Stream

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Aubach (Wiehl) in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany Aubach (Wiehl) nahe dem Weiherdamm in Wildbergerhutte.jpg
Aubach (Wiehl) in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Rocky stream in Italy Potok pod jezerom 1.jpg
Rocky stream in Italy
Frozen stream in Enajarvi, Pori, Finland Frozen stream Enajarvi, Pori.JPG
Frozen stream in Enäjärvi, Pori, Finland
Stream near Montriond in southeastern France Dranse de Montriond 09.jpg
Stream near Montriond in southeastern France

A stream is a body of water [1] with surface water flowing within the bed and banks of a channel. The flow of a stream is controlled by three inputs – surface water, subsurface water and groundwater. The surface and subsurface water are highly variable between periods of rainfall. Groundwater, on the other hand, has a relatively constant input and is controlled more by long-term patterns of precipitation. [2] The stream encompasses surface, subsurface and groundwater fluxes that respond to geological, geomorphological, hydrological and biotic controls. [3]

Contents

Depending on its location or certain characteristics, a stream may be referred to by a variety of local or regional names. Long large streams are usually called rivers.

Streams are important as conduits in the water cycle, instruments in groundwater recharge, and corridors for fish and wildlife migration. The biological habitat in the immediate vicinity of a stream is called a riparian zone. Given the status of the ongoing Holocene extinction, streams play an important corridor role in connecting fragmented habitats and thus in conserving biodiversity. The study of streams and waterways in general is known as surface hydrology and is a core element of environmental geography. [4]

Types

A rocky creek in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota, US SpearfishCreek.jpg
A rocky creek in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota, US
Creek babbling through Benvoulin, Canada, wetlands
Wyming Brook in Sheffield, UK WymingBrook.jpg
Wyming Brook in Sheffield, UK
A small stream in Lake Parramatta, Sydney Parramattastream.jpg
A small stream in Lake Parramatta, Sydney
A low level stream in Macon County, Illinois, US Stevens Creek Tributary A in Macon County, IL.jpg
A low level stream in Macon County, Illinois, US

Brook

A stream smaller than a creek, especially one that is fed by a spring or seep. It is usually small and easily forded. A brook is characterised by its shallowness.

Creek

A creek ( /krk/ ) or crick ( /krɪk/ ): [5] [6]

River

A large natural stream, which may be a waterway. [14]

Runnel

The linear channel between the parallel ridges or bars on a shoreline beach or river floodplain, or between a bar and the shore. Also called a swale.

Tributary

A tributary is a contributory stream, or a stream which does not reach a static body of water such as a lake or ocean, [15] but joins another river (a parent river). Sometimes also called a branch or fork. [16]

Distributary

A distributary, or a distributary channel, is a stream that branches off and flows away from a main stream channel. Distributaries are a common feature of river deltas. The phenomenon is known as river bifurcation. Distributaries are often found where a stream approaches a lake or an ocean. They can also occur inland, on alluvial fans, or where a tributary stream bifurcates as it nears its confluence with a larger stream. Common terms to name individual river distributaries in English-speaking countries are arm and channel.

Other names

There are a number of regional names for a stream.

Northern America

United Kingdom

Other terminology

Bar
A shoal that develops in a stream as sediment is deposited as the current slows or is impeded by wave action at the confluence.
Bifurcation
A fork into two or more streams.
Channel
A depression created by constant erosion that carries the stream's flow.
Confluence
The point at which the two streams merge. If the two tributaries are of approximately equal size, the confluence may be called a fork.
Drainage basin
(also known as a watershed in the United States) The area of land where water flows into a stream. A large drainage basin such as the Amazon River contains many smaller drainage basins. [28]
Floodplain
Lands adjacent to the stream that are subject to flooding when a stream overflows its banks. [28]
Gaging station
A site along the route of a stream or river, used for reference marking or water monitoring. [28]
Headwaters
The part of a stream or river proximate to its source. The word is most commonly used in the plural where there is no single point source. [28]
Knickpoint
The point on a stream's profile where a sudden change in stream gradient occurs.
Mouth
The point at which the stream discharges, possibly via an estuary or delta, into a static body of water such as a lake or ocean.
Pool
A segment where the water is deeper and slower moving.
Rapids
A turbulent, fast-flowing stretch of a stream or river.
Riffle
A segment where the flow is shallower and more turbulent.
River
A large natural stream, which may be a waterway. [28]
Run
A somewhat smoothly flowing segment of the stream.
Source
The spring from which the stream originates, or other point of origin of a stream.
Spring
The point at which a stream emerges from an underground course through unconsolidated sediments or through caves. A stream can, especially with caves, flow aboveground for part of its course, and underground for part of its course. [28]
Stream bed
The bottom of a stream.
Stream corridor
Stream, its floodplains, and the transitional upland fringe [29]
Streamflow
The water moving through a stream channel. [28]
Thalweg
The river's longitudinal section, or the line joining the deepest point in the channel at each stage from source to mouth.
Waterfall or cascade
The fall of water where the stream goes over a sudden drop called a knickpoint; some knickpoints are formed by erosion when water flows over an especially resistant stratum, followed by one less so. The stream expends kinetic energy in "trying" to eliminate the knickpoint.
Wetted perimeter
The line on which the stream's surface meets the channel walls.

Sources

Small tributary stream, Diamond Ridge, Alaska, US Homesteadcreekflowers.jpg
Small tributary stream, Diamond Ridge, Alaska, US
Creek in Perisher Ski Resort, Australia Creek in perisher.jpg
Creek in Perisher Ski Resort, Australia

A stream's source depends on the surrounding landscape and its function within larger river networks. While perennial and intermittent streams are typically supplied by smaller upstream waters and groundwater, headwater and ephemeral streams streams often derive most of their water from precipitation in the form of rain and snow. [30] Most of this precipitated water re-enters the atmosphere by evaporation from soil and water bodies, or by the evapotranspiration of plants. Some of the water proceeds to sink into the earth by infiltration and becomes groundwater, much of which eventually enters streams. Some precipitated water is temporarily locked up in snow fields and glaciers, to be released later by evaporation or melting. The rest of the water flows off the land as runoff, the proportion of which varies according to many factors, such as wind, humidity, vegetation, rock types, and relief. This runoff starts as a thin film called sheet wash, combined with a network of tiny rills, together constituting sheet runoff; when this water is concentrated in a channel, a stream has its birth. Some creeks may start from ponds or lakes.

Stream in Southbury, US Audubon Society long exposure.JPG
Stream in Southbury, US

Characteristics

Ranking

To qualify as a stream, a body of water must be either recurring or perennial. Recurring (intermittent) streams have water in the channel for at least part of the year. A stream of the first order is a stream which does not have any other recurring or perennial stream feeding into it. When two first-order streams come together, they form a second-order stream. When two second-order streams come together, they form a third-order stream. Streams of lower order joining a higher order stream do not change the order of the higher stream. Thus, if a first-order stream joins a second-order stream, it remains a second-order stream. It is not until a second-order stream combines with another second-order stream that it becomes a third-order stream.

Gradient

The gradient of a stream is a critical factor in determining its character and is entirely determined by its base level of erosion. The base level of erosion is the point at which the stream either enters the ocean, a lake or pond, or enters a stretch in which it has a much lower gradient, and may be specifically applied to any particular stretch of a stream.

In geological terms, the stream will erode down through its bed to achieve the base level of erosion throughout its course. If this base level is low, then the stream will rapidly cut through underlying strata and have a steep gradient, and if the base level is relatively high, then the stream will form a flood plain and meander.

Meander

Meanders are looping changes of direction of a stream caused by the erosion and deposition of bank materials. These are typically serpentine in form. Typically, over time the meanders gradually migrate downstream.

If some resistant material slows or stops the downstream movement of a meander, a stream may erode through the neck between two legs of a meander to become temporarily straighter, leaving behind an arc-shaped body of water termed an oxbow lake or bayou. A flood may also cause a meander to be cut through in this way.

Profile

Typically, streams are said to have a particular profile, beginning with steep gradients, no flood plain, and little shifting of channels, eventually evolving into streams with low gradients, wide flood plains, and extensive meanders. The initial stage is sometimes termed a "young" or "immature" stream, and the later state a "mature" or "old" stream. However, a stream may meander for some distance before falling into a "young" stream condition.

Stream load

The stream load is defined as the solid matter carried by a stream. Streams can carry sediment, or alluvium. The amount of load it can carry (capacity) as well as the largest object it can carry (competence) are both dependent on the velocity of the stream.

Perennial and non-perennial

Perennial streams

A perennial stream is one which flows continuously all year. [31] :57 Some perennial streams may only have continuous flow in segments of its stream bed year round during years of normal rainfall. [32] [33] Blue-line streams are perennial streams and are marked on topographic maps with a solid blue line.

Non-perennial streams

Ephemeral stream

Generally, streams that flow only during and immediately after precipitation are termed ephemeral. There is no clear demarcation between surface runoff and an ephemeral stream, [31] :58 and some ephemeral streams can be classed as intermittent—flow all but disappearing in the normal course of seasons but ample flow (backups) restoring stream presence such circumstances are documented when stream beds have opened up a path into mines or other underground chambers. [34]

According to official US definitions, the channels of intermittent streams are well-defined, [35] as opposed to ephemeral streams, which may or may not have a defined channel, and rely mainly on storm runoff, as their aquatic bed is above the water table. [36] An ephemeral stream does not have the biological, hydrological, and physical characteristics of a continuous or intermittent stream. [36] The same non-perennial channel might change characteristics from intermittent to ephemeral over its course. [36]

Intermittent or seasonal stream

Australian creek, low in the dry season, carrying little water. The energetic flow of the stream had, in flood, moved finer sediment further downstream. There is a pool to lower right and a riffle to upper left of the photograph. Low creek.jpg
Australian creek, low in the dry season, carrying little water. The energetic flow of the stream had, in flood, moved finer sediment further downstream. There is a pool to lower right and a riffle to upper left of the photograph.

Washes can fill up quickly during rains, and there may be a sudden torrent of water after a thunderstorm begins upstream, such as during monsoonal conditions. These flash floods often catch travelers by surprise.[ citation needed ]

USA

In the United States, an intermittent or seasonal stream is one that only flows for part of the year and is marked on topographic maps with a line of blue dashes and dots. [31] :57–58 A wash or desert wash is normally a dry streambed in the deserts of the American Southwest, which flows only after significant rainfall.[ citation needed ]

Italy

In Italy, an intermittent stream is termed a torrent( Italian torrente). In full flood the stream may or may not be "torrential" in the dramatic sense of the word, but there will be one or more seasons in which the flow is reduced to a trickle or less. Typically torrents have Apennine rather than Alpine sources, and in the summer they are fed by little precipitation and no melting snow. In this case the maximum discharge will be during the spring and autumn. However, there are also glacial torrents with a different seasonal regime.[ citation needed ]

Other regions

An intermittent stream can also be called an arroyo in Latin America, a winterbourne in Britain, or a wadi in the Arabic-speaking world. In Australia, an intermittent stream is usually called a creek and marked on topographic maps with a solid blue line.[ citation needed ]

Drainage basins

The extent of land basin drained by a stream is termed its drainage basin (also known in North America as the watershed and, in British English, as a catchment). [37] A basin may also be composed of smaller basins. For instance, the Continental Divide in North America divides the mainly easterly-draining Atlantic Ocean and Arctic Ocean basins from the largely westerly-flowing Pacific Ocean basin. The Atlantic Ocean basin, however, may be further subdivided into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico drainages. (This delineation is termed the Eastern Continental Divide.) Similarly, the Gulf of Mexico basin may be divided into the Mississippi River basin and several smaller basins, such as the Tombigbee River basin. Continuing in this vein, a component of the Mississippi River basin is the Ohio River basin, which in turn includes the Kentucky River basin, and so forth.

Crossings

Stream crossings are where streams are crossed by roads, pipelines, railways, or any other thing which might restrict the flow of the stream in ordinary or flood conditions. Any structure over or in a stream which results in limitations on the movement of fish or other ecological elements may be an issue.

See also

Related Research Articles

Hydrology Science of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth and other planets

Hydrology is the scientific study of the movement, distribution, and management of water on Earth and other planets, including the water cycle, water resources, and environmental watershed sustainability. A practitioner of hydrology is called a hydrologist. Hydrologists are scientists studying earth or environmental science, civil or environmental engineering, and physical geography. Using various analytical methods and scientific techniques, they collect and analyze data to help solve water related problems such as environmental preservation, natural disasters, and water management.

Distributary River branching off from main river

A distributary, or a distributary channel, is a stream that branches off and flows away from a main stream channel. Distributaries are a common feature of river deltas. The phenomenon is known as river bifurcation. The opposite of a distributary is a tributary, which flows towards and joins another stream. Distributaries are often found where a stream approaches a lake or an ocean. They can also occur inland, on alluvial fans, or where a tributary stream bifurcates as it nears its confluence with a larger stream. In some cases, a minor distributary can divert so much water from the main channel that it can later become the main route.

River delta Silt deposition landform at the mouth of a river

A river delta is a landform created by deposition of sediment that is carried by a river as the flow leaves its mouth and enters slower-moving or stagnant water. This occurs where a river enters an ocean, sea, estuary, lake, reservoir, or another river that cannot carry away the supplied sediment. The size and shape of a delta is controlled by the balance between watershed processes that supply sediment, and receiving basin processes that redistribute, sequester, and export that sediment. The size, geometry, and location of the receiving basin also plays an important role in delta evolution. River deltas are important in human civilization, as they are major agricultural production centers and population centers. They can provide coastline defense and can impact drinking water supply. They are also ecologically important, with different species' assemblages depending on their landscape position.

Alluvial fan Fan- or cone-shaped deposit of sediment crossed and built up by streams

An alluvial fan is an accumulation of sediments shaped like a section of a shallow cone, with its apex at a point source of sediments, such as a narrow canyon emerging from an escarpment. They are characteristic of mountainous terrain in arid to semiarid climates, but are also found in more humid environments subject to intense rainfall and in areas of modern glaciation. They range in area from less than 1 square kilometre (0.39 sq mi) to almost 20,000 square kilometres (7,700 sq mi).

Body of water Any significant accumulation of water, generally on a planets surface

A body of water or waterbody is any significant accumulation of water, generally on a planet's surface. The term most often refers to oceans, seas, and lakes, but it includes smaller pools of water such as ponds, wetlands, or more rarely, puddles. A body of water does not have to be still or contained; rivers, streams, canals, and other geographical features where water moves from one place to another are also considered bodies of water.

Alluvial plain Region on which rivers have deposited sediment

An alluvial plain is a largely flat landform created by the deposition of sediment over a long period of time by one or more rivers coming from highland regions, from which alluvial soil forms. A floodplain is part of the process, being the smaller area over which the rivers flood at a particular period of time, whereas the alluvial plain is the larger area representing the region over which the floodplains have shifted over geological time.

Big Sandy River (Arizona)

The Big Sandy River is both an intermittent and perennial stream in Mohave and La Paz counties in northwestern Arizona in the United States. It begins where Cottonwood Wash and Trout Creek converge in the Hualapai Indian Reservation east of U.S. Route 93 then flows past Wikieup south of Kingman. The Big Sandy River then passes the Signal Ghost Town Site, meanders through the Arrastra Mountain Wilderness, and joins the Santa Maria River in Southern Mohave County to form the Bill Williams River. The Bill Williams River then empties into Alamo Lake State Park. The Big Sandy River is 55.7 miles (89.6 km) long.

River rejuvenation An erosion process in geomorphology

In geomorphology a river is said to be rejuvenated when it is eroding the landscape in response to a lowering of its base level. The process is often a result of a sudden fall in sea level or the rise of land. The disturbance enables a rise in the river's potential energy, increasing its riverbed erosion rate. The erosion occurs as a result of the river adjusting to its new base level.

Knickpoint

In geomorphology, a knickpoint or nickpoint is part of a river or channel where there is a sharp change in channel slope, such as a waterfall or lake. Knickpoints reflect different conditions and processes on the river, often caused by previous erosion due to glaciation or variance in lithology. In the cycle of erosion model, knickpoints advance one cycle upstream, or inland, replacing an older cycle.

Streamflow, or channel runoff, is the flow of water in streams, rivers, and other channels, and is a major element of the water cycle. It is one component of the runoff of water from the land to waterbodies, the other component being surface runoff. Water flowing in channels comes from surface runoff from adjacent hillslopes, from groundwater flow out of the ground, and from water discharged from pipes. The discharge of water flowing in a channel is measured using stream gauges or can be estimated by the Manning equation. The record of flow over time is called a hydrograph. Flooding occurs when the volume of water exceeds the capacity of the channel.

Kaweah River River in the United States of America

The Kaweah River is a river draining the southern Sierra Nevada in Tulare County, California in the United States. Fed primarily by high elevation snowmelt along the Great Western Divide, the Kaweah begins as four forks in Sequoia National Park, where the watershed is noted for its alpine scenery and its dense concentrations of giant sequoias, the largest trees on Earth. It then flows in a southwest direction to Lake Kaweah – the only major reservoir on the river – and into the San Joaquin Valley, where it diverges into multiple channels across an alluvial plain around Visalia. With its Middle Fork headwaters starting at almost 13,000 feet (4,000 m) above sea level, the river has a vertical drop of nearly two and a half miles (4.0 km) on its short run to the San Joaquin Valley, making it one of the steepest river drainages in the United States. Although the main stem of the Kaweah is only 33.6 miles (54.1 km) long, its total length including headwaters and lower branches is nearly 100 miles (160 km).

River bifurcation

River bifurcation occurs when a river flowing in a single stream separates into two or more separate streams which then continue downstream. Some rivers form complex networks of distributaries, typically in their deltas. If the streams eventually merge again or empty into the same body of water, then the bifurcation forms a river island.

Crab Creek

Crab Creek is a stream in the U.S. state of Washington. Named for the presence of crayfish, it is one of the few perennial streams in the Columbia Basin of central Washington, flowing from the northeastern Columbia River Plateau, roughly 5 km (3.1 mi) east of Reardan, west-southwest to empty into the Columbia River near the small town of Beverly. Its course exhibits many examples of the erosive powers of extremely large glacial Missoula Floods of the late Pleistocene, which scoured the region. In addition, Crab Creek and its region have been transformed by the large-scale irrigation of the Bureau of Reclamation's Columbia Basin Project (CBP), which has raised water table levels, significantly extending the length of Crab Creek and created new lakes and streams.

Intermittent, temporary, or seasonal rivers and streams cease to flow every year or at least twice every five years. Such rivers drain large arid and semi-arid areas, covering approximately a third of the earth’s surface. The extent of temporary rivers is increasing, as many formerly perennial rivers are becoming temporary because of increasing water demand, particularly for irrigation. Despite inconsistent water flow, intermittent rivers are considered land-forming agents in arid regions, as they are agents of significant deposition and erosion during flood events. The combination of dry crusted soils and the highly erosive energy of the rain cause sediment resuspension and transport to the coastal areas. They are among the aquatic habitats most altered by human activities. During the summer even under no flow conditions the point sources are still active such as the wastewater effluents, resulting in nutrients and organic pollutants accumulating in the sediment. Sediment operates as a pollution inventory and pollutants are moved to the next basin with the first flush. Their vulnerability is intensified by the conflict between water use demand and aquatic ecosystem conservation. Advanced modelling tools have been developed to better describe intermittent flow dynamic changes such as the tempQsim model.

Perennial stream type of river

A perennial stream or perennial river is a stream or river (channel) which has constant stream throughout the year through parts of its stream bed during years of normal rainfall. In the absence of irregular, prolonged, or extreme drought, a perennial stream is a watercourse, or segment, element, or emerging body of water which continually delivers groundwater. For example, an artificial disruption of stream, variability in flow or stream selection associated with the activity in hydropower installations, shall not affect the measurement. Perennial streams do not consist of stagnant water for the wetlands, reservoirs, and ponds that occur all the period. All other streams, or portions thereof, should be considered seasonal rivers or lakes. The stream can cycle from broken to perpetual through multiple iterations, to intermittent through its mechanism.

San Juan Creek River in United States of America

San Juan Creek, also called the San Juan River, is a 29-mile (47 km) long stream in Orange and Riverside Counties, draining a watershed of 133.9 square miles (347 km2). Its mainstem begins in the southern Santa Ana Mountains in the Cleveland National Forest. It winds west and south through San Juan Canyon, and is joined by Arroyo Trabuco as it passes through San Juan Capistrano. It flows into the Pacific Ocean at Doheny State Beach. San Juan Canyon provides a major part of the route for California State Route 74.

Urban runoff Surface runoff of rainwater created by urbanization

Urban runoff is surface runoff of rainwater, landscape irrigation, and car washing created by urbanization. Impervious surfaces are constructed during land development. During rain storms and other precipitation events, these surfaces, along with rooftops, carry polluted stormwater to storm drains, instead of allowing the water to percolate through soil. This causes lowering of the water table and flooding since the amount of water that remains on the surface is greater. Most municipal storm sewer systems discharge stormwater, untreated, to streams, rivers and bays. This excess water can also make its way into people's properties through basement backups and seepage through building wall and floors.

River Natural flowing watercourse

A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course without reaching another body of water. Small rivers can be referred to using names such as stream, creek, brook, rivulet, and rill. There are no official definitions for the generic term river as applied to geographic features, although in some countries or communities a stream is defined by its size. Many names for small rivers are specific to geographic location; examples are "run" in some parts of the United States, "burn" in Scotland and northeast England, and "beck" in northern England. Sometimes a river is defined as being larger than a creek, but not always: the language is vague.

Avulsion (river) Rapid abandonment of a river channel and formation of a new channel

In sedimentary geology and fluvial geomorphology, avulsion is the rapid abandonment of a river channel and the formation of a new river channel. Avulsions occur as a result of channel slopes that are much less steep than the slope that the river could travel if it took a new course.

Yazoo stream Hydrologic term

A Yazoo stream is a geologic and hydrologic term for any tributary stream that runs parallel to, and within the floodplain of a larger river for considerable distance, before eventually joining it. This is especially the characteristic when such a stream is forced to flow along the base of the main river's natural levee. Where the two meet is known as a "belated confluence" or a "deferred junction". The name is derived from an exterminated Native American tribe, the Yazoo Indians. The Choctaw word is translated to "River of Death" because of the strong flows under its bank full stage.

References

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