A drainage basin is any area of land where precipitation collects and drains off into a common outlet, such as into a river, bay, or other body of water. The drainage basin includes all the surface water from rain runoff, snowmelt, and nearby streams that run downslope towards the shared outlet, as well as the groundwater underneath the earth's surface. Drainage basins connect into other drainage basins at lower elevations in a hierarchical pattern, with smaller sub-drainage basins, which in turn drain into another common outlet.
Other terms used interchangeably with drainage basin are catchment area, catchment basin, drainage area, river basin, and water basin. In North America, the term watershed is commonly used to mean a drainage basin, though in other English-speaking countries, it is used only in its original sense, that of a drainage divide.
The drainage basin acts as a funnel by collecting all the water within the area covered by the basin and channelling it to a single point. Each drainage basin is separated topographically from adjacent basins by a perimeter, the drainage divide, making up a succession of higher geographical features (such as a ridge, hill or mountains) forming a barrier.
Drainage basins are similar but not identical to hydrologic units, 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.
Just over 13% of the land in the world drains to the Pacific Ocean. Its basin includes much of China, eastern and southeastern Russia, Japan, the Korean Peninsula, most of Indochina, Indonesia and Malaysia, the Philippines, all of the Pacific Islands, the northeast coast of Australia, and Canada and the United States west of the Continental Divide (including most of Alaska), as well as western Central America and South America west of the Andes.
The five largest river basins (by area), from largest to smallest, are the basins of the Amazon (7M km2), the Congo (4M km2), the Nile (3.4M km2), the Río de la Plata (3.2M km2), and the Mississippi (3M km2). The three rivers that drain the most water, from most to least, are the Amazon, Ganga, and Congo rivers.