How to describe drainage in topographical map

How to describe drainage in topographic map




what is drainage

Drainage is the outflow of water through the system of natural rivers

what is drainage pattern?

A drainage pattern is layout that a river and its tributaries, or set of rivers, make on the earths surface. Some of the common river drainage pattern include dendritic river pattern, trellised river pattern, radial river pattern and centripetal river pattern


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The following are hints to follow when you describe drainage in topographical map

  • Divide the map into drainage basins using compass directions. Note that the drainage basin is an area drained by single river system.
  • In each drainage basin explain the drainage pattern which the river system in the basin take. The common river drainage pattern are

Dendritic drainage pattern

dendritic drainage pattern require the following condition to be formed:

  • rock should be uniformly resistant to erosion
  • this pattern is not dependent on geology

characteristics of dendritic drainage pattern

  • the pattern is tree shaped
  • the tributaries join the main stream at acute angles

example of rivers with dendritic pattern include tigela, mooi and umgeni in the south Africa

Radial drainage pattern

radial drainage pattern is formed on dome shaped hill, conical hill, mesa or butte

characteristic of radial drainage pattern

streams radiate outwards from the central high point.

example of areas with radial drainage pattern includekoffiebus and teebus in south africa

Trellis drainage pattern

requirement for trellis drainage pattern to be formed

  • parallell ranges of fold mountains or alternate layers of hard and soft rock
  • a strong main stream
  • the pattern is dependent on the relief and the geology of the area

charateristics of the trellised drainage pattern

  • tributaries meet the main stream at the right angles
  • the main stream cut gaps through the mountains

example of areas with trellis drainage pattern include beffels river at laingsburg in south africa


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Centripetal drainage pattern

this type of drainage pattern is formed on a central basin or a low lying area such as a lake or a marsh

characteristics of centripetal drainage pattern include:

  • streams radiate inward from a sorrounding higher area
  • it is opposite of radial drainage pattern

example of centripetal drainage pattern is flatter parts of namaqualand in south africa

parallel drainage pattern

parallel drainage pattern occur in the recently uplifted sloping plain and require rock type that is uniformly resistant to erosion

characteristics of parallel drainage pattern

  • the main streams flows parallel (or nearly) to each other
  • the tributaries enters the main stream at very small angles

example of area with parallel drainage pattern is tributaries of the steelport river in limpopo

ractangular drainage pattern

this occur in a well jointed rock with joints exposed at the surface

characteristics of rectangular drainage pattern

  • rivers flows in exposed joints
  • rivers and tributaries have right angled bends

example of areas with rectangular drainage pattern is rivers in waterberg (limpopo)

deranged drainage pattern

this type of drainage pattern occur in geologically young areas

characteristics of deranged drainage pattern

  • haphazard pattern
  • numerous lakes and swamps
  • streams enters and leaves swamps and lakes randomly

example of areas with deranged drainage pattern are recently glaciated areas such as the Canadian shield




  • For each drainage basin explain how the rivers drain the relief region i.e highlands, lowlands and plateaus. at this part state the direction of the flow of the river, where the river is pouring its water and whether the area is well drained or not. The area is well drained when there is no swamps or marshlands and is not well drained when is waterlogged areas.
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factors that influence the development of river drainage pattern

  • Slope of the land. The direction of the river Flow is generally guided by the direction of the slope since the flow of the water is controlled by gravitational force. There are rivers whose flow is exclusively determined by the direction of the slope. 
  • Difference in rock resistance or hardness. As the river erode its channel, the nature of the bedrock becomes significance in determining how deep the river channel will become. If the river encounter a very resistant rock outcrop in its path, it may have to change its direction to circumvent it despite the nature of the slope.
  • The rock structure along the river’s profile. At certain stages in the course of the river , The arrangement of rock layers may influence the direction that river takes. The river may change its direction due to the direction of the strike of an exposed rock layer despite the general direction of the flow.

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