(Or is it rivers basin?)
October 22, 2016 6:40 PM   Subscribe

 
Where's the Columbia?
posted by humboldt32 at 6:44 PM on October 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah, something super funky is happening with the Columbia River basin -- it seems as though the Columbia proper was excluded from the dataset. (The Snake River, for example, is still shown.)

Also not sure what's going on with the Great Lakes.
posted by Bahro at 6:50 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


And what's that spot of blue in roughly Idaho with no sea outlet?
posted by ctmf at 6:51 PM on October 22, 2016


Could be some kind of endorheic basin (Nevada, for example, is full of them) but I think that approximate area is all part of the Columbia/Snake watershed.
posted by Bahro at 6:57 PM on October 22, 2016


Like veins in a leaf or one of those maps of the human circulatory system.

Nature is lazy, basically.
posted by notyou at 7:11 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, what happened to Lake Michigan?

Like veins in a leaf or one of those maps of the human circulatory system.

There is a fascinating book called Patterns in Nature by Peter Stevens that talks about how rivers, branches, veins, bronchii, and so on form similar patterns by responding to similar forces.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:24 PM on October 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


The map seems to have quite a few problems. Here's a larger version of this thread's map.

The North Dakota - Minnesota region shows some isolated endorheic drainage systems that aren't real, and the northern part of that area actually drains into Hudson Bay, not the Great Lakes. (Thanks, Bahro, for the the word for drainage with no outflow.)

The Great Lakes are represented by a heavy line down the middle of each lake, that's why they look odd.

See this large map of North American river basins for a different overview.

It's interesting how almost all of Indiana and most of Wisconsin drains into the Mississippi. And the New River starts in far western North Carolina, cuts across the mountains (which shows it's older than the mountains themselves), and flows into the Ohio River.
posted by jjj606 at 7:27 PM on October 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


The bi-national nature of the Great Lakes is kicking into me and wishing this would be done for the entirety of North America, if not North and South.

The bathymetry of the great lakes doesn't support what I see within the lake boundaries.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 7:29 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Related: USGS Current Waterflow Data for the Nation.
posted by notyou at 7:43 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


It looks to me like the Great Lakes are being depicted with generic directional flow rather than bathymetry data: since they all eventually flow into the St. Lawrence, they're represented with vaguely directional river patterning, spine down the middle of the lake. This is weird in a few ways - for example Lake Michigan and Lake Huron share a lot of water back and forth, to such a degree that they are often described as one lake, so showing Lake Michigan like it's draining towards Lake Huron doesn't really make sense.

I suspect it would have worked better to represent the lakes as black, matching the Atlantic and Pacific - then we would see the surrounding drainage basin more clearly, which really seems to be the point of the map.

Details aside, it's a fun map to look at.
The mighty Mississippi indeed!
posted by marlys at 7:56 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Glad to see I'm not the only one who noticed that watersheds don't recognize borders, so simply drawing a line through the middle of great lakes makes for a confusing map
posted by thecjm at 7:56 PM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have a feeling this was extrapolated purely from topo maps and has nothing to do with drainage? I dunno, but it is incorrect.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 7:57 PM on October 22, 2016


This looks like it was put together by someone who is not actually a hydrologist (I'm not either, but I work closely with them on large-scale water data/mapping projects). It appears that it is fundamentally taken from the National Hydrography Dataset(NHD). Strahler Stream Order numbers are a characteristic of the NHD, which is broken down into many thousands of segments. The Columbia looks weird because the lower Columbia (Strahler Stream order 9) appears to have been dropped or accidentally colored black. The flowlines in the Great Lakes are artificial, and aren't meant to represent actual water flow, but instead make it possible to connect the various tributaries of the Great Lakes to the St Lawrence River, and ultimately, to the ocean. This means that a hydrologic modeler can then model, for example, the effects of a snowy winter in Minnesota on flow in the St. Clair River. You can learn more about stream order and artificial flow lines here (11 page pdf). However, from a visualization standpoint, the lake boundaries should have been included.

The National Hydrologic dataset is a really powerful tool, and is also a great example of long-term interagency collaboration. Hydrologists in the USGS and the EPA (and contractors) have worked together for years to put it together. Over the next decade or so, NHD High-res is going to start rolling out, and it is going to be really cool, as it will dramatically improve small-scale drainage data. Unlike the current NHD and NHDPlus, which were based on hand-tracing of stereoscopic photographs, NHD High-res is based on National Scale LIDAR and 3-meter Digital Elevation Models. You can learn more about NHD High-res here.

Those bringing up the fact that the Great Lakes and all the rest of the cross-border stuff mean that the great lakes are that much weirder...you are right! The NHD, is, fundementally, a dataset about the United States. It is really hard to convince a senator, even one from Michigan, to fund a bunch of work on Canada. Collaboration would be great, but the reality is that most water science, until very recently, just hasn't been large enough that working together to build interoperable hydrologic datasets was that big of a deal. Nearly all analysis was done at the local or semi-regional scale. The National Water Model literally came out in the last few months ago, and that is just for flow, not for anything else, like nutrients. However, one of my colleagues is working on a new international standard for hydrologic features that should make such collaboration vastly easier in the future.
posted by rockindata at 8:45 PM on October 22, 2016 [38 favorites]


It looks like sometimes very similar colors end up adjacent, like in Northern Minnesota where Lake of the Woods and Red River drainages ended up almost but not quite the same color as the Great Lakes drainage. Same with the Susquehanna. It's neat seeing the endorheic basins in Eastern North Dakota. Because of the recent glaciation and the flat terrain near the continental divide, there are some stranded drainages that haven't been captured by the Mississippi or Red rivers yet.
posted by Maxwell's demon at 9:34 PM on October 22, 2016


It is missing the man-made features, which can have an enormous impact on the flow of water.

For example, the Colorado River Aquaduct.
posted by eye of newt at 9:46 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


A visualization of the river basins of the continental United States

Contiguous! I assure you that most of Alaska is part of the continent.
posted by D.C. at 11:53 PM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I saw this the other day and thought it had come from MeFi, but apparently I was wrong. Which explains why searching for it was fruitless. Anyhow, thanks for sharing it! More info here.
posted by TedW at 2:17 AM on October 23, 2016


The author of the map answers some questions on Reddit, like “why no Canada?” (“I never found a dataset with complete stream connections that allowed me to trace entire watersheds”).

Here’s a version with the Columbia fixed.
posted by Fongotskilernie at 4:49 AM on October 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've seen this image floating around the internet suddenly a lot in the past day or so. As a stream ecologist, I'm mostly intrigued by why people are intrigued with this image. As rockindata notes, it's based off of existing government-produced and therefore publicly available data and hard work done by mostly government-employed hydrologists over decades. A Google image search for US river basins will turn up dozens of similar images.

But, if this is the first time you've thought about river basins, I'm glad you are now. Now go deeper. EPA's Surf Your Watershed is a great place to start. Think about where your drinking water comes from. Think about where your sewage goes. Think about where the stormwater that washes off your yard and your neighborhood goes. Think about how you can change your life so that the runoff water moves slower and less pollution rushes out of your yard and into that system in every storm event. Learn about who (govt and NGO) is working to conserve that basin/those basins, and support government regulations that protect those waterbodies and the funding of the government scientists who do this kind of work.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:49 AM on October 23, 2016 [21 favorites]


The image is neat but I am loving that this is one of the mefi threads that brings all the related-topic wonks to the yard.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:12 AM on October 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


And what's that spot of blue in roughly Idaho with no sea outlet?
Bonneville Salt Flats?
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:36 AM on October 23, 2016


ctmf, that lonely chunk in Idaho is indeed an endorheic basin, the Little and Big Lost rivers.
posted by rockindata at 6:38 AM on October 23, 2016


I'm mostly intrigued by why people are intrigued with this image.

I like r/MapPorn, but a lot of the stuff on there is just what you would see if you were lucky enough to play around with ArcMap with some good data attached. Stuff like how you can see countries with just a roads layer or a drainage layer. Too bad kids don't get to learn mapping in high school!
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:52 AM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I did a similar project a few years ago. My goal was to develop a tutorial for making vector tile maps, and I did do that, but the thing that got traction was a single raster image similar to the one shown here (albeit without the watershed coloring). rockindata is right; the NHD makes this kind of thing simple for a competent geoprogrammer, even for folks like me who don't really know anything about water.

One of the fun things is my project inspired a bunch of other similar projects. Maybe this guy too, I'm not sure. My favorite is artist Tamsie Ringler poured an iron cast of the Mississippi river basin. Some 20' x 15' of molten iron tracing river flowlines. I wish I could have been there for the pour.

Someone else started selling high quality prints of river flowline maps. He sent me one as a courtesy, they're really quite nicely done.

I should go back to work on my hierarchical watershed visualizer, looking at HUC codes. The shapes are really beautiful. Actually now that I'm here if any hydrology experts on MeFi want to work with me, MeMail me; I can send you a link to my prototype. I'm good at software and visualization but don't know much about watersheds.
posted by Nelson at 7:06 AM on October 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


In a previous FPP there was an 1890 "highly speculative proposal for the reconfiguration of the political geography of the United States to better conform to the spatial distribution of various water resources, such as rivers, aquifers, and man-made infrastructures."
posted by XMLicious at 7:47 AM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is the kind of thing kids should see in textbooks. Maybe they are better now, but something like this when discussing western expansion would have made me understand better why the Mississippi is important. And other things. Plus this is a great way to illustrate we are one land and that state borders are a human idea.
posted by double bubble at 7:57 AM on October 23, 2016


I think it's fascinating that, depending on whether you define Hudson's Bay as part of the Atlantic Ocean or the Arctic Ocean, there are two possible triple divides - points where the watersheds of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans intersect.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:16 AM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


If the Columbia was so screwed up, what about the rest of the map's veracity? One thing this map showed me is, I know my western rivers. I have deliberately to many of the junctions. One of the best is Grand View Point, on the Island In the Sky, where the Green meets the Colorado. Here is a view of that area.
posted by Oyéah at 8:49 AM on October 23, 2016


The beanplater has known rivers
posted by thelonius at 9:36 AM on October 23, 2016


I like r/MapPorn, but a lot of the stuff on there is just what you would see if you were lucky enough to play around with ArcMap with some good data attached. Stuff like how you can see countries with just a roads layer or a drainage layer. Too bad kids don't get to learn mapping in high school!

I would encourage anyone who is interested in this stuff to learn some GIS. It's honestly not that hard, and there are now a wealth of free open source options to try out so you don't have to pay ESRI thousands of dollars for Arc software. Google Earth is not a terrible way to get started--I teach my freshmen environmental science students using Google Earth because it gives a good sense of the power of geospatial analysis with really no learning curve at all, and I know that they will take at least one semester of real GIS later. Assuming the data are readily available, as they are here, you can easily learn to use, e.g., QGIS to make your own cool maps (or just fix the mistakes in this one).

This is the kind of thing kids should see in textbooks. Maybe they are better now, but something like this when discussing western expansion would have made me understand better why the Mississippi is important. And other things. Plus this is a great way to illustrate we are one land and that state borders are a human idea.

Watersheds are certainly covered in geography and environmental science classes, with pictures in textbooks more or less exactly like this one (hopefully without the errors).
posted by hydropsyche at 12:29 PM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Neat, I got a nice pull out from Nat Geo in 2007 with something similar for the whole world, there's a low res image here but I can't seem to find the full thing unfortunately.
posted by Acey at 2:25 PM on October 23, 2016


I just had an aha moment this week.
A friend walking across New Mexico posted a picture of the continental divide.
I've been over the divide in MT, Wy and Co, but for some reason I was surprised that it was in NM.
Duh....
posted by MtDewd at 2:44 PM on October 23, 2016


Just a couple more points now that this thread is dying down, but I wanted to get them together. It seems that this particular map is actually based on a different dataset, Hydrosheds, which is a global dataset built off of the data made available by the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. You can Learn more about the history of Hydrosheds in a few NASA blog posts: 1 2 3. In a nutshell, Hydrosheds is totally amazing for global watershed data, because of the fact that for most of the planet, there is essentially no high, or even medium resolution hydrological data, and having such data can make answering all sorts of questions drastically easier. Hydrosheds fills that gap. For the US, where there IS the NHD, Hydrosheds is probably not the best option for getting data. There can be some significant issues for rivers that are less than 90 meters wide, or are in narrow canyons, or have lots of vegetation.

However, as noted by the person that made the map in the Reddit thread, NHD is not at all friendly to even expert new users, and figuring out what all is in there requires significant dedication. As a person working in the federal water web space, it is a short, medium, and long term goal of mine to fix those kinds of problems and work to make the valuable data collected, stored, and presented by the Federal government more discoverable and friendlier to all users while maintaining scientific integrity. Hopefully there will be more projects posts coming over the next years (and decades...). One thing that we did recently launch, which is actually pretty relevant, is a tool that lets you look for water quality sampling sites upstream and downstream of a given point of interest (based on the NHD). You can see that in action here and learn more about the upstream-downstream part (actually a separate service that will be used multiple places) here.
posted by rockindata at 8:09 PM on October 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


I've seen this image floating around the internet suddenly a lot in the past day or so. As a stream ecologist, I'm mostly intrigued by why people are intrigued with this image.

Me too - I'm glad I'm not the only one. I was vaguely wondering how much money I could make off of Etsy with a bit of time in QGIS. I already have the NHD in there anyway.
posted by pemberkins at 11:26 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Very confusing that the basins of the Red River (of the North), the St. Lawrence, and the Susquehanna - which are all adjacent - are all colored green.
posted by rocket88 at 2:02 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


You could probably make literally tens of dollars, maybe hundreds! Then again the Muir Way poster is being sold for $79–$199 a print, and I wish him well. He was originally inspired by my own version of this simple visualization and was wondering why I wasn't selling prints. I think he found out, between all the extra data processing work he had to do and the difficulty of producing and shipping high quality prints.

As for why people like these pictures it's pretty simple; they're not hydrologists. The images look pretty and they convey something compelling in an easy to understand way. That is as much a measure of the quality of the visualization as it is the ignorance of the audience. Also it points out the value of good visualization and interpretation for education. Most of the USGS and EPA sites with hydrology data are not friendly to casual users and/or are unattractive. I mean the recommended EPA watershed site is better than nothing, but it could be a whole lot more approachable.
posted by Nelson at 2:02 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


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