During the last half of the 20th century, cumulative annual discharge from 137 representative rivers (watershed areas ranging from 0.3 to 6300 ?? 103??km2) to the global ocean remained constant, although annual discharge from about one-third of these rivers changed by more than 30%. Discharge trends for many rivers reflected mostly changes in precipitation, primarily in response to short- and longer-term atmospheric-oceanic signals; with the notable exception of the Parana, Mississippi, Niger and Cunene rivers, few of these "normal" rivers experienced significant changes in either discharge or precipitation. Cumulative discharge from many mid-latitude rivers, in contrast, decreased by 60%, reflecting in large part impacts due to damming, irrigation and interbasin water transfers. A number of high-latitude and high-altitude rivers experienced increased discharge despite generally declining precipitation. Poorly constrained meteorological and hydrological data do not seem to explain fully these "excess" rivers; changed seasonality in discharge, decreased storage and/or decreased evapotranspiration also may play important roles. ?? 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.