Beautiful Maps of the World’s Watersheds
Nothing is more fundamental to life than water – and this is particularly evident in a country like Egypt, which has been aptly described by Greek historian Herodotus as the “Gift of the Nile”.
In Egypt, an astonishing 95% of the population lives alongside the mighty Nile, which is the world’s longest river at 4,258 mi (6,853 km) and also the only major source of freshwater in an otherwise arid desert landscape.
The World’s Watersheds
The Nile isn’t alone in creating the right conditions for life. Rivers of all sizes help form the world’s watersheds, and together they comprise a “circulatory system” that pumps life into every corner of the globe.
Today’s stunning maps, via geographer Szűcs Róbert, divide our planet’s watersheds into colorful catchment areas, and provide an informative look at how water flows across continents.
When Rivers Take the Long Way ‘Round
Grade school physics teaches us that liquid water will take the most available path of least resistance. Sometimes though, that most available path can take water from mountains clear across a continent before reaching an ocean.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Peru, home of the glacier-packed Cordillera Blanca. As rain and meltwater begins flowing from the peaks of the Andes Mountains, there are two diverging paths to the ocean.
The journey to the Pacific Ocean is a quick one, and there are small rivers at regular intervals along the coast of Peru.
Because trade winds blow east-to-west in that region, most of the water flows down the eastern side of the Andes, the beginning of a journey across the continent (as demonstrated by the light blue section of Róbert’s South America map.)
Without the Andes acting as a backstop for rain, the Amazon rainforest would not exist in its current scale and form.
When Three Become One
In the United States, the dominant drainage basin is the Jefferson-Mississippi-Missouri River system (shown in pink on the map above.) This massive basin collects water from over 40% of the contiguous U.S., and comes into contact with two Canadian provinces and 31 states before terminating at the Gulf of Mexico.
The Top Ranked Rivers
The Amazon discharges far more water than any other river on earth, dumping more water per second into the ocean than the next four largest rivers combined. That makes the Amazon a clear winner in this category.
In terms of drainage area though, the Amazon is not as dominant:
In fact, there are multiple rivers that cover massive drainage areas. This includes the Congo in Africa, as well as the mighty Mississippi, which is neck-and-neck with the Nile.
For more, view the full collection of maps here.
Which Countries Pollute the Most Ocean Plastic Waste?
This graphic visualizes the top 10 countries emitting plastic pollutants into our oceans.
Visualized: Ocean Plastic Waste Pollution By Country
Millions of metric tons of plastic are produced worldwide every year. While half of this plastic waste is recycled, incinerated, or discarded into landfills, a significant portion of what remains eventually ends up in our oceans.
In fact, many pieces of ocean plastic waste have come together to create a vortex of plastic waste thrice the size of France in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii.
Where does all of this plastic come from? In this graphic, Louis Lugas Wicaksono used data from a research paper by Lourens J.J. Meijer and team to highlight the top 10 countries emitting plastic pollutants in the waters surrounding them.
Plastic’s Ocean Voyage
First, let’s talk about how this plastic waste reaches the oceans in the first place.
Most of the plastic waste found in the deep blue waters comes from the litter in parks, beaches, or along the storm drains lining our streets. These bits of plastic waste are carried into our drains, streams, and rivers by wind and rainwater runoff.
The rivers then turn into plastic superhighways, transporting the plastic to the oceans.
A large additional chunk of ocean plastic comes from damaged fishing nets or ghost nets that are directly discarded into the high seas.
Countries Feeding the Plastic Problem
Some might think that the countries producing or consuming the most plastic are the ones that pollute the oceans the most. But that’s not true.
According to the study, countries with a smaller geographical area, longer coastlines, high rainfall, and poor waste management systems are more likely to wash plastics into the sea.
For example, China generates 10 times the plastic waste that Malaysia does. However, 9% of Malaysia’s total plastic waste is estimated to reach the ocean, in comparison to China’s 0.6%.
|Rank||Country||Annual Ocean Plastic Waste (Metric tons)|
|🌐 Rest of the World||176,012|
The Philippines—an archipelago of over 7,000 islands, with a 36,289 kilometer coastline and 4,820 plastic emitting rivers—is estimated to emit 35% of the ocean’s plastic.
In addition to the Philippines, over 75% of the accumulated plastic in the ocean is reported to come from the mismanaged waste in Asian countries including India, Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Thailand.
The only non-Asian country to make it to this top 10 list, with 1,240 rivers including the Amazon, is Brazil.
The Path to a Plastic-free Ocean
The first, and most obvious, way to reduce plastic accumulation is to reduce the use of plastic. Lesser production equals lesser waste.
The second step is managing the plastic waste generated, and this is where the challenge lies.
Many high-income countries generate high amounts of plastic waste, but are either better at processing it or exporting it to other countries. Meanwhile, many of the middle-income and low-income countries that both demand plastics and receive bulk exports have yet to develop the infrastructure needed to process it.
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