11 Types of Streams Based on Different Categories

On almost all sorts of land masses, streams are among the most significant freshwater areas. In this article, we discuss the different types of streams we have in their different categories.

They are in charge of irrigating wetlands, transporting crucial nutrients over great distances, removing pollutants, and providing water for wildlife.

They serve as the locations where many commercially significant species reproduce and mature. Additionally, their steady flow can be used as a renewable hydropower source.

Given the extreme diversity of our landscapes and the wide range of climatic conditions around the world, streams can take on a variety of shapes.

These water-filled areas might be short-lived or long-lasting, swift or slow-moving, exceedingly shallow or deep, and narrow or incredibly large.

In the process of evolving, they may meander, split, or converge into smaller or bigger bodies of water.

Streams are fluid passageways, regardless of their size, permanency, or shape, that could one day link the highest mountains to our oceans. It has been vital to creating classification systems because of their significance.

The basis for these systems’ selection as well as their particular kinds of streams are addressed below.

Why Is It Necessary to Classify Streams?

Using stream classification as a technique can help with conservation planning, highlighting the differences and similarities between various waterbodies, and drawing conclusions about their behavior.

Additionally, categorizing streams helps with their proper name, keeping academics informed of their tendencies, and observing their natural progression. A little stream can grow larger through time and space, becoming a raging river. It would be accurate to call them “fluid” in many respects.

The idea of “stream order,” which groups streams according to their relative sizes, is used in one of the most basic classification schemes.

For instance, their overall volume may increase as the stream order rises (from the first-order stream to the 12th-order stream). Therefore, a 12th-order stream would be a huge river.

A different classification scheme is based on the persistence of streams throughout the year. Other systems concentrate on their morphological pattern, flow direction, and propensity to diverge or reconverge with other streams.

Ecologists occasionally use a multilevel approach to categorize streams. This might start with a stream morphology-focused approach and then further categorize streams based on their unique characteristics.

To make things easier, this article will discuss the main categories of streams

Types of Streams Based on Different Categories

Here the different categories streams are based on

  • Types of Streams Based on Stream Order
  • Types of Streams Based on Permanence
  • Special Classifications

Types of Streams Based on Stream Order

  • 1st-order stream
  • 2nd- and 3rd-order streams
  • 4th- to 6th-order streams
  • 7th- to 12th-order streams

1. 1st-order stream

This stream is the smallest variety and does not have any inflow from other streams. Because it is located in a watershed system’s higher reaches, the stream is referred to as a headwater stream.

It typically forms on steep slopes and flows fast downward before merging with another stream of the same order to create a new stream of the second order. A tributary is a common name for a watercourse of the first order.

2. 2nd- and 3rd-order streams

The waterway where two first-order streams meet is known as a second-order stream. Similar to the last example, this takes place on steep slopes and flows into another convergence zone from which a third-order stream emerges.

The largest of the headwater streams is the third-order stream. These first-order sorts of swift streams make up the majority of the world’s rivers.

3. 4th- to 6th-order streams

The sediment, debris, and runoff from the headwater streams are transported by these medium-sized streams.

As the physical dimensions of the waterbody grow with each convergence, these have an expanding volume.

These medium-sized streams, however, have a tendency to flow more slowly and have a less steep gradient than headwater streams.

4. 7th- to 12th-order streams

These broad streams are referred to as rivers. Both headwater streams and medium-sized streams contribute very substantial volumes of trash, runoff, sediments, and nutrients that they transport. These can support a wider variety of plants and animals since they often flow more slowly.

These streams include the Mississippi River, which is a 10th-order stream, and the Amazon River, which is the sole 12th-order stream. Although their water levels change throughout the year, streams of the seventh to twelfth orders are more likely to be permanent.

Types of Streams Based on Permanence

  • Perennial streams
  • Intermittent streams
  • Ephemeral streams

1. Perennial streams

Given typical rainfall amounts, these streams may also be referred to as “permanent streams” because they are always there. Although their water levels may change, a section of their stream bed is constantly covered by flowing water.

These pools of water are typically located downstream when the baseflow of smaller streams converges. These kinds of streams are unlikely to have dense vegetation since the constant water flow may hinder the growth of roots.

Well-defined channel banks, riffles, and pools, indicators of water fluctuation, wetland vegetation, connectivity with seeps or springs, indications of debris movement, algae-covered sediments, and aquatic life are among the essential characteristics of perennial streams. (e.g. benthic macroinvertebrates, small fish, insect larvae).

2. Intermittent streams

Streamflow only occurs in intermittent streams (or intermittent rivers) for a portion of the year. These streams are frequently referred to as “seasonal streams” and have a clearly defined course.

Because intermittent streams depend on the groundwater that exists today and on precipitation runoff to generate their streamflow, they may not have streamflow during the dry months (particularly in arid places).

The primary distinguishing factor used to classify intermittent and perennial streams is the dry season.

3. Ephemeral streams

This kind of categorization ought to include ephemeral streams. They are mostly dry throughout the year, and only when it rains do they have flowing water. These year-round shallow waters rise above the water table and lack a well-defined stream channel.

Ephemeral streams depend on stormflow for their current and won’t likely exhibit traits resembling a perennial stream until enough precipitation takes place.

Special Classifications

These significant stream types are divided into groups based on their morphology or propensity to diverge and reconverge.

There are hundreds of extremely detailed categories for streams since they are so complex and are influenced by both spatial and temporal elements all year long. The most well-known types are those that are described below.

  • Alluvial streams
  • Braided streams
  • Meandering streams
  • Straight channel system

1. Alluvial streams

When streams shift from somewhat sloping terrain to one that is almost entirely flat, alluvial fans are created. E-shaped alluvial fans are found.

Smaller streams, or tributaries, join larger streams as they run. Once more, minor streams diverge from the mainstream, disrupting the flow once more. These intermittently flowing distributaries of smaller streams are known as distributaries.

These distributaries will eventually form a valley if and when they reunite. However, an alluvial fan develops when they are dispersed over a greater area.

When streams leave a canyon and flow across a large level plain, an alluvial fan will form. By now, the stream will have accumulated its “load” of eroded material by corroding the canyon it traveled through.

The ground is a little steeper towards the canyon’s mouth, and this is where the stream will discharge its weight.

2. Braided streams

Braided streams, which are typically found adjacent to extremely high mountains, contain numerous channels that continuously branch and reconnect along the whole length of the stream, resulting in numerous longitudinal bars between the channels.

It is also referred to as anastomosing and differs from alluvial fans in that the channels do not take the form of distributaries or fans.

Because of how the pattern resembles braided hair, these streams are known as braided streams. They also frequently re-join and concentrate their flow in a small valley with no genuine floodplain.

3. Meandering streams

A meandering stream is made up of substantial loops that span a broad, level floodplain and are encircled by valley walls. These types of streams are typically absent from mountain ranges that are too near the ocean.

They can always be found in areas that are somewhat flat, such as floodplains, and where the sediment is primarily composed of mud, fine sands, and silts.

Since it is evident that meandering streams both erode and deposit sediment, some scientists aren’t sure whether they are primarily depositional or erosional; nonetheless, most of them agree that this is because of the streams’ energy-to-load ratio.

Meandering streams develop laterally as a result of both inside-bend sediment deposition and outside-bend erosion. The stream will locate a less taxing route if the loops grow too large and produce friction, which means they use too much energy, leading to the abandonment of a portion of the original path. As a result, an oxbow lake will develop.

4. Straight channel system

A straight-channel stream isn’t always a perfectly straight stream. Simply put, there are no significant meanders or twists in the straight channel stream.

Typically, a single channel that follows a roughly straight path contains these streams. Trying to discern between the banks and valley walls of such streams may prove to be fairly difficult.

Straight channel streams are quite typical around river mouths and whenever a steep ridge is traversed. They frequently inhabit narrow valleys with sharp cliffs. If you look toward the Colorado River when at the Grand Canyon, you might spot a straight-channel stream.

Straight streams don’t always have to have gorges or canyons that are thousands of feet deep, but they all have valley walls that slope sharply inward down to the water’s edge, suggesting that there isn’t a real floodplain.

Additionally, all erosion in straight streams occurs, and the resulting silt moves quickly downstream as a result of the force of the rushing water. Large stones are also present in their beds.

However, experts in straight channels have discovered that the streams still flow in a sinuous or curving pattern. This is due to the possibility that a channel’s deepest segment may have a higher velocity.

There is actually an alternate configuration of pools and sediment bars beneath what appears to be a uniform surface flow of water.


The ecosystem created by streams themselves supports a wide variety of plant and animal species. Plants growing on and around stream beds are supported by strong root systems that act as anchors.

On the surface of the stream, one can see their elongated, flexible branches drifting. Fly larvae consume the leaves that have fallen into the water. These larvae later develop into food for the fish in the stream.

But a variety of things could have an impact on this life-giving stream. The most prominent of them are dams, which prevent naturally flowing water from transporting silt and debris.

Leaks of untreated sewage water into streams can also contribute to the growth of algae, which can eventually cover the entire water’s surface.

Animals that live there will be suffocated by this. Streams may also be affected by pollution from surrounding farms or even factories. This will degrade the water’s quality and harm all life forms that depend on it.


Editor at EnvironmentGo! | providenceamaechi0@gmail.com | + posts

A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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