You have probably visited many streams throughout your lifetime, walked through them, hopped along large rocks while the waters flow around your feet, or fish in them while you were picnicking in a state park.
They are also perfect for activities like swimming, boating, tubing, and so much more.
But did you know there were many different types of streams naturally formed all around us?
Below, we describe 8 of the most well-known kinds of streams and tell you how they form and why they are so crucial to the environment.
- What is a Stream?
- 8 Main Types of Streams
- What Are the Four Types of Stream Channel Patterns?
- How Are Streams Classified?
- What Are the 3 Types of Rivers?
- What Direction Do Streams Flow?
- What Is the Importance of a Stream?
- Interesting Stream Facts
What is a Stream?
Before we can discuss the different types of streams, you need to know what a stream is. There are so many different bodies of water around the world; you may think you know what each one is but would be pretty surprised to find out you were wrong.
When we think of streams, we think of small brooks in the middle of a field, but they aren’t always as safe and simple as you may think. Did you know the Amazon River is actually a stream?
A stream is a body of water that flows naturally down a hill moved by gravity carrying sediments and rock particles along with it, making up most of our countries’ natural water supply.
Many things create streams, from melting snow and ice to excessive rainfall collecting in a deep crater of soil and even a spring-fed pond. Why they formed and why they continue to flow today plays a significant role in the ecosystem.
Now that we know what a stream is, let’s take some time to discuss the different types you will find all around the world.
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8 Main Types of Streams
1. Ephemeral Stream
Ephemeral streams are riverbeds that have dried up and only flow after a long period of steady rainfall. These streams are very beneficial to the land because as they sit ideally waiting for water, the soil builds with nutrients that then enter the stream and are distributed to the riverbanks.
2. Intermittent Streams
Just as it sounds, an intermittent stream only flows for a portion of the year, usually during wet rainy seasons, and stays dry and sedentary during the hot summer months. (source)
3. Perennial Streams
Perennial streams are usually filled by groundwater, with rainwater and runoff as supplementary sources. These streams run all year round, unlike the intermittent types.
4. Alluvial Fans
An alluvial fan develops when the water flows through hills or mountains with loose sediment and takes shape as these particles erode. These types of streams will then leave the downhill landform and enter onto flat land, causing the water to fan out.
5. Braided Streams
Braided streams are mostly found running along tall mountainsides. These are numerous narrow streams that form very close to one another, interweaving (like braided hair) as they move down the slope, frequently connecting with one another.
Delta of river Axios, Greece
The most common type of delta is where a stream flows into an ocean. These streams will carry sediments and rocks to these open bodies of water and deposit them continuously, and have the capability of filling the standing body of water, depending on the size.
7. Meandering Streams
Meandering streams usually form in areas where the land contains fine sediments, sand, or mud. These streams flow in winding patterns, like a snake, on fairly flat ground. The velocity of the water flow will error the curves of the channel taking the rocks along with it.
If the curve becomes too enlarged, the stream will find another route to go down that is less strenuous, leaving that waterway to dry up. (source)
8. Headwater Streams
Headwaters of Williams River – Monongahela National Forest – West Virginia, USA
The headwater streams form at the beginning of a river and trap floodwaters, providing fish and wildlife and removing pollution as the flowing water makes its way rocks and debris.
Headwater streams will often start to dry up in warm, dry seasons, creating their own smaller pools of water.
What Are the Four Types of Stream Channel Patterns?
Stream channels form according to the direction of gravitational pull, land formation, and water flow. The four types of stream channel patterns include straight, meandering, braided, and sinuous (or curved).
The velocity the water flow is moving at controls the shape and pattern of the stream, causing it to create crevices, caves, and formations as it moves along its path.
So, why aren’t streams constantly getting bigger and broader? Although streams can get wider in time, as these streams move along and carry sediment away with them, it is at the same time depositing sediments as well, balancing the whole system out.
How Are Streams Classified?
Classification of streams is crucial for assessing ecosystem health and developing essential laws and regulations to protect these bodies of water.
The first type of stream classification is stream order, determined by the order in which each channel comes into contact with the stream, starting with the first small flow and increasing in order as each stream intersects.
Stream order is very important to help find a common pattern and locate where each channel connects.
The Rosgen system classifies streams by physical features and properties such as landforms, climate, width to depth ratios, stream conditions, types of fish, etc.
This classification system helps determine what types of properties cause each specific stream, helping to understand the formation and predict future formations and what they will look like to utilize and protect them.
What Are the 3 Types of Rivers?
The three main types of rivers are alluvial, bedrock, or both. Alluvial is the soil in a stream made up of loose silt, gravel, and sand. These particles are then distributed into a flat land formation into a larger body of water.
A bedrock stream is where there are little to no sediments dispersed throughout the path of the stream. These are usually flat waterways with few obstructions.
What Direction Do Streams Flow?
All streams are propelled solely by gravity and flow downhill, building up speed as they move. Even if a stream looks like it may be on a flat landform, there is at least a slight slope propelling it along.
What Is the Importance of a Stream?
Streams are so much more than a beautiful natural body of water to visit or picnic near. They are beneficial to nature and life daily. Here are a few reasons that streams are important and why we need to keep them protected.
Because streams are constantly moving and flowing throughout rocks, debris, and sediments, this clean drinking water is distributed all over, providing hydration to many people around the world.
Streams are one of the best resources for wildlife habitats. They provide drinking water, sustainable resources, and protection for animals living in the area.
Protection From Floods
Streams are one location where rainwater, runoff, and groundwater can be stored to protect downhill communities from flooding.
Streams play a huge role in our economy. They are useful when growing crops, fishing, and even attracting visitors to less populated areas to bring in outsiders that will help support local communities.
“About 2.6 million people per year hunt migratory birds, which depend on healthy wetlands, spending more than $1.8 billion per year in the process.” (EPA, the United States Environmental Protection Agency)
Streams often refill our nation’s groundwater supplies, which is extremely useful for refilling streams and locations where water is needed to sustain crops and rain-dependent areas.
As you can see, all living things are very dependent on streams. These seemingly small and insignificant waterways play a much more significant role in life than you would think.
Interesting Stream Facts
- The study of streams that operate at or near Earth’s surface is called surface hydrology.
- North America has multiple names for streams, including Creek, Branch, Brook, and Falls.
- Many streams can flow underground, for example through caves.
- Rivers and streams are some of the most powerful forces on the planet.
- Streams can shape and form the earth more than glaciers.
- North England is home to one of the most dangerous streams in the world, The Bolton Strid on the River Wharfe.
There are so many different streams located worldwide, from mountains to valleys and everything in between. Many streams haven’t even been discovered yet, and some that have aren’t even listed on a map. However, everyone is important, and we can learn a lot from them through research and protection.
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