A river is a large natural waterway.

Passage via a river or stream is the usual way rainfall on land finds its way to the ocean or other large body of water such as a lake. A river consists of several basic parts, originating from headwaters or a spring at the source, that flow into the main stream. Smaller side streams that join the river are tributaries. Water flow is normally confined to a channel, with a bottom or bed between banks. The lower end of a river is its mouth.

Table of contents
1 Topography
2 Biology
3 Pollution
4 Dams
5 Flooding
6 Crossings
7 Transport
8 Management
9 River lists
10 Fiction


A river conducts water by constantly flowing perpendicular to the elevation curve of its bed, thereby converting the positional energy of the water into kinetic energy. Where a river flows over relatively flat areas, the river will meander: start to form loops and snake through the plain by eroding the river banks. Loops that are formed are sometimes cut off, forming a shorter river channel and leaving a remnant, oxbow lake. Rivers that carry large amounts of sediment develop conspicuous deltass at their mouths. Rivers whose mouths are in saline tidal waters may form estuaries.

Where a river descends quickly over sloped topography, rapids with whitewater or even waterfallss occur. Rapids are often used for recreational purposes (see Whitewater canoeing and kayaking). Waterfalls are sometimes used as sources of energy, via watermills and hydroelectric plants.

Rivers begin at their source in higher ground, either rising from a spring, forming from glacial meltwater, flowing from a body of water such as a lake, or simply from damp, boggy places where the soil is waterlogged. They end at their sink where they flow into a larger body of water, the sea, a lake, or as a tributary to another (usually larger) river. In arid areas rivers sometimes end by losing water to evaporation and percolation into dry, porous material such as sand, soil, or pervious rock.

See also


The flora and fauna of rivers are much different from those of the ocean because the water is sweet (non-salty). Living things in a river must be adapted to the current of the moving water.


Human pollution of rivers is common, and very few rivers in the world today are clean of man-made substances. The most common pollutant is sewage piped into rivers, but chemical pollution is also common, and industrial accidents (and/or negligence) account for much of the destructon of riparian biomes. Heat dumped into rivers by power plants and factories also affects river life.


In places where the elevation changes of a river are great, dams for hydroelectric plants and other purposes are often built. This disrupts the natural flow of the river, and creates a lake behind the dam. Often the building of dams affects the whole of the river, even the part above the dam, as migrating fish are hindered and waterflow is no longer bounded by seasonal changes. One very famous, and problematic, dam is the Aswan High Dam in the Nile.


Flooding is a natural part of a river's cycles. Human activity, however, has upset the natural way flooding occurs by walling off rivers and straightening their courses. Removal of bogs, swamps and other wetlands in order to produce farmland has reduced the absorption zones for excess water and made floods into sudden disasters rather than gradual increases in water flow. In ancient Egypt, life was made possible through the floods of the Nile and the accompanying silt and sediment which enriched the fields with fresh nutrients. Nowadays, floods are disasters, causing untold property loss each year.


Rivers may be crossed by fords, bridges, ferries or tunnels.



In its natural state a river may be inconvenient to man in a variety of ways. Rivers in inhabited areas have therefore been managed or controlled to make them more useful and less disruptive to human activity.

River management is an ongoing activity as rivers tend to 'undo' the modifications made by man. Dredged channels silt up, sluice mechanisms deteriorate with age, levees and dams may suffer seepage or catastrophic failure.

River lists

The world's ten longest rivers:

Well-known rivers (in alphabetic order):

See also


Fictional rivers

Other fiction