Niagara Falls 'Dewatering' Could Reveal Secrets

What lurks under American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls?
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 14, 2016 4:10 PM CST
Niagara Falls 'Dewatering' Could Reveal Secrets
American and Bridal Veil falls are dry in 1969 after water was diverted from them for an erosion control project.   (Wikimedia Commons)

Stopping water-flow to part of Niagara Falls may sound extreme, but it will allow workers to replace a pair of 115-year-old pedestrian bridges. The dewatering of two falls that comprise Niagara Falls also will provide insights into how millions of gallons of surging water cut through rock. The falls are "spectacular aesthetically," University of Buffalo geologist Marcus Bursik tells Live Science, "but they're not studied a lot geologically." That will change if plans go ahead to build a rock and earth structure called a cofferdam that will divert water away from the two US falls—American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls—toward Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. Horseshoe Falls already takes 85% of the water flowing over Niagara Falls, the CBC notes. Geologists would create detailed maps of the landscape that's normally hidden beneath rushing water.

They plan to snap photos with airborne drones, make 3D images with stereography, and use laser ranging to see how long it takes the falls' light to reach various satellites. Comparing new images to ones shot in 1969 (when the two falls were last dewatered) may reveal how water has carved the rock. Scientists can also see whether boulders have fallen over time and whether rock face bolted in 1969 to prevent toppling has held up. And what they learn may lead to a broader understanding of waterfalls in general, Bursik says. The geology project is expected to take several weeks, while the waterfalls should be curbed for five to nine months. In any case, it won't happen soon: The dewatering project likely won't begin for five to seven years, a New York state parks rep tells Wired. (Scientists recently made a surprise find in the Arctic: a tropical forest.)

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