The Continental Divide of the Americas (also known as the Continental Gulf of Division, the Great Divide, or merely the Continental Divide) is the principal, and largely mountainous, hydrological divide of the Americas. The Continental Divide extends from the Bering Strait to the Strait of Magellan, and separates the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from (1) those river systems that drain into the Atlantic Ocean (including those that drain into the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea), and (2) along the northernmost reaches of the Divide, those river systems that drain into the Arctic Ocean.
Though there are many other hydrological divides in the Americas, the Great Divide is by far the most prominent of these because it tends to follow a line of high peaks along the main ranges of the Rocky Mountains and Andes, at a generally much higher elevation than the other hydrological divisions.
A continental divide is a drainage divide on a continent such that the drainage basin on one side of the divide feeds into one ocean or sea, and the basin on the other side either feeds into a different ocean or sea, or else is endorheic, not connected to the open sea.
The endpoints where a continental divide meets the coast are not always definite, because the exact border between adjacent bodies of water is usually not clearly defined. The International Hydrographic Organization's publication Limits of Oceans and Seas defines exact boundaries of oceans, but it is not universally recognized. Where a continental divide meets an endorheic basin, such as the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming, the continental divide splits and encircles the basin.
Downcutting, also called erosional downcutting, downward erosion or vertical erosion is a geological process that deepens the channel of a stream or valley by removing material from the stream's bed or the valley's floor. The speed of downcutting depends on the stream's base level, the lowest point to which the stream can erode. Sea level is the ultimate base level, but many streams have a higher "temporary" base level because they empty into another body of water that is above sea level or encounter bedrock that resists erosion. A concurrent process called lateral erosion refers to the widening of a stream channel or valley. When a stream is high above its base level, downcutting will take place faster than lateral erosion; but as the level of the stream approaches its base level, the rate of lateral erosion increases. This is why streams in mountainous areas tend to be narrow and swift, forming V-shaped valleys, while streams in lowland areas tend to be wide and slow-moving, with valleys that are correspondingly wide and flat-bottomed. The term gradient refers to the elevation of a stream relative to its base level. The steeper the gradient, the faster the stream flows. Sometimes geological uplift will increase the gradient of a stream even while the stream downcuts toward its base level, a process called "rejuvenation." This happened in the case of the Colorado River in the western United States, resulting in the process that created the Grand Canyon. In geomorphology, a drainage system are the patterns formed by the streams, rivers, and lakes in a particular drainage basin. They are governed by the topography of the land, whether a particular region is dominated by hard or soft rocks, and the gradient of the land. Geomorphologists and hydrologists often view streams as being part of drainage basins. A drainage basin is the topographic region from which a stream receives runoff, throughflow, and groundwater flow. Drainage basins are divided from each other by topographic barriers called a watershed. A watershed represents all of the stream tributaries that flow to some location along the stream channel. The number, size, and shape of the drainage basins found in an area varies and the larger the topographic map, the more information on the drainage basin is available. A flood is an overflow of water that submerges land which is usually dry. The European Union (EU) Floods Directive defines a flood as a covering by water of land not normally covered by water. In the sense of "flowing water", the word may also be applied to the inflow of the tide. Flooding may occur as an overflow of water from water bodies, such as a river or lake, in which the water overtops or breaks levees, resulting in some of that water escaping its usual boundaries, or it may occur due to an accumulation of rainwater on saturated ground in an areal flood. While the size of a lake or other body of water will vary with seasonal changes in precipitation and snow melt, these changes in size are unlikely to be considered significant unless they flood property or drown domestic animals.
Floods can also occur in rivers when the flow rate exceeds the capacity of the river channel, particularly at bends or meanders in the waterway. Floods often cause damage to homes and businesses if they are in the natural flood plains of rivers. While riverine flood damage can be eliminated by moving away from rivers and other bodies of water, people have traditionally lived and worked by rivers because the land is usually flat and fertile and because rivers provide easy travel and access to commerce and industry.
Some floods develop slowly, while others such as flash floods, can develop in just a few minutes and without visible signs of rain. Additionally, floods can be local, impacting a neighborhood or community, or very large, affecting entire river basins.
A perennial stream or perennial river is a stream or river (channel) that has continuous flow in parts of its stream bed all year round during years of normal rainfall. "Perennial" streams are contrasted with "intermittent" streams which normally cease flowing for weeks or months each year, and with "ephemeral" channels that flow only for hours or days following rainfall. During unusually dry years, a normally perennial stream may cease flowing, becoming intermittent for days, weeks, or months depending on severity of the drought. The boundaries between perennial, intermittent, and ephemeral channels are indefinite, and subject to a variety of identification methods adopted by local governments, academics, and others with a need to classify stream-flow permanence.
As stream flow decreases in dry weather, visible flow above the stream bed may not be readily evident, especially in streams with coarse substrate (gravel and rocks), where water is flowing beneath and between these particles (hyporheic flow). From a biological perspective, a stream may be considered flowing if sufficient water is available to support flow-dependent aquatic life, including fish and gill-breathing amphibians, benthic insects, crustaceans, and mollusks, many of which survive in shallow hyporheic flow beneath rocks or logs. This extreme low flow may not be detectable on typical USGS stream-flow gages, but is vital to stream ecology