To study the Earth system and to better understand the implications of global environmental change, there is a growing need for large-scale hydrographic data sets that serve as prerequisites in a variety of analyses and applications, ranging from regional watershed and freshwater conservation planning to global hydrological, climate, biogeochemical, and land surface modeling. Yet while countless hydrographic maps exist for well-known river basins and individual nations, there is a lack of seamless high-quality data on large scales such as continents or the entire globe. Data for many large international basins are patchy, and remote areas are often poorly mapped.

In response to these limitations, a team of scientists has developed data and created maps of the world's rivers that provide the research community with more reliable information about where streams and watersheds occur on the Earth's surface and how water drains the landscape. The new product, known as HydroSHEDS (Hydrological Data and Maps Based on Shuttle Elevation Derivatives at Multiple Scales), provides this information at a resolution and quality unachieved by previous global data sets, such as HYDRO1k [U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 2000].