Where does the water go?


A fascinating Web site, River Runner, charts the path of a raindrop from any place within the continental USA to the sea.  You click on a map with your mouse cursor, or enter the name of a town in a search box, and the Web site calculates the path from your chosen starting point, along the various rivers and valleys that lead from there to the sea, on either the East or the West coasts or in the Gulf of Mexico.  The map then gives you a visual impression of the path, running at a speed that you control, showing you the route of the various waterways and landmarks along the journey.

Here’s an example of how the map looks (although, of course, this screenshot doesn’t show it in motion).  Click the image for a larger view.

It’s a fascinating exploration of geography, and how landscape channels water (and is itself modified by water).  In particular, one sees how some areas are more affected by drought than others, because they offer fewer pathways for water to reach them and/or flow across them.

Recommended viewing for all ages, but particularly for schoolchildren.



  1. River Runner link does not open a map for me. Looks like a great idea just wish it would have worked.

  2. I get nothing but a blank page. My browser is Pale Moon, and I even copied the link over to Internet Explorer and got the same blank nothing.
    Not a great problem, but the point I would bring up is that in grade school geography, we were taught about the "Continental Divide" running mostly the length of the Rocky Mountains, wherein everything west made its way to the Pacific, and everything east went to the Mississippi and/or Atlantic Ocean.
    What they never told us about was the Great Basin, which has no outlet to an ocean. A great chunk of the American west has all its drainage end up in alkali lakes or the Great Salt Lake. It's always amazed me how seasonally large rivers like the Truckee and the Humboldt just vanish into nothingness.

  3. I saw this on another website a couple of days ago and tried it out. The boxes, which cannot be closed or minimized, cover so much of the map that it is nearly impossible to see what's going on.
    I found it very frustrating and aggravating.

  4. It worked okay for me in Firefox, but it wasn't precise.

    For example: The raindrop in Nelson county KY, into Chaplin's Creek meandered it's way to the Ohio, the Mississippi and the Gulf. In reality, it should have been… Chaplin's creek to the 1792 distillery, into the sour mash, distilled and into charred barrels, then into a warehouse for a few years, then, as fine bourbon, to the bottling plant, and then onto the truck and shipped to… Well, wherever it went.

    Just kidding, just kidding.

    It's actually a very interesting app. Kind of cool.

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