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HydroBASINS represents a series of vectorized polygon layers that depict sub-basin boundaries at a global scale. The goal of this product is to provide a seamless global coverage of consistently sized and hierarchically nested sub-basins at different scales (from tens to millions of square kilometers), supported by a coding scheme that allows for analysis of catchment topology such as up- and downstream connectivity. HydroBASINS has been extracted from the gridded HydroSHEDS core layers at 15 arc-second resolution.

Depiction of nested sub-basin delineations

An important characteristic of any sub-basin delineation is the sub-basin breakdown, i.e. the decision of when and how to subdivide a larger basin into multiple tributary basins. At its highest level of sub-basin breakdown, HydroBASINS divides a basin into two sub-basins at every location where two river branches meet which each have an individual upstream area of at least 100 km². A second critical feature of sub-basin delineations is the way the sub-basins are grouped or coded to allow for the creation of nested sub-basins at different scales, or to navigate within the sub-basin network from up- to downstream. To support these functionalities and topological concepts, the ‘Pfafstetter’ coding system has been implemented in the HydroBASINS product offering 12 hierarchically nested sub-basin breakdowns globally.

At its highest level of sub-basin breakdown, HydroBASINS encompasses 1.0 million individual sub-basin polygons with an average area of 130.6 km², representing a total of 135.0 million km² of global land area (excluding Antarctica). HydroBASINS only includes a limited amount of (mostly geometric) attribute information, such as the sub-basin area, the distance from upstream headwaters and ocean outlet, and the Pfafstetter coding.

Note that the overarching HydroATLAS database fully contains all sub-basin polygons of HydroBASINS, which have additionally been enhanced in HydroATLAS with a large number of hydro-environmental characteristics.

Global map of major river basins (outlined in black) and sub-basins (blue).

Technical Documentation

For more information on HydroBASINS please refer to the HydroBASINS Technical Documentation.


The HydroBASINS database is freely available for scientific, educational and commercial use. The data are distributed under the same license agreement as the HydroSHEDS core products, which is included in the HydroSHEDS Technical Documentation. For all regulations regarding license grants, copyright, redistribution restrictions, required attributions, disclaimer of warranty, indemnification, liability, and waiver of damages, please refer to the license agreement.

By downloading and using the data the user agrees to the terms and conditions of this license.


Lehner, B., Grill G. (2013). Global river hydrography and network routing: baseline data and new approaches to study the world’s large river systems. Hydrological Processes, 27(15): 2171–2186.

Data download

HydroBASINS exists in two formats: 'standard' and 'customized (with lakes)'. The following table provides access to the HydroBASINS layers for each continent, providing all levels (1-12) of data for that continent in a single zipped file.

HydroBASINS Continental downloads
Data type Region Link
Standard Africa Download
Standard Arctic Download
Standard Asia Download
Standard Australia Download
Standard Europe Download
Standard Greenland Download
Standard North America Download
Standard South America Download
Standard Siberia Download
Customized (with lakes) Africa Download
Customized (with lakes) Arctic Download
Customized (with lakes) Asia Download
Customized (with lakes) Australia Download
Customized (with lakes) Europe Download
Customized (with lakes) Greenland Download
Customized (with lakes) North America Download
Customized (with lakes) South America Download
Customized (with lakes) Siberia Download

Users who require only a single level of HydroBASINS can use the following trees. To download a file, please navigate to the desired continent and level of data, and then click to download that file. Files are also available which contain layers for levels 1-6, as well as for level 0 (available for standard data only). Note that the files containing all levels (1-12) are the same files as available in the table above.

The following tree provides access to HydroBASINS standard data for each individual HydroBASINS level for each continent.

The following tree provides access to HydroBASINS customized data (with lakes).

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