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"Catchment basin" redirects here. For the human geography concept, see Catchment area.

A drainage basin or catchment basin is an extent or an area of land where surface water from rain, melting snow, or ice converges to a single point at a lower elevation, usually the exit of the basin, where the waters join another waterbody, such as a river, lake, reservoir, estuary, wetland, sea, or ocean. For example, a tributary stream of a brook that joins a small river is tributary of a larger river, which is thus part of a series of successively smaller area but higher elevation drainage basins. Similarly, the Missouri and Ohio rivers are each part of their own drainage basins and that of the Mississippi River.

Other terms that are used to describe drainage basins are catchment, catchment area, drainage area, river basin and water basin. In North America, the term watershed is commonly used to mean a drainage basin, though in other English-speaking countries, it is used only in its original sense, to mean a drainage divide, the former meaning an area, the latter the high elevation perimeter of that area. Drainage basins drain into other drainage basins in a hierarchical pattern, with smaller sub-drainage basins combining into larger drainage basins.

In closed ("endorheic") drainage basins the water converges to a single point inside the basin, known as a sink, which may be a permanent lake, dry lake, or a point where surface water is lost underground. The drainage basin includes both the streams and rivers that convey the water as well as the land surfaces from which water drains into those channels, and is separated from adjacent basins by a drainage divide.

The drainage basin acts as a funnel by collecting all the water within the area covered by the basin and channelling it to a single point. Each drainage basin is separated topographically from adjacent basins by a perimeter, the drainage divide making up a succession of higher geographical features (such as a ridge, hill or mountains) forming a barrier.

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 designed 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.


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