The spatial organization of the Earth's land mass is analyzed using a simulated topological network (STN‐30p) representing potential flow pathways across the entire nonglacierized surface of the globe at 30‐min (longitude × latitude) spatial resolution. We discuss a semiautomated procedure to develop this topology combining digital elevation models and manual network editing. STN‐30p was verified against several independent sources including map products and drainage basin statistics, although we found substantial inconsistency within the extant literature itself. A broad suite of diagnostics is offered that quantitatively describes individual grid cells, river segments, and complete drainage systems spanning orders 1 through 6 based on the Strahler classification scheme. Continental and global‐scale summaries of key STN‐30p attributes are given. Summaries are also presented which distinguish basins that potentially deliver discharge to an ocean (exorheic) from those that potentially empty into an internal receiving body (endorheic). A total of 59,122 individual grid cells constitutes the global nonglacierized land mass. At 30‐min spatial resolution, the cells are organized into 33,251 distinct river segments which define 6152 drainage basins. A global total of 133.1 × 106 km2 bear STN‐SOp flow paths with a total length of 3.24 × 106 km. The organization of river networks has an important role in linking land mass to ocean. From a continental perspective, low‐order river segments (orders 1‐3) drain the largest fraction of land (90%) and thus constitute a primary source area for runoff and constituents. From an oceanic perspective, however, the small number (n=101) of large drainage systems (orders 4‐6) predominates; draining 65% of global land area and subsuming a large fraction of the otherwise spatially remote low‐order rivers. Along river corridors, only 10% of land mass is within 100 km of a coastline, 25% is within 250 km, and 50% is within 750 km. The global mean distance to river mouth is 1050 km with individual continental values from 460 to 1340 km. The Mediterranean/Black Sea and Arctic Ocean are the most land‐dominated of all oceans with land:ocean area ratios of 4.4 and 1.2, respectively; remaining oceans show ratios from 0.55 to 0.13. We discuss limitations of the STN‐30p together with its potential role in future global change studies. STN‐30p is geographically linked to several hundred river discharge and chemistry monitoring stations to provide a framework for calibrating and validating macroscale hydrology and biogeochemical flux models.


Earth Systems Research Center

Publication Date


Journal Title

Global Biogeochemical Cycles


American Geophysical Union (AGU)

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type



Copyright 2000 by the American Geophysical Union.


This is an article published by AGU in Global Biogeochemical Cycles in 2000, available online: