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Basin redirects here; see Basin (disambiguation) for other uses.
A watershed or catchment basin is the region of land whose water drains into a specified body of water, such as a river, lake, sea, or ocean. Rain that falls anywhere within a given body of water's watershed will eventually drain into that body of water. A map of the primary watersheds in the world can be found at . A watershed that drains into a river is usually known as a river basin.
The term watershed can also mean the topographical dividing line between catchment basins: watersheds usually run along mountain ridges. U.S. usage is watershed divide, which is technically pleonastic, the "-shed" suffix already meaning divide.
Each area of a drainage basin has its own drainage system.
Watersheds in ecology
Watersheds constitute a very important type of ecoregion. They do things such as provide habitats for animals, lessen flooding, and prevent erosion. Pollution anywhere within the watershed can potentially affect life anywhere downstream from it.
Watersheds in politics
Watersheds have been important historically in determining boundaries, particularly in regions where trade by water has been important. For example, the English crown gave the Hudson's Bay Company a monopoly on the Indian trade in the entire Hudson Bay watershed, an area called Rupert's Land. The company later acquired the North American watershed of the Arctic Ocean (the North-Western Territory). These lands later became part of Canada as the Northwest Territories, making up the majority of Canada's land area.
Today, bioregional democracy can include agreements of states in a particular watershed to defend it. These include the Great Lakes Commission, which deals with the largest fresh watershed in the world.
One can divide up the world among the watersheds of the oceans and largest seas.
The Atlantic Ocean watershed consists of the Saint Lawrence River and Great Lakes watersheds, plus the Eastern Seaboard, Canadian Maritimes, Newfoundland and Labrador in North America; nearly all of South America (that portion east of the Andes); northern Europe; and the greatest portion of western Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Caribbean Sea watershed consists of all of the American interior (the Louisiana Purchase, which involved the watershed of the Mississippi River); eastern Central America; and far northern South America.
Of course, the previous two can be considered part of the Atlantic watershed, since the Caribbean Sea is part of the Atlantic ocean, and the Atlantic drains into the Mediterranean due to its higher evaporation.
The Pacific Ocean watershed consists of much of China, southeastern Russia, Japan, Korea, most of Indonesia and Malaysia, the Philippines, the rest of the Pacific islands, and the northeast coast of Australia; as well as Alaska, British Columbia, the western United States and Central America, and the coast of South America (the smaller portion west of the Andes).
In addition to the oceanic watersheds, there are numerous endorheic watersheds, inland basins which drain into no ocean. The largest of these consists of much of the interior of Asia, and drains into the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea. Other basins include the Great Basin in the United States, much of the Sahara Desert, the watershed of the Okavango River, highlands near the African Great Lakes, the interiors of Australia and the Arabian Peninsula, and parts in Mexico and the Andes.
- Map of primary watersheds in the world
- Studying Watersheds: A Confluence of Important Ideas
- Bryant Creek Watershed Atlas
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