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River

River

A river is a natural stream of freshwater that is larger than a brook or creek. Rivers are normally the main channels or largest tributaries of drainage systems. Typical rivers begin with a flow from headwater areas made up of small tributaries, such as springs. They then travel in meandering paths at various speeds. Finally, they discharge or flow out into desert basins, into major lakes, or most likely, into oceans.

Sixteen of Earth's largest rivers account for close to one-half of the planet's river flow. The world's longest river is the Nile River in Africa, which runs 4,187 miles (6,739 kilometers) from its source in Burundi to the Mediterranean Sea. However, the world's largest river is the Amazon River in South America. It runs about 3,900 miles (6,275 kilometers) from its source in the Andes Mountains in Peru to the southern Atlantic Ocean. Discharging an average of 7,000,000 cubic feet (198,000 cubic meters) of water each second, the Amazon River alone accounts for 20 percent of the water discharged each year by Earth's rivers.

Words to Know

Brook: A significant, continuously flowing body of water formed by the convergence of a number of rills.

Catchment area: Also known as a drainage basin, the entire land area drained by a river.

Episodic rivers: Rarely occurring rivers formed from runoff channels in very dry regions.

Perennial rivers: Rivers that have a constant stream-flow throughout the year, usually located in more humid climates where rainfall exceeds evaporation rates.

Periodic rivers: Rivers that run dry on occasion, usually located in arid climates where evaporation is greater than precipitation.

Rill: A small brook that forms from surface runoff.

Runnels: Eroded shallow channels created when rills pass over fine soil.

Tributary: A stream or other body of water that flows into a larger one.

Watershed: A ridge of high land that separates the catchment area of one river system from that of another; also used synonymously with catchment area.

Formation of rivers

Every river has a point of origin. Because gravity plays a key role in the direction that rivers take, rivers almost always follow a downhill slope. Thus, the point of origin for rivers tends to be the highest point in the watercourse. Some rivers start from springs, especially in humid climates. Springs occur as groundwater rises to Earth's surface and flows away. Other rivers originate from lakes, marshes, or runoff from melting glaciers located high in the mountains. Often, rivers having their beginnings in huge glaciers are quite large by the time they emerge from openings in the ice.

Precipitation, such as rainwater or snow, on highlands is the source of the water for most rivers. When a heavy rain falls on ground that is steeply sloped or is already saturated with water, water runoff trickles down Earth's surface rather than being absorbed. Initially, the water runs in an evenly distributed, paper-thin sheet, called surface runoff. After it travels a short distance, the water begins to run in small parallel rivulets called rills. At the same time, the water becomes turbulent. As these rills pass over fine soil or silt, they begin to dig shallow channels, called runnels. This is the first stage of erosion.

These parallel rills do not last very long, perhaps only a few yards. Fairly soon, the rills unite with one another until enough of them merge to form a stream. After a number of rills converge, the resulting stream is a significant, continuously flowing body of water, called a brook. As a brook flows along and groundwater supplies add to the amount of water the brook carries, it soon becomes a river.

River systems

Rivers can have different origins and, as they travel, often merge with other bodies of water. Thus, the complete river system consists of not only the river itself but also all of its converging tributaries. As rivers make the trip from their source to their eventual destination, the larger ones tend to meet and merge with other rivers. Resembling the trunk and branches of a tree, the water flowing in the main stream often meets the water from its tributaries at sharp angles, combining to form the river system. As long as there are no major areas of seepage and the evaporation level remains normal, the volume of water carried by a river increases from its source to its mouth with every tributary.

Along its path, a single river obtains water from surface runoff from different sections of land. The area from which a particular river obtains its water is defined as its catchment area (sometimes called a drainage basin). The high ground or divide separating different catchment areas is called a watershed. At every point along the line of a watershed, there is a downward slope going into the middle of the catchment area (watershed is also often used as a synonym for catchment area).

Climactic influences

Climate conditions and rainfall patterns have a great effect on rivers, dividing them into three general types. The first are the perennial or permanent rivers. Normally, these rivers are located in more humid climates where rainfall exceeds evaporation rates. Although these rivers may experience seasonal fluctuations in their water levels, they have constant stream-flow throughout the year. With few exceptions, stream-flow in these rivers increases downstream, and these rivers empty into larger bodies of water such as oceans. In fact, 68 percent of rivers drain into oceans. All of the world's major rivers are perennial rivers.

The second type are the periodic rivers. These rivers are characterized by an intermittent (not continuous) stream-flow. Usually appearing in arid climates where evaporation is greater than precipitation, these rivers are dry on occasion. Typically, these rivers have a decrease in stream-flow as they travel. Often, they do not reach the sea, but instead run into an inland drainage basin.

The third type are the episodic rivers. These rivers are actually the runoff channels of very dry regions. Where there is only a slight amount of rainfall, it often evaporates quickly. Thus, this type of stream-flow occurs rarely.

Human control of rivers

For centuries, rivers have been very important to human society. Rivers have provided vital transportation links between oceans and inland areas, and have also provided water for drinking, washing, and irrigation. The need to prevent natural flooding and the desire to utilize the rich soil of flood plains for farming have made river management a key part of civil engineering.

While the techniques of river management are fairly well understood, true river management is not commonly put into practice because

of the expense and the size of the projects. In fact, none of the major rivers in the world is controlled or even managed in a way that modern engineering and biological techniques would allow. So far, only medium-sized streams have been successfully managed.

[See also Dams; Hydrologic cycle; Lake; Water ]

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river

river, stream of water larger than a brook or creek. Land surfaces are never perfectly flat, and as a result the runoff after precipitation tends to flow downward by the shortest and steepest course in depressions formed by the intersection of slopes. Runoffs of sufficient volume and velocity join to form a stream that, by the erosion of underlying earth and rock, deepens its bed; it becomes perennial when it cuts deeply enough to be fed by groundwater or when it has as its source an unlimited water reservoir, for example, the St. Lawrence flowing from the Great Lakes.

The lowest level to which a river can erode its bed is called base level. Sea level is the ultimate base level, but the floor of a lake or basin into which a river flows may become a local and temporary base level. Cliffs or escarpments and differences in the resistance of rocks create irregularities in the bed of a river and can thus cause rapids and waterfalls. A river tends to eliminate irregularities and to form a smooth gradient from its source to its base level. As it approaches base level, downward cutting is replaced by lateral cutting, and the river widens its bed and valley and develops a sinuous course that forms exaggerated loops and bends called meanders. A river may open up a new channel across the arc of a meander, thereby cutting off the arc and creating an oxbow lake.

Rivers modify topography by deposition as well as by erosion. River velocity determines quantity and size of rock fragments and sediment carried by the river. When the velocity is checked by changes of flow or of gradient, by meeting the water mass of lakes or oceans, or by the spreading of water when a stream overflows its banks, part of the load carried by the stream is deposited in the riverbed or beyond the channel. Landforms produced by deposition include the delta, the floodplain, the channel bar, and the alluvial fan and cone.

The discharge, or rate of outflow, of a river depends on the width of its channel and on its velocity. Velocity is governed by the volume of water, the slope of the bed, and the shape of the channel (which determines the amount of frictional resistance). River volume is affected by duration and rate of precipitation in the drainage basin of the river. A river system may be enlarged by piracy, or the process by which one river, cutting through the divide that separates its drainage basin from that of another river, diverts the waters of the other into its own channel.

Traditionally river systems have been classified according to their stage of development as young, mature, or old. The young river is marked by a steepsided valley, steep gradients, and irregularities in the bed; the mature river by a valley with a wide floor and flaring sides, by advanced headward erosion by tributaries, and by a more smoothly graded bed; and the old river by a course graded to base level and running through a peneplain, or broad flat area. The age classification of rivers is diminishing in popularity now that quantitative studies of river behavior are more common.

See also flood; water rights; waters, territorial.

Important River Systems

River valleys have been important centers of civilization; they afford travel routes, and their alluvial soils form good agricultural lands. Navigable rivers are important in commerce and have influenced the location of cities. Rivers with sufficient velocity and gradient can be used to produce hydroelectric power. Among the most important river systems of the world are the Nile, the Congo, the Niger, the Zambezi, and the Orange-Vaal in Africa; the Amazon, the Orinoco, and the Paraguay-Paraná in South America; the Mississippi-Missouri, the St. Lawrence, the Rio Grande, the Colorado, the Columbia, the Mackenzie-Peace, and the Yukon in North America; the Danube, the Rhine, the Rhône, the Seine, the Po, the Tagus, the Thames, the Loire, the Elbe, the Oder, the Don, the Volga, and the Dnieper in Europe; the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Ob-Irtysh, the Yenisei, the Lena, the Syr Darya, the Amu Darya, the Amur, the Huang He, the Chang (Yangtze), the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Indus, the Ayeyarwady, and the Mekong in Asia; and the Murray-Darling in Australia.

Bibliography

See M. Morisawa, Rivers (1985); J. Mangelsdorf, River Morphology (1990).

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"river." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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river

river Large, natural channel containing water that flows downhill under gravity. A river system is a network of connecting channels. It can be divided into tributaries, which collect water and sediment, the main trunk river and the dispersing system at the river's mouth where much of the sediment is deposited. The discharge of a river is the volume of water flowing past a point in a given time. The velocity of a river is controlled by the slope, its depth, and the roughness of the river bed. Rivers carry sediment as they flow, by the processes of traction (rolling), saltation (jumping), suspension (carrying), and solution. Most river sediment is carried during flood conditions, but as a river returns to normal flow, it deposits sediment. This can result in the erosion of a river channel or in the building up of flood-plains, sand and gravel banks. All rivers tend to flow in a twisting pattern, even if the slope is relatively steep, because water flow is naturally turbulent. Over time, on shallow slopes, small bends grow into large meanders. The current flows faster on the outside of bends, thereby eroding the bank, while sedimentation occurs on the inside of bends where the current is slowest. This causes the curves to exaggerate forming loops. Rivers flood when their channels cannot contain the discharge. Flood risk can be reduced by straightening the channel, dredging sediment, or making the channel deeper by raising the banks. See also delta; levée; oxbow lake

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"river." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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river

riv·er / ˈrivər/ • n. a large natural stream of water flowing in a channel to the sea, a lake, or another such stream. ∎  a large quantity of a flowing substance: great rivers of molten lava | fig. the trickle of disclosures has grown into a river of revelations. ∎  [as adj.] used in names of animals and plants living in or associated with rivers, e.g., river dolphin, river birch. PHRASES: sell someone down the river inf. betray someone, esp. so as to benefit oneself. up the river inf. to or in prison. DERIVATIVES: riv·ered adj. riv·er·less adj.

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"river." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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river

river XIII. — AN. river(e), (O)F. rivière †river bank, river = It. riviera bank (spec. of the Genoese coast as far as Nice, adopted in Eng. use as Riviera):— Rom. *rīpāria, fem. used sb. of rīpārius RIPARIAN.
Hence riverine (-INE1) situated on or pert. to a river (contemp. with riverain — F. riverain). XIX.

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"river." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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River

River

an abundant flow of water or other liquid.

Examples : river of bood, 1588; of fire, 1767; of mist, 1855; of oil, 1382; of thy pleasure, 1538; of socialism, 1892; of talk; of tears; of water, 1611; of waters of life, 1526.

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"River." Dictionary of Collective Nouns and Group Terms. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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river

riveraquiver, downriver, forgiver, giver, quiver, river, shiver, sliver, upriver •silver • mitzvah • lawgiver • Oliver •miniver, Nineveh •quicksilver •conniver, contriver, diver, driver, fiver, Godiva, Ivor, jiver, Liver, reviver, saliva, skiver, striver, survivor, viva •skydiver • slave-driver • piledriver •screwdriver •bovver, hover •Moskva •revolver, solver •windhover •Canova, Casanova, clover, Dover, drover, Grsbover, Jehovah, left-over, Markova, Moldova, moreover, Navrátilová, nova, ova, over, Pavlova, rover, trover, up-and-over •layover • flyover • handover •changeover •makeover, takeover •walkover • spillover • pullover •Hanover • turnover • hangover •wingover • sleepover • slipover •popover, stopover •Passover • crossover • once-over •pushover • leftover

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"river." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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