Fractures in the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario, Canada: distribution, connectivity, and geohazard implications Academic Article uri icon

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  • Abstract The Niagara Escarpment is a geological feature located in southern Ontario, Canada, and the northeastern United States, comprising highly fractured sandstone, shale and carbonates deposited during the Ordovician and Silurian periods. Differential erosion of the strata has generated a steep cliff face which bisects the city of Hamilton, Ontario. Geological fractures are widespread in the escarpment and result in the formation of unstable blocks of rock subject to erosion through rockfall. This presents structural stability issues of concern due to the proximity of the escarpment to urban infrastructure. We quantify and analyse fracture networks in the escarpment using a combined field- and numerical-modelling-based approach. The location, orientation and aperture of fractures were documented from local outcrops using scanline and area survey methods. Clusters of poles describing the orientation of geological discontinuities were identified in spherical projections, defining three sets: (1) a sub-vertical stratabound set striking N–S, (2) a sub-vertical stratabound set striking E–W, and (3) a set parallel to horizontal sedimentary bedding planes which we infer controlled sub-vertical fracture geometry. Discrete fracture network modelling of fracture sets highlights their high degree of connectivity, and contribution to local geohazards, and quantifies their role in controlling fluid flow through escarpment strata, which is dependent on fracture aperture. Additionally, bedding planes have the potential to act as free surfaces, facilitating stress conditions in which approximately cuboid blocks are produced, and increasing the risk of rockfalls. We conclude that fractures present a first-order control on the fluid-flow properties and stability of the Niagara Escarpment.


  • Formenti, Serena
  • Peace, Alexander
  • Eyles, Carolyn
  • Lee, Rebecca
  • Waldron, John WF

publication date

  • July 13, 2022