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Mapped: The Drainage Basins of the World’s Longest Rivers

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Drainage basins of the world's longest rivers

Drainage Basins of the World’s Longest Rivers

Most of the earth’s surface is covered in water, but less than 1% of it is the fresh water that makes up the rivers and lakes we’re familiar with.

The water we encounter in life is moving through the stages of the water cycle. And even though rivers make up a tiny portion of all fresh water, they’re still one of the most visible parts of that cycle, especially for the billions of people who live in cities and towns built alongside them.

Of course, rivers don’t just appear out of nowhere. They’re the end result of water’s land-based journey–the product of many compounding inflows collected within a drainage basin.

The map above, from Reddit user r/CountZapolai, illustrates how massive the drainage basins can be for the world’s longest rivers.

What is a Drainage Basin?

A river’s drainage basin is defined as the area of land where precipitation collects and drains off, feeding the flow of rivers and their tributaries. Simply put, this is the process of water draining from higher points of land to lower laying areas–as demonstrated by the animation below.

drainage basins animation

In the case the world’s longest rivers, these drainage basins can span across entire continents and cross many international borders.

Fueling the World’s Longest Rivers

The longer a river system gets, the more terrain it passes through. It comes as no surprise then that the longest rivers are supported by immense drainage basins.

Here are the world’s top 10 longest rivers, and the size of their respective basins:

RankRiver systemLength in miles (km)Drainage area in miles² (km²)OutflowCountries in basin
1Nile4,130
(6,650)
1,256,591
(3,254,555)
Mediterranean🇪🇹🇪🇷🇸🇩🇺🇬🇹🇿🇰🇪🇷🇼🇧🇮🇪🇬🇨🇩🇸🇸
2Amazon3,976
(6,400)
2,702,715
(7,000,000)
Atlantic Ocean🇧🇷🇵🇪🇧🇴🇨🇴🇪🇨🇻🇪🇬🇾
3Yangtze3,917
(6,300)
694,984
(1,800,000)
East China Sea🇨🇳
4Mississippi3,902
(6,275)
1,150,584
(2,980,000)
Gulf of Mexico🇺🇸🇨🇦
5Yenisei3,445
(5,539)
996,143
(2,580,000)
Kara Sea🇷🇺🇲🇳
6Huang He (Yellow River)3,395
(5,464)
287,646
(745,000)
Bohai Sea🇨🇳
7Ob–Irtysh3,364
(5,410)
1,154,445
(2,990,000)
Gulf of Ob🇷🇺🇰🇿🇨🇳🇲🇳
8Río de la Plata3,030
(4,880)
997,175
(2,582,672)
Río de la Plata🇧🇷🇦🇷🇵🇾🇧🇴🇺🇾
9Congo2,922
(4,700)
1,420,856
(3,680,000)
Atlantic Ocean🇨🇩🇨🇫🇦🇴🇨🇩🇹🇿🇨🇲🇿🇲🇧🇮🇷🇼
10Amur2,763
(4,444)
716,220
(1,855,000)
Sea of Okhotsk🇷🇺🇨🇳🇲🇳

Note: There is debate about the actual length of certain river systems. See a more comprehensive range of estimates here.

These 10 longest rivers alone are fed by a land area equivalent to the size of Africa.

Of those, the Amazon Basin is the largest in the world by far, covering one-third of the South American continent.

River Drainage Basins and Humanity

The fact that huge population centers sit at the terminuses of many of these key rivers is a testament to how important watersheds are to our survival. Only 10% of the global population lives further than six miles away from a surface freshwater body, and more often than not, that fresh water comes in the form of a river.

Noting where rivers begin their journey is also important as well. In the case of Tibet, many of the world’s longest rivers are fed by drainage basins that begin in the region. In fact, six of Asia’s major rivers begin on the Tibetan Plateau, meeting the basic needs of billions of people.

By illustrating the world’s longest rivers and their drainage basins, maps like this one help put into perspective the breathtaking complexity of Earth’s hydrological cycle.

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Maps

The Largest Earthquakes in the New York Area (1970-2024)

The earthquake that shook buildings across New York in April 2024 was the third-largest quake in the Northeast U.S. over the past 50 years.

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Map of earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.0 or greater recorded in the northeastern U.S. since 1970.

The Largest Earthquakes in the New York Area

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on Apple or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

The 4.8 magnitude earthquake that shook buildings across New York on Friday, April 5th, 2024 was the third-largest quake in the U.S. Northeast area over the past 50 years.

In this map, we illustrate earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.0 or greater recorded in the Northeastern U.S. since 1970, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Shallow Quakes and Older Buildings

The earthquake that struck the U.S. Northeast in April 2024 was felt by millions of people from Washington, D.C., to north of Boston. It even caused a full ground stop at Newark Airport.

The quake, occurring just 5 km beneath the Earth’s surface, was considered shallow, which is what contributed to more intense shaking at the surface.

According to the USGS, rocks in the eastern U.S. are significantly older, denser, and harder than those on the western side, compressed by time. This makes them more efficient conduits for seismic energy. Additionally, buildings in the Northeast tend to be older and may not adhere to the latest earthquake codes.

Despite disrupting work and school life, the earthquake was considered minor, according to the Michigan Technological University magnitude scale:

MagnitudeEarthquake EffectsEstimated Number
Each Year
2.5 or lessUsually not felt, but can be
recorded by seismograph.
Millions
2.5 to 5.4Often felt, but only causes
minor damage.
500,000
5.5 to 6.0Slight damage to buildings
and other structures.
350
6.1 to 6.9May cause a lot of damage
in very populated areas.
100
7.0 to 7.9Major earthquake.
Serious damage.
10-15
8.0 or greaterGreat earthquake. Can totally
destroy communities near the
epicenter.
One every year
or two

The largest earthquake felt in the area over the past 50 years was a 5.3 magnitude quake that occurred in Au Sable Forks, New York, in 2002. It damaged houses and cracked roads in a remote corner of the Adirondack Mountains, but caused no injuries.

DateMagnitudeLocationState
April 20, 20025.3Au Sable ForksNew York
October 7, 19835.1NewcombNew York
April 5, 20244.8Whitehouse StationNew Jersey
October 16, 20124.7Hollis CenterMaine
January 16, 19944.6Sinking SpringPennsylvania
January 19, 19824.5SanborntonNew Hampshire
September 25, 19984.5AdamsvillePennsylvania
June 9, 19754.2AltonaNew York
May 29, 19834.2PeruMaine
April 23, 19844.2ConestogaPennsylvania
January 16, 19944.2Sinking SpringPennsylvania
November 3, 19754Long LakeNew York
June 17, 19914WorcesterNew York

The largest earthquake in U.S. history, however, was the 1964 Good Friday quake in Alaska, measuring 9.2 magnitude and killing 131 people.

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Visualizing Asia's Water Dilemma

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