A moving and descending target

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In this photograph taken by a cosmonaut aboard the International Space Station, the water flowing through the Niagara Gorge and the three waterfalls between Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, are easily identified by their white foam and their spray. The shadows accentuate the depth of the canyon that the Niagara River has carved out over the past 12,000 years. Meanwhile, the falls slowly recede upstream as erosion eats away at the underlying rock.

Over 750,000 gallons of water flow from the Lake Erie basin, over the falls and into the Lake Ontario basin every second. Goat Island and Luna Island lie in the middle of the Niagara River and divert the channel into three separate falls. The largest, Horseshoe Falls, did not always have its namesake form. What was once a gentle crescent has grown into a deep horseshoe as the middle of the ledge receded faster than the edges. The other two falls, American and Bridal Veil, were joined until the waterfall line retreated into Luna Island. The earth now acts as a separator between the two water curtains.

While the falls and the river channel took a long time to build, human influence on the area is relatively recent. Since the 1950s, the United States and Canada have undertaken projects to preserve the falls from further erosion and to harness hydroelectric power from the flow. The International Niagara Control Works is a water bypass mechanism designed to send more water to American and Bridal Veil Falls and to channel some of it to power plant water intakes. The US and Canadian power plants located near the falls are a critical part of the region’s energy supply.

The photograph of astronaut ISS064-E-533177 was acquired on April 2, 2021, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a focal length of 1000 millimeters. It is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observation Facility and the Earth Sciences and Remote Sensing Unit of the Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by an Expedition 64 crew member. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station program is supporting the laboratory as part of the ISS National Laboratory to help astronauts take photos of Earth that will be of greatest value to scientists and the public, and to render those images available free on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA / JSC Gateway for Photography of Earth Astronauts. Caption by Alex Stoken, Jacobs, JETS contract at NASA-JSC.


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