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You are watching: What is the difference between a river and a creek
Rivers? Streams? Creeks? These room all names for water flowing on the Earth"s surface. Every little thing you call them and no matter how huge they are, they room invaluable for all life on Earth and are important contents of the Earth"s water cycle.
Glacier melting in springtime causes high streamflows. Bow river Falls, downstream from the Bow Glacier in Banff, Canada.
Credit: Banff Holidays
Rivers? Streams? Creeks? They room all names for water flowing on the Earth"s surface. As much as our Water scientific research site is concerned, they space pretty lot interchangeable. I tend to think the creeks as the the smallest of the three, with streams gift in the middle, and also rivers gift the largest.
Most of the water you check out flowing in rivers comes from precipitation runoff from the land surface ar alongside the river. That course, no all runoff end up in rivers. Some of it evaporates ~ above the trip downslope, can be diverted and also used by civilization for your uses, and also can also be lapped up by thirsty animals. Rivers circulation through valleys in the landscape v ridges of greater land separating the valleys. The area that land between ridges that collects precipitation is a watershed or drainage basin. Most, however not all, precipitation that falls in a watershed operation off straight into rivers - component of it soaks into the ground come recharge groundwater aquifers, few of which can then seep back into riverbeds.
What is a river?
A river creates from water relocating from a higher elevation come a reduced elevation, all because of gravity. Once rain falls on the land, it either seeps right into the ground or becomes runoff, which operation downhill into rivers and lakes, top top its journey towards the seas. In many landscapes the floor is no perfectly flat—it slopes downhill in part direction. Flow water find its means downhill at first as small creeks. As small creeks flow downhill they unify to form larger streams and rivers. Rivers eventually end up flowing right into the oceans. If water operation to a place that is surrounded by higher land on every sides, a lake will form. If people have developed a dam to hinder a river"s flow, the lake that creates is a reservoir.
Rivers serve many uses
The expression "river the life" is not simply a random collection of words. Rivers have been necessary not only to humans, but to every life ~ above earth, ever due to the fact that life began. Plants and also animals grow and congregate around rivers simply due to the fact that water is so necessary to every life. It could seem that rivers happen to operation through many cities in the world, however it is not that the rivers go v the city, yet rather that the city to be built and grew up about the river. Because that humans, rivers room diverted because that flood control, irrigation, power generation, public and municipal uses, and also even waste disposal.
The most simplistic price is that all the water in a river originates from the sky—and that is absolutely true, as streamflow is one component of the water cycle. It is also true that many of the water flow in rivers originates from precipitation runoff from the neighboring landscape (watershed).
But, the water in a flow doesn"t every come from surface ar runoff. Rain fallout’s on the land likewise seeps right into the earth to form groundwater. At a specific depth listed below the floor surface, referred to as the water table, the ground i do not care saturated with water. If a river bank happens to cut into this saturation layer, as most rivers do, climate water will certainly seep the end of the ground right into the river. Groundwater seepage can sometimes be seen as soon as water-bearing layers emerge on the land surface, or even on a driveway!
Look in ~ the chart below. The ground below the water table (the blue area), is saturated, whereas the ground over (the gray area) is not. The optimal layer (unsaturated soil/rock material) is typically wet, however not entirely saturated. Saturated, water-bearing materials often exist in horizontal layers beneath the land surface. Because rivers, in time, may cut vertically right into the ground as they flow, the water-bearing layers of rock can end up being exposed ~ above the river banks. Thus, several of the water in rivers is meeting to flow coming out of the banks. This is why even during droughts over there is normally some water in streams.
Where walk the water in rivers go?
Like every little thing else top top (and in) the Earth, water obeys the rule of gravity and tries to get to the facility of the planet (did you imagine that every molecule in your body is trying to do this, also?). So, the water in rivers operation downhill, with the ultimate score of flowing into the oceans, which space at sea level. River water may end up in a lake or reservoir, in a pipe aimed in ~ Farmer Joe"s corn stalks, in a regional swimming pool, or in her drinking glass, but much of it ultimately ends up earlier in the oceans, where it rejoins the water cycle, which is constantly in progress.
The "Mighty Colorado River" ends up dry
Endpoint the the Colorado River, Mexico. Less than 80 years ago, the mighty Colorado flow flowed unhindered from north Colorado v the cool Canyon, Arizona, and Mexico prior to pouring into the Gulf the California. However as this NASA earth Observatory satellite photograph from September 2000 shows, irrigation and also urban water demands now stop the river from getting to its last destination. Rather, the Colorado River simply disappears into the desert sands.
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The Colorado River can be viewed in dark blue at the topmost central part that this image. The river concerns an finish just south of the multicolored patchwork of farmlands in the northwestern corner of the image and then fans the end at the basic of the Sierra de Juarez Mountains. Only about 10 percent of all the water the flows right into the Colorado River renders it into Mexico and also most of the is offered by the Mexican civilization for farming.
Credit: NASA planet Observatory
One river the doesn"t get involved anymore in this herbal water-cycle process is the mighty Colorado River, flowing from Colorado come the Gulf of California in Mexico. The Colorado River absolutely starts out as mighty—mighty enough to have sculpted out the cool Canyon—but nowadays it does not even finish as a trickle. Whereas it once flowed right into a large marshy area at the Gulf that California, this particular day it literally disappears in the farmlands at the base of the Sierra de Juarez hills in Mexico. As the Colorado river flows through the desert Southwest, it it s okay used and used by millions of thirsty residents and also for crop irrigation; offered until there is nothing left. In this satellite see of the "exit point" the the Colorado River, the flow itself is the dark blue patch in ~ the top.