Freshwater facts for Canada and the world.

Water is life. All living things depend on water to support life functions. Human and animal food supplies are dependent upon fresh water through agriculture and fisheries. The spiritual values of water are known to all civilizations and water plays a major role in cultural and recreational activities around the world today.

Air is a common term for the atmosphere. The layer of nitrogen, oxygen and other trace gases that surround our planet and make life on Earth possible. The atmosphere is a complex natural system. Air pollution from raising animals for human consumption, transportation, industries, and other sources causes an imbalance in this system by modifying its chemical composition. Living things are affected by air pollution in a variety of negative ways.

The Earth's climate is changing. Globally, this is evident in increasing average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising average sea level. In Canada, we are already seeing rising temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, and increases in certain types of hazardous weather, such as heat waves. In the Arctic, rising temperatures are thawing permafrost and shrinking the oceans ice cover. The international scientific community has determined that recent changes in many aspects of global climate have been primarily caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and that human activities are a major source of these gases. Environment Canada is a national focal point for Canadian research on the climate system and the science of climate change. Our scientists investigate Canada's past, present and future climate to determine how our climate is changing, as well as the causes and effects of this change. In addition, we develop the science needed to understand the impacts of climate change on Canada, and how we can adapt to these changes.

The Nahanni National Park area overlaps two major ecozones - the Taiga Plains to the east and Taiga Cordillera to the west - and touches the Boreal Cordillera Ecozone to the south. The park occupies approximately one-seventh of the total area of the South Nahanni River watershed. Along the river are many unique features. These include: Rabbitkettle Hotsprings, source of the largest known tufa mounds in Canada; Virginia Falls, with a vertical drop twice that of Niagara Falls; a series of river canyons up to 1200 m deep; and caves such as Grotte Valerie with its ancient skeletons of nearly a hundred Dall's sheep.

The park is home to a variety of wildlife. Dall's sheep, mountain goats, woodland caribou, wolves, black bears, grizzly bears and trumpeter swans all find refuge in Nahanni. Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada protects a portion of the Mackenzie Mountains Natural Region offering the adventurous visitor a wilderness experience.

With a total area of 9,984,670 sq km, Canada is the second largest country in the world, but it has the world's longest coastline, 202,080 km. A young and relatively undeveloped nation, Canada has preserved vast tracts of wilderness parkland to protect natural heritage habitats and species.

Parks exist across Canada - in the eastern shields, plains and east coast Atlantic maritime; the central Mixedwood plains, Boreal forests, prairie and tundra plains; the frozen Arctic; and the western mountains, glaciers and western coast Pacific maritime.

Great Canadian Parks invite you to the many protected species and their diverse wilderness homes. Some parks are located close to urban centres, while many are remote. Explore the many parks great range of ecology, history and culture.

Endangered Wildlife in Canada

Every year, more and more of Canadas treasured wildlife are threatened by extinction. Today, there are 640 wildlife species at risk of extinction, according to the scientific Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. For roughly 75 percent of these species, the loss and degradation of their habitat is the central cause of their endangerment. Pollution, poaching and the growing effects of climate change are also threats that Canadian wildlife face every day.

Effects of Global Warming

Many of Canadas endangered wildlife live in the Arctic, which is experiencing the consequences of global warming more than any other place. Research shows that temperatures in the Arctic are rising at almost twice the rate of that of the rest of the world. Since 1979, the extent of summer ice has declined by 30 percent. Sea ice not only provides hunting ground for polar bears, but shelter and transportation for seals, walrus, arctic foxes, and the Inuit people.

The underside of Arctic ice provides a surface for algae that support cod, char, beluga, and narwhal. The white sea ice also has a cooling effect on climate by reflecting light away from Earths surface. As the Arctic continues to melt, global warming will advance even more quickly.

Nature Canada protects nature, its diversity and the processes that sustain it. They base their efforts on sound science and a passion for nature. They effect change on issues of national significance, including bird conservation, wilderness protection, endangered species and climate change.

Other Species at Risk

The Longs Braya (Braya longii) and the Fernalds Braya (Braya fernaldii), are arctic-alpine like plants that have been found in the limestone barrens on the Great Northern Peninsula. That is an extremely unusual habitat that is home to several rare species of plants. Of course, Newfoundlanders often find it hard to believe that our province could host something so unique. But if you have ever driven up the Northern Peninsula and seen this landscape, it looks like open Arctic terrain between a roaring, cold Atlantic ocean and a much used paved road, then you would probably no longer doubt. This is the only place that these plants can be found in the world. We need to ensure that these plants will persist in their natural habitat.

Wildflowers, with their variety of colours, shapes, and scents, add immensely to the Banff National Park experience. Whether identifying, photographing or simply appreciating them, wildflowers brighten a visit to this mountain landscape.

The three major vegetation zones in the park support a variety of wildflower species. Here are some of the characteristic wildflowers of each zone, with a few suggestions for good places to find them.

The Montane Zone

The montane (low elevation) valleys of Banff National Park shelter many wildflowers that are more representative of the foothills and prairies. Examples include Prairie Crocus, Common Harebell, Western Wood Lily, Shooting Star, Three-flowered Avens, Starflowered Solomon's Seal, Wild Gaillardia (Brown-eyed Susan), Yellow Lady's Slipper, Common Butterwort, Elephanthead, and Early Blue Violet.

Good spots to find these wildflowers include the north shore of Johnson Lake, open grassy areas such as below the falls on Cascade Mountain or along the Bow Valley Parkway, and in the Saskatchewan River Crossing area in the northern part of the park.

The Subalpine Zone

The lower subalpine area, is situated between 1200m to 1800m and is characterized by a favourable climate, moist soils, for growth of closed forests. These closed forests include Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, limber pine, lodgepole pine, aspen and white spruce (on fertile alluvial habitats). Forests in this area are productive, in terms of size and growth, except in areas of bare rock, unstable talus slopes, drainage sites, dry sites, frost pockets and avalanche paths. Some trees may be 50 to 60 years old and .5 m in diameter. The subalpine zone -- the broad band above the montane zone up to treeline, receives more precipitation than the montane and is predonminantly coniferous trees. On the shady forest floor you will come across such wildflowers as Bunchberry, Twinflower, Bronze Bells, Single Delight (One-flowered Wintergreen), Labrador Tea, and White-flowered Rhododendron. Tall colourful flowers, such as Sitka Valerian, Fleabanes and Triangular-leaved ragworts grace treeline glades.

These species can be seen on the way to Stewart Canyon, up the Bourgeau Lake trail, along the gentle walk to the Lower Falls of Johnston Canyon, and on many of the trails around Lake Louise

The Alpine Zone

In the land of rock and snow, above the last trees, there are found some hardy wildflowers. Among them are Moss Campion, Purple Saxifrage, Glacier Lily, Alpine Speedwell, Alpine Forget-Me-Not, Western Anemone, White Mountain Avens, Mountain Sorrel, Silky Phacelia, and three different heathers. The Arctic tundra is the second-largest vegetation region in the country. The Arctic is treeless because of its low summer temperatures (a mean of less than 11°C in the warmest month) and short growing season (1.5–3.5 months). The transition from boreal forest to tundra, termed forest tundra, consists of ribbons or islands of stunted black and white spruce trees in a sea of tundra vegetation. Only a few birch and trembling aspen reach this far north.

One of the classic areas in Banff National Park to witness carpets of these species covering the landscape is Sunshine Meadows. You can also surround yourself in brilliant displays at Bow Summit and on Parker Ridge.

Wildflowers Growing Across Zones

There are a number of species that flourish across one or even two vegetation zones. Examples include Wild Rose (Alberta's floral emblem), Indian Paintbrush, Rock Jasmine, Wild Strawberry, Fireweed, Shrubby Cinquefoil, Yellow Columbine, Heart-leaved Arnica, Fringed Grass-of-Parnassus, Yellow Hedysarum, Common Harebell, Spotted Saxifrage, Stonecrop, Bearberry, Mountain Fireweed (River Beauty), Common Yarrow, and Northern Bedstraw.

Although there are blossoms out in the Canadian Rockies from as early as late March through until mid-September, the peak flowering time in Banff National Park at all elevations is from mid-July to mid-August. The flowering season of a particular species is affected by factors such as elevation, slope orientation, wind, soil, and precipitation (including in the winter).

Western Watersheds: Shell River, Birdtail Creek, Little Saskatchewan River and Arrow Oak River.

A watershed is an area that drains all precipitation received as a runoff or base flow (groundwater sources) into a particular river or set of rivers. Canadas ocean watersheds are the Atlantic Ocean, Hudson Bay, Arctic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

A watershed is an area where all surface water drains into the same body of water (river, lake, or ocean). Surface water consists of the tiny trickles of water flowing on the surface of the Earth that develop into larger streams and eventually combine to form rivers and lakes.

Location and Main Rivers of Ocean Watersheds

The Pacific Ocean watershed drains the area west of the Rocky Mountains. The Fraser, Yukon and Columbia rivers are the largest rivers draining this region. It is separated from all other drainage areas by the continental divide. This is defined as the north-south line along the western Cordillera that separates rivers flowing ultimately into the Pacific Ocean from those flowing into other oceans.

The Arctic Ocean watershed is the area flowing directly into the Arctic Ocean or into the channels of the Arctic Islands. Hudson Bay, James Bay and Ungava Bay are considered to be part of the Arctic Ocean but, for most purposes, their drainage area is usually considered as a separate entity. The Mackenzie River dominates the Arctic Ocean watershed.

The Hudson Bay watershed is a huge area that captures about 30% of total Canadian runoff. Many of its river systems, such as the Nelson and Churchill rivers (of Manitoba), drain eastward from the continental divide to Hudson Bay. As well, many large rivers drain from the south and east into Hudson Bay or James Bay. The extensive areas of drainage into Ungava Bay and Foxe Basin are also considered to be part of the Hudson Bay drainage area.

The Atlantic Ocean watershed is dominated by the Great Lakes St. Lawrence system, but there are other significant watersheds, such as those of the Churchill River (of Labrador) and the Saint John River in New Brunswick.

The Little Saskatchewan River watershed is part of the larger Assiniboine River Basin in south-western Manitoba. The watershed extends from Riding Mountain National Park in the north to the Assiniboine River in the south. The northern part of the watershed falls in the boreal ecosystem, with the southern part of the watershed in the Aspen Parkland ecosystem. The watershed covers approximately 1,600 square miles and is home to permanent and seasonal residents. Permanent cover makes up just over half of the land cover in the watershed (trees 30% and grassland 21%), annual cropland accounts for 35% of the land use and aquatic habitats of lakes and wetlands account for 12% of the watershed.