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A drainage basin is an area of land where all flowing surface water converges to a single point, such as a river mouth, or flows into another body of water, such as a lake or ocean. A basin is separated from adjacent basins by a perimeter, the drainage divide, made up of a succession of elevated features, such as ridges and hills. A basin may consist of smaller basins that merge at river confluences, forming a hierarchical pattern.
Other terms for a drainage basin are catchment area, catchment basin, drainage area, river basin, water basin, and impluvium. In North America, they are commonly called a watershed, though in other English-speaking places, "watershed" is used only in its original sense, that of a drainage divide.
A drainage basin's boundaries are determined by watershed delineation, a common task in environmental engineering and science.
In a closed drainage basin, or endorheic basin, rather than flowing to the ocean, water converges toward the interior of the basin, known as a sink, which may be a permanent lake, a dry lake, or a point where surface water is lost underground.
Drainage basins are similar but not identical to hydrologic unit code, which are drainage areas delineated so as to nest into a multi-level hierarchical drainage system. Hydrologic units are defined to allow multiple inlets, outlets, or sinks. In a strict sense, all drainage basins are hydrologic units but not all hydrologic units are drainage basins.
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