The River Continuum Concept was the first unified hypothesis about how streams and their watersheds work, and it established Stroud Water Research Center as a pioneer in innovative research. The Navigate a Watershed digital learning object brings the River Continuum Concept to life and demonstrates how the physical and biological systems within watersheds work together to create resilient, interconnected ecosystems.

This interactive tool is part of the Quest Water series and was co-produced by UNC-TV’s QUEST and Stroud Water Research Center.

How to Use the Tool

  • Scroll down to view the embedded interactive.
  • Use the tabs at the top to view an overview of the River Continuum Concept and then explore at the scale of watersheds, headwater streams, mid-sized streams, and rivers.
  • Look at the inner world of surface water using the numbered tabs below the central image. Click on the blinking dots for more information about the physical and biological systems. 

Additional Resources

  • Visit KQED Science for discussion questions and follow-up activities.
  • Visit PBS Learning Media for “Follow That Nutrient,” a 5-minute video documenting the intricate series interactions which are together the building blocks of the freshwater ecosystem.

Credits and Acknowledgements

Co-produced by UNC-TV’s QUEST and Stroud Water Research Center


Dave Arscott, Ph.D., assistant director, Stroud Water Research Center
Susan Gill, Ph.D., education director, Stroud Water Research Center
Lucy Laffitte, Ph.D., education manager, UNC-TV


Google Base Maps, 2014
Stream Data, USGS National Hydrography Database (NHD)


Emma Skurnick, Emma Skurnick Illustrations

Web Design

Heather Brooks, web developer, Stroud Water Research Center

Special Thanks

David Funk, entomologist, Stroud Water Research Center
John Jackson, Ph.D., senior research scientist, Stroud Water Research Center

If you have a question about this tool or need to report a bug, please email