Although rivers provide important biogeochemical inputs to oceans, there are currently no descriptive or predictive relationships of the spatial scales of these river influences. Our combined satellite, laboratory, field and modeling results show that the coastal dispersal areas of small, mountainous rivers exhibit remarkable self-similar scaling relationships over many orders of magnitude. River plume areas scale with source drainage area to a power significantly less than one (average = 0.65), and this power relationship decreases significantly with distance offshore of the river mouth. Observations of plumes from large rivers reveal that this scaling continues over six orders of magnitude of river drainage basin areas. This suggests that the cumulative area of coastal influence for many of the smallest rivers of the world is greater than that of single rivers of equal watershed size. Copyright 2004 by the American Geophysical Union.