The hydrological cycle of basins


A 3D landscape demonstrating the drainage basin, including evaporation, transpiration, precipitation, interception and infiltrationA drainage basin

The main input to the system is precipitation. The type of precipitation, the intensity, the duration and frequency all have an effect on the amount of water in the system.


Water is stored in a drainage basin on the surface in lakes and channels or underground in the groundwater store. Water reaches the groundwater store via the processes of infiltration and percolation.

During these processes, some water will be stored in the soil and rock. The amount of water stored will vary depending on the porosity of the soil and on the permeability of the rock.

Water can also be temporarily stored via interception. This refers to the storage of water on leaf and plant stems. Dense foliage may result in little water reaching the ground, since it often evaporates from the leaves.


The sum of all the water flowing over the drainage basin's surface is called runoff. It is made up of streamflow, which is flow through permanent river channels, and overland flow or surface runoff.

Overland flow transfers water through the basin either as sheetwash, across the surface, or in tiny channels called rills.

Beneath the surface, water is transferred via throughflow, which is the movement of water through the lower soil towards rivers, and groundwater flow. Groundwater flow is typically very slow.

Water that has been intercepted by foliage may also be transferred, either directly as throughfall, or by running down branches and stems via stemflow.


The final release of the water in a drainage basin is known as its output. Typically, rivers flowing into the sea will be the main output of a drainage basin. Some water will also be lost via evapotranspiration. This process refers to direct evaporation, and also to the extent that moisture lost from leaves will result in plants withdrawing water from the soil via their roots.

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