Difference Between River and Stream

Fast flowing water bodies are one the most pleasant and soothing sceneries. Babbling brooks, serenely flowing rivers, beautiful streams, the sight of these water bodies has a kind of soothing effect on the mind. They help us calm ourselves by putting a stopper to that influx of thought that constantly bothers us.


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River vs Stream

The difference between Rivers and Streams is that rivers are large water bodies that are made up of numerous streams that have flown from different points and have met and combined to form a river. Streams are small water bodies that flow by themselves and originate from melting glaciers or water coming down from mountains.

River vs Stream

Rivers don’t originate by themselves, as there has to be a source for a river. This source could be anything, from melting ice caps or water flowing from atop a mountain.

Most of the time, rivers originate in the form of small streams, that have flown down by themselves from different places, and have combined or met at a point during the flow, to form the river.

 Streams are small water bodies that flow by themselves. They do not contain much water and flow rapidly. Streams usually originate from melting glaciers or icecaps from the top of mountains.

The water melting from the icecaps fall in the form of waterfalls in different parts of the mountain and the water flowing from these waterfalls form streams. Multiple streams combine to form a river.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonRiversStreams
DefinitionRivers are flowing water bodies that flow downhill and have a higher water contentStreams are fast-flowing water bodies that have less water but have high turbulence
OriginRivers originate from the confluence of many streams flowing from different partsStreams originate from the melting of icecaps or surfacing of groundwater that flow in the same direction  
ConvergenceAll the rivers ultimately flow into the seaMany streams meet and combine to form a river
Water contentRivers are huge sources of waterStreams usually contain small quantities of water
TurbulenceRiver speeds vary from 0.0 to 3.1 m/s. The speed of the river depends upon the general slope of the land, tide, the roughness of the channel, etc.Streams are usually fast-flowing water bodies. As they constitute surface water, they usually have a high flow speed

What is River?

Rivers are flowing water bodies that contain huge amounts of water. Rivers are naturally flowing watercourses and due to their constant flow, they contain freshwater. Rivers are the primary sources of seas and oceans.

Rivers generally originate from the tops of mountains. Most mountain peaks have a cold atmosphere, leading to the formation of ice. The ice on top of mountains melts and the water dripping from the icy mountain tops form into streams.

These streams flow down the mountain and meet at a point to combine their flow and form into a river. The river is thus a collection of many small streams that have come down from mountain tops, or the streams that have formed at the bottom of a waterfall.

Due to the constant flow of a river, the formation of algae of other contaminants is less. Hence most rivers contain freshwater that is water containing about 1000 or less ppm of dissolved salts.

Although due to external and manmade pollutants, the quantity of river pollution has increased in the last 10 decades. Rivers are the primary sources of seas and oceans, as all rivers flow and converge into oceans. Rivers are flowing sources of water, although the flow speed highly varies for different rivers.

Generally, the flow speed varies from 0.0 to 3.1m/s and it mainly depends upon the slope of the land, tides, and channel roughness.


What is Stream?

Streams are fast-flowing water bodies that do not contain a huge quantity of water but have high turbulence. Streams usually consist of only surface water and thus the volume of the flow is very less.

 Due to a low volume, streams are usually fast-flowing water bodies. Streams originate from the melting glacier waters, or water flowing from the melting of ice on top of a mountain.

This melted water flows down in the form of small water bodies, that later converge to form a river. Thus, small rivers are also sometimes called streams. Streams are also formed from the surfacing of groundwater.

Groundwater flows upward due to the pressure underneath and seeps through cracks on the ground. This seeping water begins to flow due to a constant influx of water from the ground and this forms a stream.

Rivers originate from streams. The streams flowing from mountain tops flow in a unidirectional manner. As the general direction of all flowing water bodies is downward, streams are constantly in the downward direction until a point of convergence is reached.

At the point of convergence, usually at the bottom of a waterfall, all the streams meet and combine to form a river. The direction of the river is first in the direction of the flow, then along the slope of the land.


Main Differences Between River and Stream

  1. Rivers are flowing water bodies that have downhill water flow and usually contain huge quantity of water. Streams are small water bodies that originate from the melting of ice on mountaintops.
  2. Rivers originate from the meeting of many streams that have a unidirectional flow. Streams usually originate due to the melting of icy tops of mountains or due to the surfacing of underground water.
  3. Rivers are the main source of seas and oceans and all rivers ultimately flow into the sea. Many streams that are flowing along the same general direction met and combine to form a river.
  4. Rivers are the biggest sources of fresh water. Streams are small sources of water as they are usually formed due to the melting of ice.
  5. The speed of rivers varies a lot. Streams usually have high turbulence.
Difference Between River and Stream


  1. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=UNv_J3cyL24C&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=rivers&ots=6cxVSLI0Aa&sig=7C2yqgI8PxzzTWadrWBqlPFHw3Q
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0341816294900019
  3. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-90-481-9088-1_2
  4. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=FZLVrauq0ZMC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=rivers+streams&ots=JsixXJVIpE&sig=gD1sjk3A-9fqFIOxF-DeZ3UHvMk
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