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An average flow of water that runs through the Niagara River is equal to 212,000 cubic feet of water every second. The water falls a distance of 325 feet from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. On the average in 1894, the flow of water through the Niagara River was 270,000 cubic feet per second, which is equal to 1,000,000,000 pounds per minute. You can watch the power behind this beautiful spot from both the Niagara Falls webcam and from the American Falls webcam, and the view is spectacular. With river water flow this powerful, it’s not a wonder why the Great Lakes basins were formed, along with the geological formation of the Niagara Gorge. Not only is it a powerful water supply for both electricity production and the creation of one of the most beautiful natural sites in the world, but it also gives us some historical information as well.
The Niagara Gorge was once the bottom of an ancient tropical sea approximately 425 million years ago. Fossils from the era are found in deep layers of rock. Due to the depth of the Niagara Gorge, numerous fossils have been exposed in the walls of the gorge. Fossils that have been found are Trilobites, which were sea floor crustaceans that lived 240-425 million years ago. Spiral shells of snails were found in the Silurian rocks. Sea Lilies, otherwise known as sea floor starfish, existed 425 million years ago and still exist today, at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Horn Coral lived 400 to 425 million years ago and were found in Lockport and Clinton layers of rock. Lamp Shells, which are clam like shells, were located in Clinton and Rochester rock layers as well. Over 80 species were found of the Lamp Shells. The ancestors of the nautilus, squid and cuttlefish that existed over 425 million years ago were found in Medina and Queenston rock layers as well.
These are all towns and cities in the vicinity of the Niagara Gorge. The Niagara Gorge allows scientists and archeologists the ability to see what lay beneath the ocean floor millions of years ago and gives us a glimpse into what the ocean held during that era. As with most water locations, people have attempted to create a recreational site of the Niagara Gorge and falls site; however, many have lost their lives, due to the extreme power behind the water flow. Today, it seems that most have figured out the waterfalls are more for the eye to behold rather than the canoe or barrel ride down to the rushing water and rocks below. Approximately 18,000 years ago, southern Ontario was layered in sheets of ice that were 2-3 kilometers or 78740.157 inches deep. These ice sheets dug out what is now known as the Great Lakes basins. The sheets of frozen water melted and traveled north. Releasing vast quantities of melted water, the basins filled.
Less than one percent of the water in the basins or lakes is renewable on a yearly basis; the rest is leftover from the ice sheets. The Niagara Peninsula broke free of ice about 12,500 years ago. Lake Erie, the Niagara River and Lake Ontario filled with this ice water, which melted more and more each day. The water continued to push its way down to the St. Lawrence River and eventually down to the ocean. Originally, there were five different spillways from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario; however, they reduced to one, partly from erosion and also due to the powerful flow of the water from the heavy amounts of melted ice. This one spillway to hold all of the melted-off ice became the original Niagara Falls, which began at Queenston-Lewiston. The falls slowly made its way further, eroding the bedrock in its way. About 10,500 years ago, through geological effects including the alternating retreats and advances of the ice, along with the rebounding of the land when it gave way to the powerful pressures of the ice, the process halted.
The glacial meltdown created a new route through northern Ontario, which flowed past the southern route it, was originally on. The powerful water in the river traveled again through southern Ontario about 5,500 years ago, restoring the natural flow of the river and the falls, bringing them back to their full potential. Eventually, the falls reached the Whirlpool area. It was a violent event, lasting only weeks; however, the Niagara River intersected an old riverbed that had been covered up during the last Ice Age. The falls ripped up the buried gorge from decades ago, taking the debris that once filled it. It left a huge churning rapid area and eventually made its way into a 90-degree turn that is in the gorge today, known as the Whirlpool Gorge area, leaving the Whirlpool Rapids in its path. The Whirlpool Rapids is North America’s largest series of standing waves today, showing the powerful force behind this river.