There are many misconceptions about geological concepts. There is a list here, developed by Kent Kirby of the University of Minnesota. This post is to debunk one of those misconceptions. There will be others. Find them here.
Misconception: Rivers flow south – sometimes modified to rivers in northern hemisphere flow south, while those in southern hemisphere flow north
For some of you, there is a facepalm coming on. For others, this is a serious conundrum. This is where it’s important to step back and consider where these misconceptions arise.
By convention, we always put north ‘up’ on a map. Thus, when you hold the map out in front of you, north is up and south is down. And we all know water flows downhill.
This is the origin of the misconception: since south is downhill, rivers must flow only to the south.
It’s actually not all that intuitive that the proper way to hold a map is horizontally, with the top of the map pointing toward true north. I know this to be true, because I have observed it over and over again in my introductory geology classes .Once you hold your map horizontally, it becomes a little more obvious that the downhill direction can be any direction.
All rivers flow toward the oceans. If the ocean is north of the landmass over which the river flows, the river will flow to the north.
Rivers do flow to the north. Take the Genesee River that runs right past my office. It flows north directly into Lake Ontario. The Nile River flows north as well.
So while it might seem obvious to some, it is not all the obvious to everyone that it is perfectly possible for rivers to flow to the north.