Niagara Falls is the collective name given to a group of three spectacular waterfalls at the southern end of Niagara Forge, between the Canadian province of Ontario and the US state of New York. It is located on the Niagara River which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario.1
Niagara Falls, picture taken from the Canadian side
Niagara Falls is located in a public place and you can take all the pictures and videos you want along the pedestrian walkway at the brink of the falls. It is open 24 hours, seven days a week, year round. However, park attractions are seasonal and have their own schedules.
I was able to visit the Canadian side on July 2019, and it is indeed an awesome beauty of nature. See my personal experience in my post: NIAGARA FALLS, THE CANADIAN SIDE: AN AWESOME SIGHT TO BEHOLD.
For more information about the falls, visit www.niagarafallsstatepark.com.
Before you go to my personal visit to the falls, here are 18 interesting facts about Niagara Falls:
1. The largest of the three waterfalls is Horseshoe Falls, or Canadian Falls. It is the most powerful waterfall in North America, as measured by flow rate, and drops an average of 57 meters (188 feet) into the Lower Niagara River. It straddles the international border between Canada and the USA.
The smaller American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls lie entirely within the USA. Bridal Falls are separated from Horseshoe Falls by Goat Island and from the American Falls by Luna Island.
The falls are 27 km (17 miles) north-northwest of Buffalo, New York, and 121 km (75 miles) south-southeast of Toronto, between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York.
The height of the American Falls ranges between 21-34 meters (70-110 feet), taken from the top of the falls to the top of the rock pile at the base, called the talus slope. The height of the falls from the top of the falls to the river is 57 meters (188 feet). Its crest line is approximately 260 meters (850 feet) wide.
The crest line of the Canadian Falls is approximately 670 meters (2,200 feet) wide. The plunge pool beneath the falls is 35 meters (100 feet) deep.
2. Now what is the thing called the Whirpool in Niagara Falls?
The huge volume of water rushing from the falls is crushed into the narrow Great Gorge, creating the Whirpool Rapids that stretch for 1.6 km (1 mile). The water surface here drops 15 meters (50 feet) and the rushing waters can reach speeds as high as 9 meters per second (30 feet per second)!
Niagara River: Whirlpool (aerial view). The outskirts of Niagara Falls and the Niagara Glen-View Park is in the lower left, and the Whirlpool Golf Course is in the upper right – own work, Zwergelstern – commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Niagara_Falls_Whirlpool_aerial_view.jpg
The Whirlpool is a basin 518 meters (1.700 feet) long by 365 meters (1,200 feet) wide, with depths up to 38 meters (125 feet). 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 counter-clockwise 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 Niagara Whirlpool with an approaching Spanish Aero Car – own work, Cmglee – en.wikimedia.org/wiki/Niagara_Whirlpool#/media/File:Niagara_Whirlpool_Spanish_Aero_Car.jpg
The swirling waters create a vortex, or whirpool. The,n the waters continue their journey to Lake Ontario. If the water flow is low (water is diverted for hydroelectric purposes after 10pm every night), the reversal does not take place; the water merely moves clockwise through the pool and passes to the outlet.
3. Can you believe that Niagara Falls is not the tallest waterfall in the world, although it looks so huge? Nonetheless, what is so impressive and breathtaking is the combination of height and the volume of flowing water.
Just imagine that the combined falls have the highest flow rate of any waterfall in North America that has a vertical drop of more than 50 meters (160 feet).
More than 168,000 cubic meters (6 million cubic feet) of water go over the crestine of the falls every minute during peak daytime tourist hours!
The rapids above the falls reach a maximum speed of 40 km/hr or 25 mph, with the fastest speeds which occur at the falls themselves reaching 68 mph.
The water through the Whirlpool Rapids below the falls reaches 48 km/hr or 30 mph, and at Devil’s Hole Rapids 36 km/hr.
The International Boundary Waters Treaty stipulates the minimum amount of flow over the falls during daytime, nighttime, and the tourist season.
4. Now, where do you think all the water comes from? Let Tita S tell you. The Great Lakes is the world’s largest surface freshwater system, containing about 18% of the world’s supply. If spread out, the volume of water in the Great Lakes would cover North America in about 1 meter (3.5 feet) of water,
The water flows from streams and rivers that empty into the Great Lakes, from Lake Superior, down through Niagara to Lake Ontario, then into the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean. Water always flows down to the sea, and the land slopes downward through the Great Lakes Basin, from west to east, but the Niagara River actually flows north!
Today, less than 1% of the water of the Great Lakes is renewable on an annual basis (precipitation and groundwater). The rest is a legacy from the last ice age, or “fossil“ water. There is still water in the Great Lakes because they rely heavily on replenishment or renewal from precipitation (rain, sheet, snow and hail) and groundwater.
5. Did you know that there is a brown foam below Niagara Falls? What causes it?
The brown foam below Niagara Falls is a natural result of tons of water plummeting into the depths below but it is not dangerous! The brown color is clay, which contains suspended particles of decayed vegetative matter, mostly from the shallow eastern basin of Lake Erie.
6. With such a large amount of flowing water, one cannot help but ask how the water is used.
The waters of the Niagara Rover are used by a combined Canada-USA population of more than a million people, for a wide range of purposes, such as drinking water, recreation (boating, swimming, bird-watching), fishing, industrial cooling water supply, receiver of municipal and industrial effluents, and hydro-power generation (Sir Adam Beck Station in Ontario and New York State Power Authority).
7. So, how much water from the Falls is diverted?
The level of water flow from Lake Erie into the Niagara River has been regulated by the International Joint Commission (USA and Canada) since 1910, based on the 1950 Niagara Treaty. The treaty requires that during the daylight hours of the tourist season (8am-10pm local time, April 1-September 15) and 8am-9pm local time from September 16-October 31, the flow over Niagara Falls must not be less than 2,832 cubic meters per second (100,000 cubic feet per second). At other times, the flow must not be less than 1,416 cubic meters per second (50,000 cubic feet per second).
The treaty specifies that all water in excess of that required for domestic and sanitary purposes, navigation and the falls‘ flow may be diverted for power generation.
8. Boat cruises are available for tourists to be ferried to the falls. The American side offers the Maid of the Mist Boat Cruise, while the Hornblower Niagara Cruises services the Canadian side.
Maid of the Mist (American boat – to the left, with passengers wearing blue raincoats) and the Hornblower (Canadian boat – to the right, with passengers wearing red raincoats)
9. There is a part of the pedestrian walkway at the brink of the falls of the Canadian side which is wet due to the mild mist or drizzle from the falls so many miles away! I experienced this when we were walking near the Horseshoe Falls. For those of you who went to the American side, is there such a part of the viewing walkway too?
Part of the pedestrian walkway, Canadian side, summer 2019
10. I was told that Niagara Falls ices up and the most recent occurrences were in 2014 and 2017. I could not imagine that such a large body of water could be frozen.
11. On the Canadian side, you can access the falls through Queen Victoria Park which features manicured gardens and walkways offering views of both the American and Horseshoe Falls.
Queen Victoria Park is the main parkland in Niagara Falls Canada, considered the centerpiece of the Niagara Falls recreational tourist area. It is opposite the American and Canadian Horseshoe Falls, established by a Provincial Park Act in 1885 and opened in 1888. It is operated by the Niagara Parks Commission.
It is known for its outstanding flower displays of daffodils and roses in-season. It is also the focal point for the annual winter Festival of Lights.
The Nikola Tesla Monument, Queen Victoria Park, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada – I was too tired to cross the street so I just zoomed to take this statue. I salute Tesla for the electrification of the world through his modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system design. This statue shows Tesla standing atop an AC motor by sculptor Les Drysdale, unveiled on July 9, 2006. You might ask, why this tribute? Well, Tesla designed the first hydro-electric power plant at Niagara Falls and, with George Westinghouse, started the electrification of the world.1
12. Clifton Hill is a major tourist promenade, with its main road leading to Niagara Falls and the Niagara River. It stretches from the River Road on the Niagara Parkway and intersects with Victoria Avenue. It offers a major amusement area and center for day and night life for all ages, with its gift shops, wax museums, haunted houses, video arcades, restaurants, and themed attractions. See a related post: Clifton Hill, Niagara: A Mecca of Fun.
13. The Niagara Falls International Rainbow Bridge, commonly known as the Rainbow Bridge, is an arch bridge across the Niagara River gorge which connects the cities of Niagara Falls, New York, USA (to the east), and Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada (to the west). It was designed by architect Richard (Su Min) Lee, constructed at a cost of US$4 million, and officially opened on November 1, 1941 (77 years ago). It has a total length of 1,450 feet (440 meters) with a height of 202 feet (62 meters). It is maintained by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.
Rainbow Bridge, different perspectives, July 2019
14. The first time you actually see this wonderful natural attraction, you wonder how it was formed and how old it is.
Well, it was formed when glaciers receded at the end of the Wisconsin glaciation (the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago), and when the ice melted, the water from the newly formed Great Lakes carved a path through the Niagara Escarpment, en route to the Atlantic Ocean.
Southern Ontario, 18,000 years ago, was covered by 2-3 km thick of ice sheets and the latter advanced southward and gouged out the basins of the Great Lakes. They then melted northward for the last time and released vast quantities of melt water or fossil water into these basins.
The Niagara Peninsula became free of the ice about 12,500 years ago. The ice retreated northward, its melt waters began to flow down through what became Lake Erie, the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, originally with 5 spillways, at the escarpment at Queenston-Lewiston, and from there, the falls began its steady erosion through the bedrock.
Through time, the glacial melt waters were rerouted, but about 5,500 years ago, it once again routed through Southern Ontario, restoring the river and falls to their full power, and the falls reached the whirpool. A geological phenomenon occurred which left behind a 90-degree turn in the river we know today as the Whirlpool, and North America’s largest series of standing waves called the Whirlpool Rapids.
15. The Falls has moved back 7 miles in 12,500 years, and may be the fastest moving waterfalls in the world.
16. If you go close to the water you will see that it is green. Now, I wonder why it is so?
The green color of the Niagara River is proof of the erosive power of water. An estimated 60 tons of dissolved minerals are swept over Niagara Falls every minute! The green color comes from the dissolved salts and “rock flour“, i.e., very finely ground rock, picked up primarily from the limestone bed, but probably also from the shales and sandstones under the limestone cap at the falls.
17. Did this thought ever cross your mind while sitting at the edge of, or taking a picture along, the pedestrian walkway of the falls: What if I fall past the guardrails, can I swim and survive Niagara Falls?
Basically, you cannot survive, that is why some people atempt (and succeed) in committing suicide by falling there. Remember, 6 million cubic feet of water rush over the falls every minute during peak daytime hours, at 25-68 mph (above the falls-over the brink), and chances are, you will hit rocks!
If you do miss the rocks, your next threat are the bubbles. You see, the plunge pool under the waterfall is like a big surf and there is so much air mixed with the water so you cannot swim in it. Everything goes black in big surf because the sunlight is blocked out by the bubbles.
However, if you are so lucky and you survive the bubbles, the turbulence and darkness underwater would probably disorient you, and just hope and pray that you get pushed up! You also have to reckon with the debris around you; you will definitely get bashed underwater.
Well, if it is still not your time to go to heaven and manage to surface and float in a bruising current, the cold will hit you. Niagara’s waters are around 30ºF and it takes about 3 minutes before you black out, or the shock of cold water can trigger a heart attack.
The task force gives you less than 15 minutes in water that is freezing or below, and 15-30 minutes in water up to 40ºF. Pray that they rescue you before that!
Need I say more? Be careful, will you?!
18. With such a strong and powerful water flow every second 24/7, one cannot help but think of erosion and the future of Niagara Falls!
It seems that below the hard-rock formation, comprising about two-thirds of the cliff, lay the weaker, softer, sloping Rochester Formation (Lower Silurian). This formation was composed mainly of shale though it has some thin limestone layers and ancient fossils.
In time, the river eroded the soft layer that supported the hard layers, undercutting the hard caprock, which gave way in great chunks. This process, repeated countless times, eventually carved out the falls.
Alas, nothing lasts forever and the falls continues to erode but the rate has been greatly reduced due to flow control and diversion for hydro-power generation. Recession for at least the last 560 years has been estimated at 1-1.5 meters per year.
Its current rate of erosion is estimated at 30 cm (1 foot) per year, and could possibly be reduced to 1 foot per 10 years, a difficult responsibility of the International Joint Commission. Some major factors to reckon with include, among others: the abrasive action of the softer shales by fallen limestone boulders and no one knows when the next major rock falls will occur; climate change which may dry up the Great Lakes Basin and affect the water flow through the Niagara River; and, the action of frost from the spray and the dissolving action of the spray itself.
All things considered, scientists speculate that perhaps 2,000 years from now, the American Falls could dry up. The Canadian Falls will notch back for about 15,000 years, traveling back about 4 miles to a softer riverbed, after which the rate of erosion will change significantly, and the falls could be replaced by a series of rapids.
Fifty thousand years from now, at the present rate of erosion, the remaining 20 miles to Lake Erie will have been undermined. There will not be a falls anymore, but there will still be a river at work.
Let us all pray that the plans of the institutions responsible for the falls will succeed in this regard. Thank God it will not happen in our lifetime so, dearest Seniors, if you have not yet seen Niagara Falls, visit it soon and marvel at its beauty and power!
The information was obtained from the following Wikipedia pages: Niagara Falls, Ontario2; Rainbow Bridge (Niagara Falls) 3; Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls4; Skylon Tower5, and Queen Victoria Park6, as well as the websites – https://www.niagaraparks.com/visit-niagara-parks/plan-your-visit/niagara-falls-geology-facts-figures/, www.popularmechanics.com/adventure/outdoors/tips/a6960/how-to-survive-an-accidental-plunge-over-niagara-falls/ and www.cliftonhill.com
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2“Niagara Falls, Ontario,” accessed August 6, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naiagara_Falls,_Ontario
3“Rainbow Bridge (Niagara Falls),“ accessed August 6, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_Bridge_(Niagara_Falls)
4“Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls,“ accessed August 6, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifton_Hill,)Niagara_Falls
5“Skylon Tower,“ accessed August 6, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylon_Tower
6“Queen Victoria Park,“ accessed August 6, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Victoria_Park