Yukon River, North America

March 13, 2012, 7:24 pm
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The Yukon River is the third longest river in North America, flowing northwest from the Coastal Range mountains of northern British Columbia, through the Yukon Territory and Alaska to the Bering Sea. Its overall length is 3185 kilometers (km), with 1149 km within Canadian borders. The watershed's total drainage area is 840 000 sq. km (323 800 sq. km in Canada) and it discharges 195 cubic kilometers of water per year.

River Course

The Yukon River arises from Tagish, Atlin and Teslin Lakes in northern British Columbia. It initially flows northwest through majestic gorges and deep valleys in the Yukon Territory, passing the settlements of Whitehorse, Carmacks, Fort Selkirk and Dawson City. From its source to Dawson City the river contains an almost unbroken chain of islands. Just before Dawson there are several wide stretches with majestic curves. From that point to beyond the Alaskan border the river is flanked by hills and confined to a single, broad channel broken only by occasional islands. The Yukon river's principal tributaries are the Big Salmon, White, Stewart, Klondike, Pelly, Porcupine, Chandelar, Tanana, Koyukuk and Innoko rivers. The section of river between Lake Laberge and the Teslin River, known as "The Thirty Mile Section," has been designated a Canadian Heritage River for its outstanding natural and cultural heritage.

History

Satellite view over a section of the river. (Source: Biodiversity Institute of Ontario)

caption A Chinook salmon. (Source: Biodiversity Institute of Ontario)

caption (Source: Biodiversity Institute of Ontario)

The Yukon is one of the most important salmon-breeding rivers in the world. Each year it supports huge Chinook salmon returning to spawn in its tributary creeks. The Whitehorse Fishway is, at 366 meters (m) in length, the longest wooden fish ladder in the world. It was built beside the dam at Whitehorse to provide a channel for the salmon as they migrate upstream.

Some anthropologists believe that the Yukon river's wide valley was the main immigration route for North America's first human inhabitants (who are believed to have arrived across a now submerged isthmus joining Alaska and Siberia).

The river's name derives from the native Gwich'in word meaning "great river." Of all Canada's great rivers, the Yukon has best retained its natural glory. It has long been a vital resource for aboriginal peoples and also has a rich history associated with the great Gold Rush. In 1896 gold was discovered in a stream feeding the Klondike River (a tributary of the Yukon River) sparking the "Klondike Stampede" of 1897. Massive numbers of people flocked to the area and before long a huge fleet of steam-powered sternwheeler riverboats were transporting them and their freight along the Yukon from Whitehorse to Dawson City. The Yukon was in fact the last waterway in North America whose river settlements depended on the big sternwheelers. The construction of the Alaska Highway during World War II eventually forced them out of business. Today the big boats have been replaced by canoes and tourism has taken the place of panning for gold, but the economic and cultural needs of nearly all Yukoners still depend on the river's health and beauty. Although it is not immune from problems such as pollution and flooding due to hydroelectric development, the people of the Yukon show much concern over the welfare of their river.

Ecology

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Climate Change

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Glossary

Citation

Hebert, P., & Ontario, B. (2012). Yukon River, North America. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbef4d7896bb431f69d7b7

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