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Continental divide

A continental divide is a drainage divide on a continent such that the drainage basin on one side of the divide feeds into one ocean or sea, and the basin on the other side either feeds into a different ocean or sea, or else is endorheic, not connected to the open sea.

The endpoints of a continental divide may be coastlines of gulfs, seas or oceans, the boundary of an endorheic basin, or another continental divide. One case, the Great Basin Divide, is a closed loop around an endoreic basin.

The endpoints where a continental divide meets the coast are not always definite since the exact border between adjacent bodies of water is usually not clearly defined. The International Hydrographic Organization's publication Limits of Oceans and Seas defines exact boundaries of oceans, but it is not universally recognized. Where a continental divide meets an endorheic basin, such as the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming, the continental divide splits and encircles the basin. Where two divides intersect, they form a triple divide, where three watersheds meet.

Whether a divide is considered a continental divide distinguished from other secondary drainage divides may depend on whether the associated gulfs, seas, or oceans are considered separate. For example, the Gulf of Mexico is considered separate from the Atlantic Ocean, but the Sea of Cortez is usually not considered separate from the Pacific Ocean.



Major continental divides, showing drainage into the major oceans and seas of the world. Grey areas are endorheic basins that do not drain to the ocean.


In Africa, the most significant continental divide is the Congo-Nile Divide between the watersheds of the Nile and the Congo, passing through the area of the African Great Lakes. Between the Congo and the Sahara, a vast area drains into the endorheic Lake Chad, puncturing the AtlanticMediterranean divide. The Mediterranean–Indian Ocean divide is punctured in East Africa by the endorheic lake systems of the East African Rift; in the south of the continent the divide between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans snakes between the watersheds of the Congo, Zambezi, Limpopo, and Orange Rivers, with the Okavango terminating in the Kalahari Desert.



  • In Australia the Great Dividing Range largely separates those rivers flowing to the eastern seaboard and the Pacific Ocean from those flowing westward to the Murray–Darling Basin and to the Southern Ocean. However, Australia has fewer distinct ocean boundaries and fewer prominent mountain ranges, which makes it hard to clearly and precisely define any one divide. Much of the interior of the continent drains into the endorheic Lake Eyre Basin.


Eurasia has various divides, depending on the definition of "ocean" (for example, the Mediterranean Sea and its various lobes, the Atlantic Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, and the North Sea). Examples include:

North AmericaEdit

If the Gulf of California or Sea of Cortez is considered to be separate from the Pacific Ocean, there is a divide which separates the Pacific Ocean basin from the basin which drains into that gulf/sea, i.e the Colorado River basin:

  • The Colorado River divide (not an official name) separates the Colorado River basin which drains to the Gulf of California from the Pacific Ocean basin. It runs between the Continental Divide and Great Basin Divide in Wyoming. It intersects the divides at the respective triple points Three Waters Mountain (Colorado, Colombia, Mississippi) @43° 23' 13\'\' N, 109° 46' 58\'\' W, and Commissary Ridge Triple Divide (Colorado, Columbia, Great Basin) @42° 35' 18\'\' N, 110° 44' 9\'\' W. The divide is very short, running only about 90 miles.

South AmericaEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Latin for "unknown limits"
  2. ^ Foster, John E.; Eccles, W.J. (1985). "Fur Trade". The Canadian Encyclopedia. The Historica Foundation of Canada. Retrieved 2007-12-30.
  3. ^ Gonzalez, Mark (2007). "Continental Divides in North Dakota and North America" (PDF). NDGS Newsletter. North Dakota Geographical Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-01-17. Retrieved 2009-03-29.

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