A tributary, or affluent, is a stream or river that flows into a larger stream or main stem (or parent) river or a lake. A tributary does not flow directly into a sea or ocean. Tributaries and the main stem river drain the surrounding drainage basin of its surface water and groundwater, leading the water out into an ocean. The Irtysh is a chief tributary of the Ob river and is also the longest tributary river in the world with a length of 4,248 km (2,640 mi). The Madeira River is the largest tributary river by volume in the world with an average discharge of 31,200 m3/s (1.1 million cu ft/s).
A confluence, where two or more bodies of water meet, usually refers to the joining of tributaries.
The opposite to a tributary is a distributary, a river or stream that branches off from and flows away from the main stream. Distributaries are most often found in river deltas.
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