Our planet is covered in water — more than 70 percent of the surface. Oceans comprise the vast majority, and the rest is made up of smaller seas, lakes and rivers.

It’s something that’s easy to forget, especially in the United States, where 3.8 million square miles of land masks the millions of miles of streams and rivers. But our country is actually packed full of flowing water bodies that collect precipitation and shuffle it back to the oceans.

Today I came across a data visualization that was impossible not to share — three different maps of all of the rivers and bodies of water in the Lower 48.

According to American Rivers, the U.S. has more than 25,000 rivers that travel a total of 3.5 million miles. No two of these rivers are the same,” American Rivers says. “Each river is unique to its landscape, winding through low foothills and valleys, rushing clear and cold from mountain forests, or sweeping warm and muddy down desert canyons.”

Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it.

–Margaret Atwood

This map comes from Hungarian cartographer Robert Szucs, who is using his mapmaking skills as a volunteer at an orangutan rehabilitation center in Borneo. Szucs mapped every river and tributary in the Lower 48, color-coded by drainage basin.

Every river in a color drains to the same river, which then drains into the ocean. The giant basin in the middle of the country is the Mississippi River basin. Major rivers like the Ohio and the Missouri drain into the behemoth.


Every river in the U.S. color-coded by drainage basin. (Robert Szucs via Reddit)

NASA developed this excellent animation that narrows in on the Mississippi basin — specifically, the direction of water flow. It starts at Brower’s Spring near the Montana-Idaho border — that is the head of the Missouri River. Then the Upper Midwest spawns the beginning of the Mississippi and Pennsylvania births the Ohio River. It all drains into the Mississippi which converges on New Orleans.

An animation from NASA shows the flows along the rivers of the Mississippi watershed. This animation does not show actual flow rates of the rivers, but instead shows the direction of waterflow at each point. (NASA)

The final map was designed by Redditor WF835334. Simple and clean, it draws every body of water in the Lower 48.


(Redditor WF835334)

h/t @da_fallon at Digg.com