pattern.[2]

Top-down illustration of a dendritic drainage basin. The dashed line is the main water divide of the hydrographic basin.
Digital terrain map of the Latorița River's drainage basin in Romania
Digital terrain model of the Latorița River's drainage basin in Romania

Other terms for a drainage basin are catchment area, catchment basin, drainage area, river basin, water basin,[3][4] and impluvium.[5][6][7] In North America, they are commonly called a watershed, though in other English-speaking places, "watershed" is used only in its original sense, that of a drainage divide.

In a closed drainage basin, or endorheic basin, the water converges to a single point inside the basin, known as a sink, which may be a permanent lake, a dry lake, or a point where surface water is lost underground.[8]

Drainage basins are similar but not identical to hydrologic units, which are drainage areas delineated so as to nest into a multi-level hierarchical drainage system. Hydrologic units are defined to allow multiple inlets, outlets, or sinks. In a strict sense, all drainage basins are hydrologic units but not all hydrologic units are drainage basins.[8]


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