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River Systems

River Systems

Introduction: Rivers have played an important role throughout human history. People settle along rivers. Rivers bring needed nutrients and water to farmland. They provide transportation routes for people and goods. Rivers are part of our cultural history. After all, where would Huck Finn be without the Mississippi River?
A river is a flowing waterway. The terms river and stream can be used interchangeably, but streams usually refer to smaller waterways. Even the mightiest of rivers start off very small. Gravity pulls water from higher elevations to lower elevations. As the budding river flows downward, more water joins it along the way. Tributaries are smaller rivers and streams that flow into a larger river. A river system includes the river and its tributaries. Large river systems have many tributaries.
River systems drain water from the land. Water can come from melting snow. It can come from precipitation that falls on the ground. A watershed, also called a drainage basin, is the land area that drains water into one river system. If you are standing on land, you are standing in a watershed! Watersheds can cover large regions of land. The Amazon River drainage basin covers over seven million square kilometers (over two and a half million square miles) of South America! 
divide is a land ridge that separates two watersheds. The water that runs off one side of the divide drains into one watershed. The water on the other side of the divide drains into a different watershed. Most river systems end when they enter a larger body of water like an ocean. In North America, the Continental Divide follows the Rocky Mountains and separates water draining towards the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic Oceans.
Directions for This Lesson: In this lesson, you will learn about river systems. First, try the practice questions to see what you already know. Then, watch the video lesson and try the activity.


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