Athabasca River in Jasper National Park
Athabasca River watershed in western Canada
|- location||Jasper National Park|
|- elevation||1,520 m (4,990 ft)(foot of glacier)|
|205 m (673 ft)|
|Length||1,231 km (765 mi)|
|Basin size||95,300 km2 (36,800 sq mi)|
|- location||Athabasca Delta|
|- average||783 m3/s (27,700 cu ft/s)|
|- minimum||75.0 m3/s (2,650 cu ft/s)|
|- maximum||4,790 m3/s (169,000 cu ft/s)|
The Athabasca River (French: rivière Athabasca) originates from the Columbia Glacier of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. The impressive and scenic Athabasca Falls is located upstream about 30 km (19 mi) from the Jasper townsite.
Sekani, Shuswap, Kootenay, Salish, Stoney and Cree tribes hunted and fished along the river prior to the European colonization. From about 1778, the Athabasca River, the Clearwater River, which enters the Athabasca River from the east at Fort McMurray, and the Methye Portage were part of the main fur trade route from the Mackenzie River to the Great Lakes. See Canadian Canoe Routes (early).
The northern segment of the Athabasca River became part of a major shipping network in 1921 when the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway reached Waterways near Fort McMurray, making it the northernmost point on the North American railroad grid at that time. Cargo for destinations farther north was shipped to Waterways and transferred to barges, after which fleets of tugboats took them up the river to destinations in the Athabasca and Mackenzie River watersheds. Barge traffic declined after 1964 when Hay River, on Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, became the northern terminus of the rail grid.
This river was designated a Canadian Heritage River for its importance to the fur trade and the construction of railways and roads opening up the Canadian West, as well as for its natural heritage.
The Athabasca River originates in Jasper National Park, in an unnamed lake at the toe of the Athabasca Glacier within the Columbia Icefield, between Mount Columbia, Snow Dome, and the Winston Churchill Range, at an elevation of approximately 1,600 metres (5,200 ft).
The river flows along icefields and through gorges, offering wildlife habitat on its shores and adjacent marshes. Throughout its course, it flows through or adjacent to numerous national and provincial parks, including Jasper National Park, Fort Assiniboine Sandhills Wildland Provincial Park, Hubert Lake Wildland Provincial Park, La Biche River Wildland Provincial Park, Grand Rapids Wildland Provincial Park, Richardson River Dunes Wildland Provincial Park, and Wood Buffalo National Park. Its course is marked by rapids, impeding navigation southwest of Fort McMurray.
The Athabasca River travels 1,231 km (765 mi) before draining into the Peace-Athabasca Delta near Lake Athabasca south of Fort Chipewyan. From there, its waters flow north as Rivière des Rochers, then joining the Peace River to form the Slave River that empties into Great Slave Lake and discharges through the Mackenzie River system into the Arctic Ocean. The cumulative drainage area is 95,300 km2 (36,800 sq mi).
An independent study has concluded that the Athabasca River contains elevated levels of pollution downstream of the Athabasca oil sands. Testing has shown this portion of the river contains mercury, lead and 11 other toxic elements.
On October31, 2013, one of Obed Mountain coal mine's pits failed, and from between 600 million to a billion liters of slurry poured into the Plante and Apetowun Creeks. The plume of waste products then joined the Athabasca River, travelling downstream for a month before settling in Lake Athabasca near Fort Chipewyan, over 500 km (310 mi) away.
Owing to its proximity to the Athabasca Oil Sands, the river has seen significant amounts of energy infrastructure constructed along its course. On June 6, 1970, a pipeline operated by Great Canadian Oil Sands, the precursor to Suncor and the earliest commercial extraction operation, ruptured near the banks of the river. The total spill volume was estimated by Great Canadian Oil Sands at approximately 1,190 barrels of oil.
Flowing through the Athabasca Falls
Passing by Jasper
Athabasca River at the mouth of Brûlé Lake
Upstream from Whitecourt
Bituminous sand banks north of Fort McMurray
Both ships were built for the Northern Transportation Company, a subsidiary of Eldorado Gold Mines, Limited, and will ply the Mackenzie and Athabaska rivers, 1,600 miles north of Edmonton.