Uh, What's a Continental Divide?

A question on WWTBAM the other day was “Which is the only continent without a continental divide?” (Answer: Antarctica)

So maybe I should have learned this in 4th grade, but what’s a continental divide? Sounds to me like a mountain range that bisects the continent from North to South. Or is there more to it than that? I assume North America’s is in the Rockies…

You have it right. It’s the imaginary line that divides the continent and has to do with altitude. Theoretically, a raindrop on the east side of the divide will eventually end up on the ocean on the eastern side, while one on the west side will eventually end up in the western ocean.

Yes. The landmasses are divided into drainage basins. The continental divide in North America is the line separating the Atlantic drainage basins from the Pacific drainage basins. It’s not a completely clear distinction. Two Ocean creek in Wyoming drains into both (hits a rock in the middle, and part goes east, part goes west)) so its drainage basin belongs to both oceans. There are also areas that don’t drain to either, like Death Valley, or the Red Desert in Wyoming (there, the continental divide goes around it).

Okay, but what’s the definition of a Continental Breakfast?

It’s a breakfast like they often enjoy on “the continent”–mainland Europe.

Back up a minute!

So what IS the only continent without one? Did they count Europe as a continent?

NA also has a nothern divide (bewteen the Arctic and Atlantic or Pacific Oceans)

If you consider the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic to be different, there is a divide in Wisconsin. Some of it drains to the Mississippi, and some of it drains to Lake Michigan (or Superior)


Their answer was in the OP

On I-68 in western Maryland, they have signs marking an ‘Eastern Continental Divide’.

I assume this is the border between, 1) the region draining into the Chesapeake Bay; and, 2) the region draining into the Mississippi (and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico)?

Oops, that was in response to kunilou.

Two adjacent drainage basins have a divide that is the line that separates their basins. So, there are thousands of divides.

A couple of miles from my house here in Wisconsin is the “mid-continental divide”. It is where rain falling west of this line drains to the Mississippi River, and rain falling east of this line drains to the Atlantic Ocean (via the Great Lakes).

Completely correct.

I heard once, somewhere, that if you pay attention to the direction that the water swirls in the toilet when flushing, it swirls in the opposite direction once your cross the CD. No, I have no cite and have done no “research” on the claim, aside from a quick and fruitless search on snopes. No, I have not even thought twice about the statement, untill this moment. It could very well be a whoosh whoosh. :smiley:

honeydewgrrl, I believe you’re mis-remembering the mis-belief that water swirls in different directions whether you’re in the northern or southern hemisphere supposedly due to the coriolis effect. Not whether you’re to the west or east of the Continental Divide.

In any case, no matter how commonly believed it is, it is a false belief. Here is a link to the Snopes explanation.

Well there you have it. It was actually a correctly remembered mis-represented account of the mis-belief. :stuck_out_tongue:

I was moving from Northern California to Ohio at the time, driving across the “Great Divide” with my Mom. Before the trip began, I had planned to que up Nancy Griffith’s Across the Great Divide at the key moment. A college acquaintance overhearing my plan chimed in with the whole flushing story.

Sadly, Mom and I had our hands full with my truck’s blown distributor cap when the key moment came driving over the Rockies, but we still listened to the song quite a bit after that. Great song.

Obviously this is based on considering the seas around Antarctica to consitutute a single “ocean,” the Antarctic. However, the Antarctic Ocean is formed by the confluence of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, so it would be possible to define, somewhat arbitrarily, “drainage basins” - for ice, in the case of Antarctica - that drain into each of these regions.

Actually, Antarctica does have a continental divide of sorts - mountain ranges cross the continent and divide the parts “draining” into the Pacific Basin (between South America and New Zealand) from those draining into the Atlantic/Indian (the boundary between the latter two being ill-defined).

Not to imply that Nancy Griffith wrote the song, she recorded it on Other Voices, Other Rooms. It was written by Kate Wolf, one of my other all-time favorites.

You’re all wrong. It’s a movie staring John Belushi…(this coming from a man who lives not that far from the Continental Divide in Coloardo).


I live close to the continental divide in Panama - it’s only about 10 miles north of Panama City. Many of my colleagues cross the divide daily on their commute to work.

“The line of high ground that separates the oceanic drainage basins of a continent; the river systems of a continent on opposite sides of a continental divide flow toward different oceans.”

A continent isn’t restricted to one continental divide, as others have alluded to. Theoretically, you could have a number of divides that resemble a wagon wheel descending from a shared or stepped high to numerous oceans. Also, depending on physiography, they’re not necessarily near the middle of the continent and may meander unmercifully in their path.