Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls that overlap the international borders of Canada and United States.
You are almost always guaranteed to see a rainbow if you’re on the Canadian side of the Falls. To capture this beautiful phenomenon be sure grab your camera and visit from about noon until the sun sets.
Scientists believe that the Niagara Falls will be gone in 50,000 years due to the current rate of erosion.
The first person to see and describe Niagara Falls in depth was Father Louis Hennepin, a French priest who accompanied LaSalle on his expedition to the Niagara region in 1678.
Hundreds of years ago, the Niagara Escarpment split. The sediment from a vanished Lake Tonawanda formed Goat Island (after John Stedman whose goat herds froze to death in the winter of 1780). The water flow on the American Falls is much less forceful because of Goat Island. The Canadian Falls has no such obstacle.
After the water flows over the Falls into Lake Ontario, it travels to the St. Lawrence River, then out to the Atlantic Ocean.
The deepest part of Niagara River is 170ft, and it is located right below the Falls.
The speed of the Whirlpool Rapids can travel as fast as 30 feet per second.
Niagara Falls is over 12,000 years old. The Falls were formed at the end of the last Ice Age, when the melting glaciers formed the Great Lakes, one of which (Erie), ran downhill towards another (Ontario). While the water rushed from one Lake to another, the Niagara River was carved out, and at one point had to rush over a large cliff (the Niagara Escarpment). As the falls eroded over time, the Niagara Gorge was formed.
The water that flows over Niagara Falls is greenish-blue, because of a combination of algae and crushed slate and shale sediment. Sometimes, after storms, which stir up dirt at the bottom of the river and the Great Lakes, the water briefly turns brown.
Lake Erie is the major producer of ice that flows down the Niagara River and is capable of producing 16,093 square kilometers (10,000 square miles) of ice.
The ice is blown down the river and over the Falls, where it becomes caught as the river narrows near the Canadian Maid of the Mist Landing. Some of the ice is pushed back upriver, which can build up to form an ice jam. Ice jams can be very erosive; ice grinds on the river bed, moves large boulders and alters the shoreline. When wind stops forcing water out of Lake Erie into the river, the water level drops leaving the ice jam aloft like a bridge.
The Ice Bridge
The phenomenon of the ice bridge is a familiar occurence each winter. Usually in January, a mild spell followed by a strong southwest wind breaks up the ice on Lake Erie and sends it down the Niagara River and over the Falls. The wet ice forced up out of the water below the Falls freezes into a huge mass, growing into a structure of considerable size and strength, not unlike a glacier. As shown in this photo of photographers on the ice in the 1890s, visitors to the Falls would often venture out on the ice bridge – vendors would even set up stalls to sell refreshments. Since a tragic event in 1912, when the ice suddenly broke up and two tourists were killed, going out on the ice bridge has been strictly prohibited. would often venture out on the ice bridge – vendors would even set up stalls to sell refreshments. Since a tragic event in 1912, when the ice suddenly broke up and two tourists were killed, going out on the ice bridge has been strictly prohibited.
When the Falls Stopped!
When you look at the mighty Horseshoe Falls, it’s difficult to imagine any force strong enough to stop this gigantic rush of water – yet it is on record that Mother Nature did stop the flow, back in 1848.
In March of that year, local inhabitants, accustomed to the sound of the river, were greeted by a strange, eerie silence. Niagara had stopped! For thirty long, silent hours, the river dried up and those who were brave enough walked or rode horses over the rock floor of the channel. Then, with a roar that shook the foundations of the earth, a solid wall of water, cresting to a great height, curled down the channel and crashed over the brink of the precipice. Niagara was back in business to the immense relief of everyone.
News traveled slowly in those days but the explanation finally came. High winds set the ice fields of Lake Erie in motion and millions of tons of ice became lodged at the source of the river, blocking the channel completely until finally a shift in the forces of nature released it and the pent up weight of water broke through.
How High are the Falls, How Fast is the Water?
The Niagara River is about 58 km (36 mi) in length and is the natural outlet from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.
The elevation between the two lakes is about 99 m (326 ft), half occurring at the Falls themselves.
The total area drained by the Niagara River is approximately 684,000 sq km (264,000 sq mi).
The average fall from Lake Erie to the beginning of the upper Niagara Rapids is only 2.7 m (9 ft).
Below the Chippawa-Grass Island Pool control structure, the river falls 15 m (50 ft) to the brink of the Falls.
The deepest section in the Niagara River is just below the Falls. It is so deep it equals the height of the Falls above 52m (170ft).
The Chippawa Channel is approximately 17.7 km (11 mi) in length and varies from 610 to 1220 m (2,000 to 4,000 ft) in width. Water speed ranges from 0.6 to 0.9 metres per second (mps) [2 to 3 ft per second (fps)]. This channel carries approximately 60% of the total river flow.
The Tonawanda Channel is 24 km (15 mi) long and varies from 460 to 610 m (1,500 to 2,000 ft) in width above Tonawanda Island. Downstream, the channel varies from 460 to 1220 m (1,500 to 4,000 ft) in width. Speed ranges from 0.6 to 0.9 mps (2 to 3 fps).
The Niagara Gorge extends from the Falls for 11 km (7 mi) downstream to the foot of the escarpment at Queenston
How was the Whirlpool created?
The huge volume of water rushing from the Falls is crushed into the narrow Great Gorge, creating the Whirlpool Rapids that stretch for 1.6 km (1 mi). The water surface here drops 15 m (50 ft) and the rushing waters can reach speeds as high as 9 mps (30 fps).
The Whirlpool is a basin 518 m (1,700 ft) long by 365 m (1,200 ft) wide with depths up to 38 m (125 ft). This is the elbow, where the river makes a sharp right-angled turn.
In the Whirlpool, you can see the “reversal phenomenon”. When the Niagara River is at full flow, the waters travel over the rapids and enter the pool, then travel counterclockwise around the pool past the natural outlet. Pressure builds up when the water tries to cut across itself to reach the outlet and this pressure forces the water under the incoming stream.
The swirling waters create a vortex, or whirlpool. Then the waters continue their journey to Lake Ontario. If the water flow is low (water is diverted for hydroelectric purposes after 10pm each night) the reversal does not take place; the water merely moves clockwise through the pool and passes to the outlet. Below the Whirlpool is another set of rapids, which drops approximately 12 m (40 ft).