• continental divide
    The Rocky Mountains are part of a continental divide.

    Photograph by Ralph Bell, My Shot

    Endorheic Basins
    There are vast spaces on every continent not affected by continental divides. These areas are endorheic basins, or watersheds that do not drain to an ocean or sea. Much of the Sahara Desert in Africa, for instance, is an endorheic basin. The Lake Eyre Basin in Australia is another endorheic basin.

    A continental divide is a mountainous ridge on a continent. On one side of the divide, all the water generated from snowfall feeds into rivers that flow to an ocean, bay, or sea. The rivers on the other side of the divide feed into a different ocean, bay, or sea.

    Continental divides can be found on every continent. If a continent borders more than two bodies of water, it may have more than one continental divide. North America, for example, has between three and five continental divides.

    The Northern Divide, or Laurentian Divide, separates water flowing into the Atlantic Ocean from water flowing into Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean. The Eastern Continental Divide separates water flowing into the Atlantic Ocean from water flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.

    The Continental Divide of the Americas, or the Great Divide, runs though all of North America. This divide separates all the water that runs toward the Pacific Ocean from the water that runs toward the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. The Great Divide starts at Cape Prince of Wales in western Alaska. It runs through western Canada and the United States through the Rocky Mountains, then through the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains in Mexico.

    The Great Divide actually continues to Central America and South America. The Andes Mountains mark the continental divide in South America. Rivers flowing west of the Andes flow into the Pacific Ocean, and rivers flowing east flow into the Atlantic Ocean.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Andes Mountains Noun

    mountain range extending along the western coast of South America.

    bay Noun

    body of water partially surrounded by land, usually with a wide mouth to a larger body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: bay
    continent Noun

    one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: continent
    continental divide Noun

    point or area that separates which directions a continent's river systems flow.

    Encyclopedic Entry: continental divide
    endorheic basin Noun

    watershed that empties into an internal body of water, not the ocean.

    generate Verb

    to create or begin.

    Great Divide Noun

    continental divide in North America separating rivers that flow into the Pacific Ocean and rivers that flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Also called the Continental Divide of the Americas.

    Northern Divide Noun

    continental divide in North America separating rivers flowing into the Atlantic Ocean and rivers flowing into Hudson Bay. Also called the Laurentian Divide.

    ocean Noun

    large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ocean
    ridge Noun

    long, narrow elevation of earth.

    Rocky Mountains Noun

    mountain range in the western United States and Canada.

    snowfall Noun

    amount of snow at a specific place over a specific period of time.

    watershed Noun

    entire river system or an area drained by a river and its tributaries.

    Encyclopedic Entry: watershed
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