When will Niagara Falls disappear?

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Updated: June 9, 2022
Image Credit YingHui Liu/Shutterstock.com
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It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen Niagara Falls or not; it has likely had an impact on your life in some manner. Undoubtedly, the king of North American waterfalls has played a significant role in the power sector, from its generation to distribution to numerous regulatory and control mechanisms. It has also provided an example for activists who advocate that some areas should be left aside to allow nature to thrive and demonstrate how picturesque resources can be shared between countries.

Niagara Falls is a spectacular sight and one of the world’s most popular waterfalls. It has been a popular tourist spot for almost 200 years, spanning the border between the US and Canada. In this article, we’ll discuss when Niagara Falls will likely disappear. We’ll also give a description of the falls as well as how they have evolved to what they are now.

Let’s begin!

Description of Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is located on the border of Buffalo, New York, and Ontario, Canada.

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Niagara Falls can be found on the Niagara River, which links Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and divides New York and Ontario. According to Niagara Parks, there is a height difference of 325 feet between the two lakes, with half of that difference occurring at the falls.

American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls are the three independent waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls. According to the World Waterfall Database, Horseshoe Falls is around 167 feet tall and covers over 2,700 feet at its summit; American Falls is 90 to 120 feet tall and stretches about 940 feet at its top, while Bridal Veil Falls is 90 to 120 feet tall but only 45 feet broad. The combined falls have an average width of 3,950 feet.

According to the Travel Channel, the three waterfalls combine to form the world’s second-biggest waterfall. Approximately 6 million cubic feet of water flow down the falls every minute. According to the New York State Museum, the water pours over the falls at around 25 mph. The deepest part of the Niagara River is directly below Horseshoe Falls, at 167 feet, which is the same depth as the falls. The river runs from the base of the falls to Lake Ontario, some 7 miles downstream. Thousands of years of erosion have eroded cliffs up to 1,200 feet in height.

Evolution of Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls was created by geological forces which began acting during the last Ice Age, about 16,000 years ago.

YingHui Liu/Shutterstock.com

Niagara Falls was created by geological forces which began acting during the last Ice Age, about 16,000 years ago. The northern parts of North America (from Ohio to New York) were engulfed by a glacier whose thickness was more than 1 mile. The Great Lakes were formed as the ice disappeared.   

Some 12,000 years ago, water leaving the lakes discovered a low-lying passage and cut out a pathway now known as the Niagara River. Lake Erie and Lake Ontario were divided into higher and lower levels. The Niagara Escarpment lets water flow from the upper lake to the lower lake. This made a waterfall.

Niagara Falls was about 7 miles away from where it is now when it developed. Even today, erosion pushes the falls upstream at a rate of around a foot every year. According to some projections, the river will erode to Lake Erie in 50,000 years, going through a cliff and soft rock before draining Lake Erie.

What is the future of Niagara Falls?

The fate of the Niagara River as an essential element of the Great Lakes Basin is similarly influenced by climatic changes.

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The falls are still eroding, but the rate has slowed significantly due to flow management and diversion for hydroelectric power. For at least the past 560 years, the decline has been reported to be between 3 and 5 feet each year. The exact rate of deterioration at present is unknown, with the International Joint Commission tasked with determining its magnitude. However, it is believed to be 1 foot each year, but this could be decreased to 1 foot every ten years. The International Boundary Waters Treaty specifies the minimum quantity of flow over the falls during the day, night, and tourist seasons. 

The effect of frost from the spray, the dissolution impact of the jet itself, and the abrasive action of fallen limestone rocks on the softer shale are all erosive factors. 

Nobody knows when the next massive rockfall in Horseshoe Falls will happen, but it might accelerate erosion. When the crest line acquires a groove pattern, a stable location is destroyed, and the falls retreat quickly until a point of equilibrium is found. It’s also likely that the river’s current or future flow and volume won’t be adequate to create a deep enough plunge pool to handle rock falls. In this case, the Canadian Falls, like the American Falls, might be supported by talus. The Cascade Rapids above the falls are roughly 50 feet higher than they are now, but once that barrier is broken, the falls will have an additional 49 feet of force.

The fate of the Niagara River as an essential element of the Great Lakes Basin is similarly influenced by climatic changes, with models predicting the basin’s drying up. The Great Lakes Basin and thus the flow of water via the Niagara River is still affected by isostatic rebound.

When will Niagara Falls disappear?

After considering all factors, scientists believe the American Falls may dry up in the next 2,000 years. It is a fixed feature falling due to rockfalls and landslides, carrying less than 7% of flow before diversion. This small amount of water is shallow and spread out, making it ineffectual as an erosive force. It might look like the Niagara Glen today if it were a dry fall.

The Horseshoe Falls will fall back for approximately 15,000 years, moving about 4 miles to a softer riverbed, after which the pace of erosion will shift dramatically. A series of rapids could take the place of the falls.

The final 20 miles to Lake Erie are expected to be broken in 50,000 years if erosion continues at its current rate. 

Niagara Falls

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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on real estate, nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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