Earth Science

Common Water Features: examples (with links!) and descriptions!

About common water features

Before diving into definitions and examples of some common water features, let us ask: “what is a water feature?” Water features are any waterbody or waterway found on the earth’s surface!

Water features come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes! For example, some water features are lotic (flowing, like a stream), while others are lentic (stagnant, non-flowing, like a pond). Additionally, water features can have freshwater, saltwater, or a combination of the two (such as brackish water found in coastal wetlands and estuaries). Furthermore, many water features are natural, but also sometimes human-made, like reservoirs and canals.

Note: if you are an educator planning a water features unit, you’ll find more information about these different types of water features within my water features unit. You can check it out in my shop, where I offer learning materials for a variety of environmental science units.

Water moves between different water features (and into the air, ground, and ice) through the water cycle. The water cycle is an ongoing process moving water from the oceans to the land and back. To start, the sun powers the water cycle, providing energy for water to evaporate. This creates freshwater and makes it possible for water to move from oceans and low areas to higher places. Then, water flows downhill and makes its way back to the ocean. You can also learn about how humans impact the water cycle in my post from last year.

Bays & Gulfs

Hanauma Bay in Hawaii

A bay is a body of salt water along a coast that is partially enclosed by land. The mouth of a bay is the side that is open to a larger body of water like a sea or ocean. Sometimes, a bay may be called a cove. Gulfs are similar to bays but larger.

Examples of Bays

Examples of Gulfs


A delta is a landform of deposited sediments where a river or stream meets the ocean. Sediments settle out of the river water as it flows into the slower-moving ocean or sea. The movement of water through a delta is controlled by the flow of the river.

Examples of Deltas


estuary from above
Photo by Pok Rie on

An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water where a slow-moving river or stream meets the ocean. Notably, estuaries contain mixed freshwater and salt water. The movement of water through estuaries is controlled by waves and tides as well as by the flow of the river.

Examples of Estuaries


Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin

A lake is a stagnant or non-flowing body of surface water. However, many lakes are fed by small inlet streams. Similarly, ponds are also non-flowing bodies of surface water. However, ponds are shallower and usually smaller than lakes.

Examples of Lakes

Oceans & Seas

View of the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina, USA

Oceans are vast bodies of salt water. Earth’s ocean is a continuous body of water, but geographically we divide it into 4 oceans: the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific. Similarly, seas are smaller areas of salt water, also connected to the ocean. All together, oceans and seas cover about 70% of earth.

Examples of Oceans

Examples of Seas


Small pond in Colorado beneath Vestal and Arrow Peaks.

A pond is a stagnant or non-flowing body of surface water. However, many ponds are fed by small inlet streams. Ponds are shallower and typically smaller than lakes.

Examples of Ponds


A spring is where groundwater naturally flows onto the earth’s surface. Specifically, a spring forms when the water table is at the same or a higher level than the land’s surface. Springs are often found on steep hillsides or in valley bottoms. Springs may form the beginnings of streams and rivers.

Examples of Springs


A stream in northern Wisconsin

A stream is a flowing channel of surface water. Streams may also be called creeks and brooks. Large streams are called rivers. However, the size at which a “creek” or “brook” becomes a “river” varies dramatically between regions. Perennial streams flow year-round. Seasonal and intermittent streams will dry up at certain times of year or when the weather is hotter and drier.

Examples of Streams, Brooks, Creeks, and Rivers


Small waterfall near Leadville, CO

A waterfall is where a stream becomes vertical or nearly vertical. Waterfalls are found in places that streams flow over steep mountainsides and cliffs. Often, deep plunge pools are found at the bottom of waterfalls.

Examples of Waterfalls


A wetland during a part of the year with low waters, along the Appalachian Trail

Wetlands are areas of land flooded or saturated with water. Additionally, wetlands are filled with plants that are adapted for life in flooded environments. Furthermore, wetlands may either last year-round or dry up seasonally. Other names for wetlands include bogs, marshes, and swamps.

Examples of Wetlands, Bogs, Marshes, and Swamps

Ditches & Canals

A small human-made ditch in Fort Collins, Colorado moves water from a reservoir to farm fields.

A ditch is a human-made stream, created to transport flowing water from one area to another. Ditches can move floodwater away from an area where it is not wanted or bring water to an area where it is needed. Similarly, Canals are also human-made streams. However, canals are large enough to allow for boats to pass through them.

Examples of Ditches

Examples of Canals


A reservoir is a man-made lake or pond, created to store water for later use. Reservoirs are built by  damming a river or stream which forces water to pool upstream. Reservoirs supply year-round water in regions where most of the annual precipitation falls during a short period.

Examples of Reservoirs

Ready to learn more about water? If so, check out my printable Water Cycle learning materials for kids!

Water features and Landforms go together like peanut butter and jelly! Why not grab my landforms unit too?!

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