Global Water Futures Observatories (GWFO) is Canada's premier national university-operated scientific freshwater observation network. With funding support, in part, through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and its Major Sciences Initiative (MSI), GWFO operates 64 instrumented river basins, lakes, streams, and wetlands, 15 deployable measurement systems, and 18 state-of-the-art water laboratories. These monitor Canada's drainage basins and aquatic systems in fine detail at local scales across a vast portion of Canada, spanning many of the provinces and territories, and major river basins including the Yukon, Mackenzie, Saskatchewan–Nelson, and Great Lakes–St. Lawrence.


GWFO’s vision is to serve as a national water observatory consisting of a network of instrumented water observing sites, supported by deployable observing systems and major laboratories, that provides open access water data and the necessary infrastructure to collect supplementary data, which informs the development and testing of water prediction models, monitors changes in water sources, underpins diagnosis of risks to water security and helps design solutions for water sustainability.

GWFO provides open access to its meteorological, glaciological, hydrological, water quality and freshwater data, which contributes to the development and evaluation of water prediction models, monitors changes in water sources, supports the identification of water security risks, and aids in designing strategies to ensure the long-term sustainability of Canadian water resources.

Led by the University of Saskatchewan and eight other universities (Waterloo, McMaster, Laurier, Windsor, Toronto, Trent, Western, Carleton), GWFO collaborates with Indigenous communities, governments, industry and agriculture to support water services and management. It supports transformative water research that improves agricultural water management, water supply forecasts, river and lake health monitoring and develops advanced capabilities to predict water futures for Canada in a time of rapid global warming and development.

Benefits enabled by GWFO to Canadians, include:

  • monitoring environmental change in the headwaters of major rivers and in critical aquatic ecosystems across Canada such as the Great Lakes
  • benchmarking for national streamflow, drought, & water quality prediction models
  • informing floodplain & risk mapping associated with water-related disasters
  • designing irrigation, beneficial management practices & precision farming technologies
  • informing flexible responses to climate change, invasive species & extreme events
  • underpinning the foundation of federal & provincial water management strategies
  • informing national and transboundary lake restoration – e.g. Lake Erie Watershed
  • supporting water information for prosperity – industry, agriculture, communities
  • attracting & retaining talented young professionals & global scientific-thought leaders to Canada.

GWFO’s international impact includes:

  • GWFO’s data-informed predictive models are being developed for application around the world in collaboration with UNESCO and delivered to users via regional water solutions laboratories under Future Earth.
  • GWFO supplies the data, informs models and provides knowledge mobilisation to support three UN programs: the World Climate Research Programme, UNESCO, and World Meteorological Organisation.
  • GWFO is contributing to the science objectives for the UN International Year for Glaciers’ Preservation - 2025, such as instituting GWFO-style "Integrated Mountain Observing and Prediction Systems" through collaborations in the World Climate Research Programme.

Fun Facts

GWFO Station
Field technician working on Helen Lake weather station
high above the Icefield Parkway in Banff National Park.
Photo by: Caroline Aubry-Wake, University of Saskatchewan
  • Many of GWFO sites are in remote and data sparse locations (under the Great Lakes, atop glaciers, in the Arctic) and serve as crucial sources of information for detecting the impact of climate change on water resources
  • The GWFNet data management system pulls all GWFO data together and makes it ready for users, for early warnings, prediction and forecasting and to underpin the design of new water management strategies.
  • GWFO’s system of high mountain observatories and data management linked to water prediction models is a model for the global science objectives of the UN International Year of Glaciers’ Preservation - 2025

University of Saskatchewan
University of Waterloo
McMaster University
Wilfrid Laurier University
University of Windsor
Carleton University
University of Toronto Scarborough
Trent University
Western University
Canada Foundation for Innovation