A river is a stream of water that flows through a channel (or passage) in the surface of the ground. The passage where the river flows is called the river bed and the earth on each side is called a river bank. A river begins on high ground or in hills or mountains and flows down from the high ground to the lower ground, because of gravity. A river begins as a small stream, and gets bigger the farther it flows.
The water in a river is called fresh water. It comes from rain or snow and it can usually be drunk safely, unless it has been polluted. The water in a sea cannot be drunk safely because it is salt water. Both people and animals often live near rivers. They need water to survive and, for humans, rivers were once the only means of fast transport.
- About rivers
- Using rivers
- Rivers in art, literature and music
- Important rivers
- Other types of rivers
- Related pages
The beginning of a river
The start of a river is called the source or head water. The part of the river that is near the source is called a 'young' river. A young river is often in a V-shaped river bed, and flows quickly downhill over stones, and around big rocks. Young rivers often have lots of small waterfalls and rapids.
- The source of a river may be a spring, often on a hill, mountain, glacier, or another high place. A spring is water that flows out from under the ground.
- The source of a river may be a lake where lots of water from small streams gathers when it rains or snows.
- A river may begin in mountains where there is snow. The melting snow runs together to form a small stream that runs down the mountain. As more little streams run in, the main stream gets bigger, until it forms a river.
- Some rivers flow from hills where there is no snow, but lots of rain.
- Some rivers only flow after there has been rain near the head water.
This river in Northern Australia only runs after heavy rain.
The middle part of a river
The middle part of a river is called a mature river. A mature river makes a riverbed that is U-shaped. It might be very deep and run fast. It sweeps over small rocks and boulders, and makes big turns around hills and mountains. It is much wider than a young river, but not as wide as an old river. To cross over a mature river, people use bridges. Many cities and towns are built on the banks of mature rivers. Many farms that keep animals such as dairy cows, horses and sheep are along mature rivers because the animals can drink from the river every day.
The city of Florence was built beside the Arno River.
The last part of a river
As a river flows towards its mouth, the countryside around the river often changes from hilly to flat. As it flows over the flat land the river becomes wider and slower. A wide slow river is called an 'old river'. An old river often floods across the land after there is lots of rain at the headwaters. An old river slowly builds up its banks on either side; the high banks are called levees. An old river often meanders (twists and turns), and sometimes, after a flood, it leaves lakes behind which are called ox-bows or billabongs. Old rivers are the most useful type of river for growing crops. Corn, rice, fruit, cotton, hay, tobacco and sugar are some of the crops that are grown near old rivers.
The shape of the mouth depends on the conditions of the sea where it flows. If there is a strong tide where the river meets the sea, the river forms an estuary. An estuary is a wide, funnel-like mouth of the river. The fresh water of the river mixes slowly with the salt water, becoming brackish water – somewhat salty water. Many kinds of fish, clams, molluscs and other sealife live at estuaries. Many of the world's largest cities and harbours are at estuaries.
Where a river flows out to the sea, it sometimes flows very slowly through sandy or muddy land, making lots of little islands as it flows. The main stream of the river gets broken into many parts that spread out into a triangle shape like the Greek letter delta. When this happens, it is called the delta of the river. Deltas are often places that are not good for towns or farms but are very good for birds and other wildlife and fishing. Deltas are often made into wildlife reserves. Not all rivers have deltas. There are famous deltas on the Nile River, the Amazon River, the Mekong River, the Mississippi River and the Danube River.
The grassy islands of the Okavango delta are the home of elephants, lions and flamingos.
Some rivers flow underground through caves. Underground rivers form in places where there are lots of cracks in the rocks above, so that in rainy weather, the water runs downs and collects in small underground streams. Sometimes the underground water trickles or gushes out of the ground to form a small spring of water. In other places, where there are caves, the small underground streams run together to form a river. The river can sometimes run through deep wide underground caverns. While many underground rivers flow gently, some underground rivers flow fast and have rapids, particularly after heavy rain. Many underground rivers flow out through a cave mouth to become an ordinary river.
Exploring the Ouysse River which flows from the Vitarelles Cave, France
Rapids on the Kyzyl-Koba underground river in Crimea
The River Styx runs out of the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, US
The water in rivers is "fresh water" that has come from rain, snow and from underground streams. It can usually be drunk safely by people unless it is too dirty because of mud or human pollution. People and animals need fresh water to drink, so they often live by the side of a river.
- Rivers give water for drinking, bathing and washing clothes.
- Rivers give water for cattle and other animals to drink and for people to grow plants.
- Rivers give products that are useful to people such as fish for food, clay for bricks and reeds to make the roofs of houses.
- Rivers can be used for transporting people, crops and other goods by boat.
- Rivers can be used to give power to turn machinery such as water mills.
- Rivers give water for factories that make cloth, steel and many other products.
- Rivers sometimes have dams to hold the water for people to drink, or to make electricity.
- Rivers can be used for leisure and sports such as swimming, boating, fishing and just walking by the river.
- Rivers often have beautiful scenery. Many painters, story-tellers and poets have painted or written about rivers.
- Rivers are sometimes turned into canals.
Water for living
Water for industry
Cargo containers waiting for transport from North River Port, Moscow.
Water for fun
Rivers in art, literature and music
- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, (novel)
- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, (novel)
Rivers in photography
Narewka River runs through a nature reserve in Poland.
A forest reflected in a river in Sweden
Evening on the Brahmaputra River, India
Sunset in Coquitlam, Canada
Hong Kong river reflections
Taieri River, Otago
- the Amazon River in South America is a very wide tropical river flowing through the Amazon Jungle and into the Atlantic Ocean through a large delta. Many types of fish live in it. It is the largest river in the world.
- the Nile River in Africa. For thousands of years this river has provided the people of Egypt with water to help their food grow. Cairo, the biggest city in Egypt and Africa, is built near the Nile's delta on the Mediterranean Sea. It is the longest river in the world.
- the Mississippi River in the United States. Many crops are grown along the sides of the Mississippi. It was also used for transport. The Mississippi flows through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
- the Yangtze River, a very large river in China, the third longest in the world, and the longest in Asia
- the Rhine River
- the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates
- the Ganges River
- the Mekong River
- the River Danube
- the Volga River
- the St. Lawrence River
- the Murray River in Australia, 1609 miles in length.
- the Congo River
- the Niger River
- the River Thames
- the Tiber River
- A meander is a bend or curve in a river.
- The mouth of a river is where the river enters the sea, ocean or lake.
- An oxbow lake is located at the side of a river and is curved like a "meander"
- A braided river is a usually slow-moving river which splits up and joins together repeatedly.
Other types of rivers
- A submarine river is a stream of water that flows along under the surface of an ocean. One of them, named the Cromwell current, was found in 1952. ("Sub marine" comes from Latin and means "under sea".)
- A subterranean river is a river which flows under the surface of the earth. One of them was found in August 1958 under the Nile River. (The term "sub terranean" also comes from Latin and means "under ground".)
River Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.