What Is a Drainage Divide?

A drainage divide is an elevated boundary that separates neighboring drainage basins. A drainage divide is also known as a watershed, water divide or divide. In hilly areas, the drainage divide lies along peaks and ridges, while in flat lands the divide may be invisible.

Drainage divides can be classified as minor, major or continental divides. A minor drainage divide is a divide where water parts and later converges or forms a confluence. Examples of rivers that form a minor divide are the North America’s Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The Missouri river is a tributary of Mississippi river. It meets the Mississippi river near Hartford, Illinois and finally flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

A major divide is a divide where waters on each side of the divide flow into the same water body, but they never meet. Examples of rivers that form a major divide are China’s Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. The two rivers never meet, but they both flow into the Pacific Ocean.

A continental divide is a divide that separates watersheds of a continent, and the waters flow to different oceans. For example, North America has five continental divides that separate the drainage systems leading the Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay.