Lake Athabasca: description, flora and fauna, environmental problems


Athabasca Lake is located in two Canadian provinces: northeastern Alberta and northwestern Saskatchewan, on the edge of the Precambrian shield. With an impressive area (7935 sq. Km.) And a coastline of 2140 km, it is the eighth largest in Canada.


General information about the lake

The lake belongs to two provinces at once and is the largest in Alberta and Saskatchewan (Canada), which owns about 70% of the surface area. It is located at an altitude of 213 m above sea level, the average depth is 20 m, the greatest is 124 m. In length, the reservoir is stretched to 283 km, the maximum width is 50 km. The Athabasca and Mira rivers feed the lake. Water flows down the Slave River and the Mackenzie into the Arctic Ocean.

The origin of the basin of Lake Athabaska is defined as glacial-tectonic. It arose from the processing of tectonic depressions in the crust by a glacier. Along with the other largest lakes of Canada (Great Nevlichnoe and Bear), Athabasca is the remnant of the vast McConnell Ice Pond.

Lake history


The name of the Athabasca Lake comes from the word athapiscow from the Cree language (ethnic group of North America). By this term they denoted an open water area (swamps, lakes, etc.), along the banks of which willows, grasses and reeds grew. Together with other ethnic groups such as Beaver and Chipean, the people of Cree are the first to inhabit this land more than 2, 000 years ago.

Originally, this name was applied only in relation to the Athabasca delta in the southwestern corner of the lake. In 1791, Hudson's Bay cartographer, Philip Ternor, in one of his journals, wrote down the name Atapison. Before him, Peter Fiedler in 1790 designated him as the Great Arabuskah. By 1801, there was more or less a single spelling, as close as possible to the modern one - Lake Atapaskov. And only in 1820, George Simpson called the river and the lake Athabasca.

Pond for them was a key point for the fur trade. One of the oldest European settlements on the coast (in the territory of Alberta) is Fort Chipevian, founded in 1788 by Peter Pond within the North-West Company. The settlement was named after the local people of Chipean.

Flora and fauna of the lake


The lake is part of Peace-Athabasca Delta, a biologically diverse wetland located to the west of it. The delta is an important migration point and a nesting area for bird species such as the American Swan, the Canadian Crane, and numerous geese and ducks. In addition, about 80% of this territory belongs to the National Park Wood Buffalo (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which is home to the largest herd of wild bison.

Since 1926, fishing has been organized on Lake Athabaska. The catch consists mainly of lake trout, zander and northern pike. In addition to them, there are such species as grayling, perch, burbot, arctic char. In 1961, with the help of a large gill net, fishermen managed to catch trout with a record weight of 46.3 kg.

Ecological problems

Lake Athabasca is rich in deposits of natural resources. People did not lose sight of this. As a result, in the nineteenth century, active mining of uranium and gold began in these places. Numerous workers and their families, arriving at the lake, founded the village of Uranium City on its shores. The last mine was closed in the 1980s, the effects of mining heavily polluted the northern shores of the reservoir. The situation was aggravated by several large oil fields located nearby. Gold mines on the lake are still functioning.

In October 2013, one of the coal mines collapsed and more than 600 billion liters of sludge fell into Plant and Aletovoun-Crix. A plume of pollution flowed into the Atabaska River, heading downstream. Within a month he reached the lake and spread more than 500 km.

The area where the Athabasca Lake is located is very close to the oil sands. This fact worries environmentalists the most. Up to 1997, the impact of production on the aquatic ecosystem was not monitored, and the effectiveness of monitoring is currently questioned because it is financed by oil companies.

Despite some problems in data collection, recent environmental studies have shown a direct link between increased lake pollution and oil sands. An increase in the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in lake ecosystems near the fields has been demonstrated. This causes concern, since substances remain in the environment for a long time and do not decompose.

Sand dunes


Another unique feature of the lake are moving sand dunes, located near the southern shores. In 1992, this amazing natural ecosystem was taken under state protection. The Sand Dune Athabasca Park is organized. It is located in the province of Saskatchewan (Canada). The park extends over 100 km along the southern edge of the lake. Sand dunes have a length of from 400 to 1500 m and a height of about 30 m. You can get to these places only on the water surface of the lake.

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