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A tributary, or affluent, is a
stream A stream is a body of water (Lysefjord) in Norway Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway,Names in the official and recognised languages: Bokmål Bokmål (, ; literally "book tongue") is an official written standard for the No ...

stream
or
river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course without reaching another body of wate ...

river
that flows into a larger stream or
main stem In hydrology Hydrology (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approxi ...
(or parent) river or a
lake A lake is an area filled with water, localized in a basin, surrounded by land Land is the solid surface of Earth that is not permanently submerged in water. Most but not all land is situated at elevations above sea level (variable ove ...

lake
. A tributary does not flow directly into a
sea The sea, connected as the world ocean or simply the ocean The ocean (also the sea or the world ocean) is the body of salt water which covers approximately 71% of the surface of the Earth.
sea
or
ocean The ocean (also the sea The sea, connected as the world ocean or simply the ocean The ocean (also the sea or the world ocean) is the body of salt water which covers approximately 71% of the surface of the Earth.
. Tributaries and the main stem river drain the surrounding
drainage basin A drainage basin is any area of land where precipitation collects and drains off into a common outlet, such as into a river, bay, or other body of water. The drainage basin includes all the surface water from surface runoff, rain runoff, snowm ...

drainage basin
of its surface water and
groundwater Groundwater is the water Water (chemical formula H2O) is an , transparent, tasteless, odorless, and , which is the main constituent of 's and the s of all known living organisms (in which it acts as a ). It is vital for all known form ...

groundwater
, leading the water out into an ocean. The
Irtysh The Irtysh ( otk, 𐰼𐱅𐰾:𐰇𐰏𐰕𐰏, Ertis ügüzüg, mn, Эрчис мөрөн, ''Erchis mörön'', "erchleh", "twirl"; russian: Иртыш; kk, Ертіс, Ertis, ; : 额尔齐斯河, : ''É'ěrqísī hé'', : عَعَرٿِسِ ...
is a chief tributary of the Ob river and is also the longest tributary river in the world with a length of . The
Madeira River Image:Madeirarivermap.png, upright=1.2, Map of the Amazon Basin with the Madeira River highlighted The Madeira River ( pt, Rio Madeira ) is a major waterway in South America. It is estimated to be in length, while the Madeira-Mamoré is estimated ...
is the largest tributary river by volume in the world with an average discharge of . A
confluence In geography Geography (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is ...

confluence
, where two or more
bodies of water A body of water or waterbody (often spelled water body) is any significant accumulation of water Water (chemical formula H2O) is an , transparent, tasteless, odorless, and , which is the main constituent of 's and the s of all known l ...
meet together, usually refers to the joining of tributaries. The opposite to a tributary is a
distributary A distributary, or a distributary channel, is a stream A stream is a body of water with surface water flowing within the stream bed, bed and Bank (geography), banks of a Channel (geography), channel. The flow of a stream is controlled by ...
, a river or stream that branches off from and flows away from the main stream."opposite to a tributary"
PhysicalGeography.net, Michael Pidwirny & Scott Jones, 2009. Viewed 17 September 2012. Distributaries are most often found in
river delta A river delta is a landform A landform is a natural or artificial feature of the solid surface of the Earth or other planetary body A planet is an astronomical body Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the ...

river delta
s.


Terminology

"Right tributary" and "left tributary" (or "right-bank tributary" and "left-bank tributary") are terms stating the orientation of the tributary relative to the flow of the main stem river. These terms are defined from the perspective of looking downstream (in the direction the
water current A current in a fluid In physics, a fluid is a substance that continually Deformation (mechanics), deforms (flows) under an applied shear stress, or external force. Fluids are a Phase (matter), phase of matter and include liquids, Gas, gases and ...
of the main stem is going).Bisson, Peter and Wondzell, Steven
"Olympic Experimental State Forest Synthesis of Riparian Research and Monitoring"
United States Forest Service The United States Forest Service (USFS) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that administers the nation's 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands. The Forest Service manages of land. Major divisions of the agency in ...
, p. 15 (1 December 2009).
An "early tributary" is a tributary that joins the main stem river closer to the main river's source than its end. Similarly, a "late tributary" joins the main river much further downstream, closer to the main river's end point. In the United States, where tributaries sometimes have the same name as the river into which they feed, they are called forks. These are typically designated by compass direction. For example, the
American River , name_etymology = , image = American River CA.jpg , image_size = 300 , image_caption = The American River at Folsom , map = Americanrivermap.png , map_size = 300 , map_caption ...

American River
in California receives flow from its North, Middle, and South forks. The
Chicago River The Chicago River is a system of rivers and canals with a combined length of that runs through the city of Chicago, including its center (the Chicago Loop). Though not especially long, the river is notable because it is one of the reasons for ...

Chicago River
's North Branch has the East, West, and Middle Fork; the South Branch has its South Fork, and used to have a West Fork as well (now filled in). Forks are sometimes designated as right or left. Here, the "handedness" is from the point of view of an observer facing upstream. For instance, Steer Creek has a left tributary which is called Right Fork Steer Creek.


Ordering and enumeration

Tributaries are sometimes listed starting with those nearest to the source of the river and ending with those nearest to the . The
Strahler Stream Order In mathematics, the Strahler number or Horton–Strahler number of a mathematical tree (graph theory), tree is a numerical measure of its branching complexity. These numbers were first developed in hydrology by and ; in this application, they are ...
examines the arrangement of tributaries in a
hierarchy A hierarchy (from the Greek: , from , 'president of sacred rites') is an arrangement of items (objects, names, values, categories, etc.) in which the items are represented as being "above", "below", or "at the same level as" one another. Hierarch ...

hierarchy
of first, second, third and higher orders, with the first-order tributary being typically the least in size. For example, a second-order tributary would be the result of two or more first-order tributaries combining to form the second-order tributary. Another method is to list tributaries from mouth to source, in the form of a
tree structure A tree structure or tree diagram is a way of representing the hierarchical nature of a structure in a graphical form. It is named a "tree structure" because the classic representation resembles a tree, even though the chart is generally upside ...

tree structure
, stored as a
tree In botany, a tree is a perennial plant with an elongated Plant stem, stem, or trunk (botany), trunk, supporting branches and leaves in most species. In some usages, the definition of a tree may be narrower, including only wood plants with se ...
data structure In computer science Computer science deals with the theoretical foundations of information, algorithms and the architectures of its computation as well as practical techniques for their application. Computer science is the study of ...

data structure
.


Gallery

File:Amazonriverbasin basemap.png, The basin of the
Amazon River The Amazon River (, ; es, Río Amazonas, pt, Rio Amazonas) in South America South America is a entirely in the and mostly in the , with a relatively small portion in the . It can also be described as the southern of a single con ...

Amazon River
is a system made up of many tributary streams. The streams shown on the map besides the Amazon are tributaries of the Amazon. File:Benuerivermap.png, The
Benue River The Benue River (french: la Bénoué), previously known as the Chadda River or Tchadda, is the major tributary A tributary, or affluent, is a stream or river that flows into a larger stream or main stem (or parent) river or a lake. A tributary ...
is fed by multiple tributaries originating in the
Adamawa Plateau The Adamawa Plateau (french: Massif de l'Adamaoua) is a plateau In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is an Earth science concerned with the solid Earth, t ...
; many of the highest tributaries are seasonal streams. The Benue is itself a major tributary of the
Niger ) , official_languages = French , languages_type = National language A national language is a language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed languag ...

Niger
. File:Huairivermap.jpg,
Huai River The Huai River (), formerly romanized Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken ...
(itself a tributary of the
Yangtze The Yangtze or Yangzi ( or ) is the longest river in Asia, the third-longest in the world and the longest in the world to flow entirely within one country. It rises at Jari Hill in the Tanggula Mountains The Tanggula ( Chinese:  ...
) and tributaries File:Jialingrivermap.png,
Jialing River The Jialing River, formerly known by #Names, numerous other names, is a major tributary of the Yangtze River in the Sichuan Basin. It is named after the Jialing Valley in Feng County, Shaanxi, Feng County, Shaanxi through which it flows. The Jia ...

Jialing River
(itself a tributary of the
Yangtze The Yangtze or Yangzi ( or ) is the longest river in Asia, the third-longest in the world and the longest in the world to flow entirely within one country. It rises at Jari Hill in the Tanggula Mountains The Tanggula ( Chinese:  ...
) and tributaries File:Liaorivermap.png, The
Liao River The Liao River () is the principal in southern , and one of the seven main s in . Its name derived from the Liao region, a historical name for southern , from which the , and also all have derived their names. The river is also popularly know ...
is a much simpler example of a river basin with tributaries. The main tributaries noted on this map are the Hun River,
Taizi River The Taizi River () is a major river in the Liaoning province Liaoning (), is a coastal province A province is almost always an administrative division within a country or state. The term derives from the ancient Roman '' provincia'', wh ...
, Dongliao River, Xinkai River,
Xiliao River The Xiliao or West Liao River () is a river in Inner Mongolia Inner Mongolia, officially the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, is a landlocked of the . Its border includes most of the length of China's with the country of . Inner Mongolia al ...
, Xar Moron River and the Laoha River. The Xiliao River's tributaries are the Xar Moron and Laoha rivers. File:Mekongbasin.jpg, The
Mekong The Mekong or Mekong River is a trans-boundary river A transboundary river is a river that crosses at least one political border, either a border within a nation or an international boundary. Bangladesh has the highest number of these river ...

Mekong
is a trans-boundary river, originating in the
Tibetan Plateau The Tibetan Plateau (, also known as the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau or the Qing–Zang Plateau () or as the Himalayan Plateau in India, is a vast elevated plateau In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λ ...
. Its upper tributary river systems (e.g. the
Salween River . , name_native_lang = , name_other = Burmese: , ''Thanlwin'' ( th, แม่น้ำสาละวิน, ''Mae Nam Salawin'' ( , name_etymology = , image = Sunset Salween River.jpg , image_size = , ...

Salween River
) are restricted to narrow
gorge A canyon (; archaic British English spelling: ''cañon'') or gorge is a deep cleft between escarpments or cliffs resulting from weathering and the erosion, erosive activity of a river over Geologic time scale, geologic time scales. Rivers have a ...

gorge
s, but the tributaries that feed its lower reaches (e.g. the
Mun River The Mun River ( th, แม่น้ำมูล, , ), sometimes spelled ''Moon River'', is a tributary A tributary or affluent is a stream or river that flows into a larger stream or main stem (or parent) river or a lake. A tributary does not fl ...

Mun River
) cover larger areas. File:Vermilion wabashrivermap.png, The water basin of the
Wabash River The Wabash River (French language, French: Ouabache) is a U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline dataThe National Map accessed May 13, 2011 river that drains most of the state of Indiana in the United Stat ...

Wabash River
; the other rivers (not including the
Ohio River The Ohio River is a long river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course wi ...

Ohio River
) are tributaries of the Wabash River. The Vermillion River (and its
forks In cutlery or kitchenware, a fork (from la, furca 'pitchfork') is a utensil, now usually made of metal, whose long handle terminates in a head that branches into several narrow and often slightly curved tine (structural), tines with which one ...
) is a highlighted example of a tributary of the Wabash River. The Wabash River is also a tributary of the Ohio River, which in turn is a tributary of the
Mississippi River The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and b ...

Mississippi River
. File:Yamunarivermap.jpg, The
Yamuna The Yamuna (Hindustani language, Hindustani: ) is the second-largest tributary river of the Ganga by discharge and the longest tributary in List of major rivers of India, India. Originating from the Yamunotri Glacier at a height of on the ...

Yamuna
is the second-largest tributary river of the
Ganges The Ganges ( ) (in India: Ganga ( ); in Bangladesh: Padma River, Padma ( )). "The Ganges Basin, known in India as the Ganga and in Bangladesh as the Padma, is an international river to which India, Bangladesh, Nepal and China are the riparian ...

Ganges
and the longest tributary in
India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi Hindi (Devanagari: , हिंदी, ISO 15919, ISO: ), or more precisely Modern Standard Hindi (Devanagari: , ISO 15919, ISO: ), is an Indo-Aryan language spoken chiefly in Hindi Belt, ...
. It flows almost parallel to the Ganges about its right bank for before merging with it at the
Triveni Sangam In Hindu tradition, Triveni Sangam is the confluence (Sanskrit: ''sangama'') of three rivers that is also a sacred place, with a bath here said to flush away all of one's sins and free one from the cycle of rebirth Triveni Sangam in Allahabad ...

Triveni Sangam
,
Allahabad Allahabad (), officially known as Prayagraj, also known as Ilahabad, is a metropolis in the background A metropolis () is a large city or conurbation which is a significant economic, political, and cultural center for a country or r ...

Allahabad
.


See also

*
Estuary An estuary is a partially enclosed Coast, coastal body of brackish water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea. Estuaries form a transition zone between river environments and maritime envir ...

Estuary


References

{{Authority control Physical geography Rivers Water streams River morphology