About GWFO

Overview of the Facility

Global Water Futures Observatories (GWFO)

GWFO is Canada's premier national scientific freshwater observation network, funded in part through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and its Major Sciences Initiative (MSI) from 2023–2029. GWFO is an integrated, networked "big data for water" facility that provides urgently needed scientific data to deliver flood, drought, and water quality solutions. It operates 64 instrumented and maintained water observation sites in lakes, rivers, wetlands, and upland areas across Canada; 15 deployable measurement systems for specialized remote sensing and in situ data acquisition; and 18 state-of-the-art water laboratories at the partner universities for detailed water quality, biological, and other analyses. The geographic scope of GWFO covers four major transboundary (interprovincial and territorial, international) river basins, including the Yukon, Mackenzie, Saskatchewan–Nelson, and Great Lakes–St. Lawrence. GWFO is led by the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and is a partnership amongst USask, the University of Waterloo, McMaster University, Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Windsor, Trent University, Carleton University, the University of Western Ontario, and the University of Toronto.

GWFO provides open access to its meteorological, glaciological, hydrological, water quality and freshwater data, which contribute to the development and evaluation of water prediction models, monitor changes in water sources and quality, support the identification of water security risks, and aid in designing strategies to ensure the long-term sustainability of Canadian water resources. GWFO partners with Indigenous communities and practitioners and policy-makers in government, industry, conservation, and other sectors to develop capabilities, reduce risk, and better manage water as we face unprecedented challenges from global warming and rapid environmental change.

Our Vision

To operate 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 to ensure the long-term sustainability of Canadian water resources.

Principles of Operation:

  • provide unique water data of interest to characterizing and monitoring the water conditions of Canadian river basins
  • contribute to a critical baseline of water data to the benefit of multiple users
  • support the data collection from, and analysis of water from the network of instrumented water observing sites
  • adhere to the principles of open access


GWFO sustains a legacy of freshwater observations and scientific infrastructure investment in Canada that goes back many decades. A number of the sites are long-term water observatories that have records going back 20, 30, or in some cases 50+ years, making them invaluable for the monitoring and detection of hydrological and water quality changes, and for developing in-depth understanding of the physical and biological responses to climate change and human pressures. Other sites have been established more recently and included in the network, but contribute important and targeted observations in remote, data-sparse, and poorly monitored or poorly understood regions.

GWFO was realized, in part, through the extensive investments made through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund through its Global Water Futures program (GWF; www.globalwaterfutures.ca), along with other infrastructure grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and other entities, and federal and provincial government investments. GWF was itself built upon a strong series of predecessor water research networks and initiatives in Canada. Recent investment from CFI through its Major Science Initiative (MSI) allows for the continuation of GWF's management of data, observations, operations of the instrumented sites, deployable systems, and water labs, some of its outreach and knowledge mobilization with data users. Further, the addition of new partners such as the Real-Time Aquatic Ecosystem Observation Network (RAEON; https://raeon.org/) expands and enhances the program. This new funding through the CFI-MSI sustains the legacy of GWF's and RAEON's unique freshwater observing network and sophisticated data telemetry, storage, management, and visualization system as the GWFO facility.