Holding 21% of the world’s surface freshwater and boasting an amazing array of flora and fauna, the Great Lakes is one of the many wonders of Mother Nature. In this article on Great Lake facts, we will go through some of the most mind-blowing facts that you will love to learn.
Great Lakes General Facts: 1-4
1. Great Lakes are a chain of interconnected freshwater lakes. They are also known as Laurentian Great Lakes or Great Lakes of North America.
2. These lakes are located in the upper mid-east area of North America – basically on Canada’s and USA’s border.
3. River Saint Lawrence connects the Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.
4. Great Lakes comprises Lake Superior, Lake Erie, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Ontario.
Great Lakes Facts: 5-11 | Origin of the Names of the Lakes
5. The name Lake Superior is derived by French word “ac supérieur” meaning the upper lake which generally refers to its positioning (north of Huron).
6. Ojibwe (indigenous group in North America) people call Lake Superior as gichi-gami. Gichi means big, large or great and Gami refers to either sea, lake, or water.
7. Lake Erie word is derived from the Erie tribe. The word from which the name is derived is ‘erielhonan’ – an Iroquoian word which means Long Tail.
8. Lake Michigan is again derived from the language of Ojibwe people. It is derived from mishi-gami where mishi means great, and gami is water or lake.
9. Lake Huron was named after Wyandot (indigenous group in North America) who were known as Hurons.
10. They called Lake Huron as karegnondi. This lake was given different names by travelers like Freshwater Sea, Lake of the Hurons, or lake.
11. Lake Ontario’s name is derived from the language of Wyandot people. Wyandots called Lake Ontario as ontarí’io meaning lake or water body of shining waters.
Great Lakes Facts: 12-20 | Statistics of Great Lakes
12. 21% of the world’s surface freshwater is present in Lakes. The Lakes hold nearly 22808290948810.85 cubic meters or 6 quadrillion U.S. gallons or 6,02,53,12,97,69,43,847 US gallons. (US gallon is a unit of measurement of fluid capacity and volume used in the USA. One cubic meter is equal to 264 US gallons).
13. If you are wondering how much water is this, then it can equally cover all the 48 contiguous states of the USA with a depth of 2.9 meters.
14. The same volume of water, if equally distributed over the area of the continent, can cover the continent with a depth of 1.5 meters.
15. Though Great Lakes contain so much of freshwater, their contribution to the drinking water supply in the US is negligible.
16. The total surface area of the Lakes is 94,250 square miles. This area is approximately similar to the United Kingdom, or larger than New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire put together.
17. The coastline measures up to 10,500 miles. This is just an approximation because the coast cannot be measured exactly.
18. 5,200 miles are present in Canada, and the rest 5,300 miles are present in the United States of America.
19. The state of Michigan has the longest shoreline (3,288 miles). Wisconsin with 820 miles comes second. New York (473 miles) and Ohio (320 miles) come third and fourth respectively.
20. Did you know that traveling across the shoreline of Great Lakes is equivalent to travelling halfway around the equator?
Great Lakes Facts: 21-31 | Geology of Great Lakes
21. The creation of geological factors which would be conducive of the formation of Great Lakes started some 1.1 to 1.2 billion years ago.
22. Around 1.1 to 1.2 billion years ago, two tectonic plates split up and formed a rift called Midcontinent Rift. This rift traversed Great Lakes Tectonic Zone.
23. A valley was created which provided for a basin which is present day’s Lake Superior.
24. A second rift called St. Lawrence rift was formed around 570 million years ago. This led to the creation of basins for Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. It is this rift which created River St. Lawrence.
25. The lakes was formed when the last glacial period (Wisconsin glaciation which happened around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago) was ending when the Laurentide Ice Sheet was decreasing.
26. Many basins were formed because of the erosion of glaciers, and once the ice sheet receded, the basins were filled with water creating Lake Chicago, Champlain Sea, Lake Algonquin, and Glacial Lake Iroquois.
27. As the glacial erosion was not equal, there were few high lands. These few higher hills are termed as Great Lakes islands.
28. As the glacial ice layer was uncovered, the land below it rebounded, or the land below it rose a little.
29. The melting of the glacier was not even, and hence the glacial rebound was also uneven.
30. Ice volcanoes are formed here during the wintertime. Waves generated from the storms carve the ice sheets of the lake and produce conical mounds.
Great Lakes Facts: 32-43 | The climate of Great Lakes
32. The climate of the Great Lakes can be broadly termed as a humid continental climate.
33. According to Köppen climate classification (Climate classification given by Russian climatologist, Wladimir Köppen. It is one of the widely used climate classifications in the world) Great Lakes climate is divided into two categories which are:
- Dfa – It is seen in the southern region of Great Lakes. The climate is hot-summer humid continental climate. The coldest month may have a temperature below 0o C, but normal temperatures range from 10o to 24o C. There is negligible difference in the rainfall across various seasons.
- Dfb – It is seen in the northern region of Great Lakes. The climate here is warm-summer humid continental climate. Precipitation doesn’t vary with changing in seasons.
34. The climate is influenced by air masses of different regions like:
Dry and cold Arctic system.
The warm and wet tropical system from the south and the Gulf of Mexico.
Mild Pacific air masses from the west.
35. Lakes have a moderating effect on the climate. The local weather is influenced by the lake effect of Great Lakes.
36. This weather phenomenon is typical of Great Lakes and is mostly localized to the surrounding areas of Great Lakes.
37. Lake Effect is usually seen in late autumn and winters. For lake effect to take place, the air must be colder than the surface of the water.
38. The warmer, moist air of lakes moves over to the cold land and then it results in snowfall. The amount and intensity of snowfall are dependent on the difference in temperature of the air on the surface of the water and the air above it.
39. The lake effect is seen in bands which are termed as “streamers.” The areas which come beneath these streamers experience snowfall and the areas where streamers are not present experience sunny weather.
40. The streamers may run as long as 100 miles and sometimes can extend from Lake Superior to reach New England coasts via the Atlantic Ocean.
41. However, usually, the streamers stop at the Appalachian Mountains. These streamers tend to shift paths as their movement is based on the wind flow.
42. These streamers or snow belts are found in areas like Ohio, Wisconsin, New York, Michigan (of United States), Ontario (of Canada).
43. This effect is seen to strengthen the storms like Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Ontario tornado, etc.
Great Lakes Facts: 44-63 | Geography of Great Lakes
44. These five lakes, though appear to be separate, are interconnected within Great Lakes Basin.
45. Water flows from Lake Superior to Lake Huron to Lake Michigan and then to Lake Erie and finally to Lake Ontario.
46. The water is drained into many rivers, and there are around 35,000 islands in Great Lakes Basin.
47. There are thousands of small lakes (which are called the inland lakes) present within the basin.
48. We already said that the Great Lakes’ surface area is equal to the area of United Kingdom, but if you count the whole of basin’s surface area, then it is equal to the area of UK and France put together.
49. The only lake present in the US completely is Lake Michigan. Others are present on the boundary of Canada and US.
50. These lakes flow through the states of Ontario (Canadian province), Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
Some Figures of the 5 Lakes of the Great Lakes
Surface Area – 31,700 sq. mi.
Water Volume – 2,900 cu. mi.
Elevation – 600 ft.
Depth – 483 ft. (avg) and 1,333 ft. (max)
Surface Area – 23,000 sq. mi.
Water Volume – 850 cu. mi.
Elevation – 577 ft.
Depth – 195 ft. (avg) and 748 ft. (max)
Surface Area – 22,300 sq. mi.
Water Volume – 1,180 cu. mi.
Elevation – 577 ft.
Depth – 279 ft. (avg) and 925 ft. (max)
Surface Area – 9,910 sq. mi.
Water Volume – 116 cu. mi.
Elevation – 571 ft.
Depth – 62 ft. (avg) and 210 ft. (max)
Surface Area – 7,340 sq. mi.
Water Volume – 393 cu. mi.
Elevation – 246 ft.
Depth – 283 ft. (avg) and 804 ft. (max)
51. The surfaces of Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie are at a nearly same elevation above sea level.
52. Lake Ontario’s surface is lower than the rest of them. Because of the Niagara Escarpment (steep slope which runs through USA and Canada), any natural navigation is impossible, and hence the four upper lakes are called “upper great lakes.”
53. This terminology is not a universal one. People living on the shores of Lake Superior call other lakes as lower lakes. The sailors who transfer cargoes along from Lake Superior or Lake Michigan or Lake Huron to Lake Erie or Ontario call the first three lakes as upper lakes and the latter two lakes as lower lakes.
54. There are numerous connecting waterways which are as follows:
Great Lakes Basin connects with River Mississippi through River Chicago and River Calumet.
Lake Superior connects with Lake Huron through River St. Marys (including Soo Locks).
Lake Michigan connects with Lake Huron through Straits of Mackinac.
Lake Huron connects with Lake St. Clair through River St. Clair.
Lake Erie connects with Lake St. Clair through River Detroit.
Lake Erie connects with Lake Ontario through River Niagara and Niagara Falls.
Lake Erie connects with Lake Ontario through the Welland Canal.
Lake Ontario connects with Gulf of St. Lawrence and then to the Atlantic Ocean through River St. Lawrence and St. Lawrence Seaway.
55. Some say that Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are both just one lake as they are one hydrological body. As stated in the table, they are connected by the Straits of Mackinac.
56. The straits of Mackinac are 120 feet deep and 5 miles wide. The water levels of both the lakes are same, i.e. 577 feet and rise and fall together. The flow of water between these two lakes reverse frequently.
57. There are other water bodies which surround the Great Lakes. They are named below:
Lake Nipigon – It is connected to Lake Superior via River Nipigon.
Green Bay – It is a limb of Lake Michigan. It is connected to the lake through many islands formed by Niagara escarpment, door peninsula in Wisconsin and garden peninsula in Michigan.
Lake Winnebago – It is connected to Green Bay through River Fox. It is a part of larger Winnebago Pool.
Grand Traverse Bay – It is also a limb of Lake Michigan. It is one of the largest harbors of Great Lakes.
Georgian Bay – It is a limb of Lake Huron. It is separated from Lake Huron by Manitoulin Island, Cockburn Island, and Bruce peninsula (formed by Niagara escarpment).
Lake Nipissing – It is connected to Georgian Bay through River French.
Lake Simcoe – It is connected to Georgian Bay via River Severn. It is a part of Trent-Severn waterway.
Lake St. Clair – It is connected to Lake Huron via River St. Clair. It is also connected to Lake Erie via River Detroit.
58. There are around 35,000 islands in Great Lakes Basin. Manitoulin Island is the largest island of all, and it is in Lake Huron. It is also the largest island in any inland water body in the world.
59. Isle Royale is the second largest island. It is in Lake Superior. These two lakes are so big that they can have small lakes in those islands.
60. Lake Manitou present on Manitoulin Island is the largest lake in the world on a freshwater island.
61. It is even interesting to note that some of these lakes may even have their islands! For example, Treasure Island which is in Lake Mindemoya, which in turn is on Manitoulin Island, which is in Lake Huron. How cool is that?
62. The Great Lakes boasts several peninsulas. Some of the peninsulas are Door peninsula, Ontario peninsula, Peninsulas of Michigan, etc.
63. Again, these peninsulas have their peninsulas! Some of the mini peninsulas are Bruce peninsula, Niagara peninsula, etc.
Great Lakes Facts: 64-69 | Shipping Activities of the Lakes
64. Vessels going to oceans access the Great Lakes through Great Lakes Waterway and St. Lawrence Seaway.
65. There are other two waterways which connect to the Great Lakes and are very important.
66. Great Lakes are connected to the Gulf of Mexico via Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Another waterway is Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway.
67. Large ocean-going container ships cannot pass through Great Lakes because they fail to fit through the locks Great Lakes Waterway and Saint Lawrence Waterway.
68. As the lakes freeze during winters (January to March), most of the shipping is stopped. Some icebreakers try to keep shipping lanes open during those months.
69. Pleasure boats are also available which enter and exit through Erie Canal and River Hudson in New York.
Great Lakes Facts: 70-72 | Water Levels of the Lakes
70. Near about 1% of new water is added through rainfall, rivers and groundwater springs.
71. Usually, there is a balance between the evaporation and formation of freshwater. However, there was a slight dip in the water levels, but as of now, the levels have again risen.
72. Two of the main reasons for the drop in water levels is consumption and diversion of lakes water to other water bodies.
Great Lakes Facts: 73-83 | Flora and Fauna of Great Lakes
73. Great Lakes is bestowed with many varied forest ecoregions barring a small part of southeast Lake Michigan (where prairie or a savanna may rule).
74. Shores of Lake Superior has around 91% forested area. Lake Huron (68%), Lake Ontario (49%), Lake Michigan (41%), and Lake Erie (21%) follow suit.
Please note: Flora of Great Lakes is so vast that it is impossible to list all the species of plants in this article.
75. Habitats and ecoregions which are native to this region are as follows:
Southern Great Lakes Forests
Habitat of Indiana Dunes
Central Canadian Shield Forests
Central Forests-Grasslands Transition
Eastern Great Lakes Lowland Forests
Eastern Forest-Boreal Transition
Upper Midwest Forest-Savanna Transition
Western Great Lakes Forests
Laurentian Mixed Forest Province.
76. The fauna is also very diverse. Organisms like opossum shrimp, deepwater scud, copepods, deepwater sculpin rule the deep-water layers of the Great Lakes.
77. Other important organisms seen in Great Lakes are salmon, sturgeon, whitefishes, trout, etc.
78. About 160 species were discovered in Great Lakes since the 19th century. Diatoms, phytoplankton, etc. are present in the Great Lakes (producers in the food chain).
79. Many exotic species were introduced which proved problematic for both the residents and the native species.
80. Some of the invasive species are lamprey, zebra mussel, quagga mussel, alewife, different types of water fleas, Asian carp, several species of crayfish, etc.
81. These species have overpopulated different regions of the Lakes and pose a threat to the native species of the Great Lakes.
82. Did you know it is estimated that one invasive species enters the Great Lakes every 8 months?
83. Another reason for the reduction of the population of fish and other species is over fishing.
Great Lakes Facts: 84-89 | The economy of the Lakes
84. The Lakes serve as water transport for bulk cargos. Most of the freighters carry iron ore and potash.
85. Over 100 lake freighters operate without any break on the lakes. As of 2002, 162 million tons of cargo was carried on the Great Lakes.
86. As mentioned earlier, the water of Great Lakes is used for consumption in the areas adjoining these lakes.
87. TheLakes earn big time in the tourism area. Sailing ships, all sorts of fishing (sports, commercial, Native American, etc.) and water sports like yachting, diving, power boating, kitesurfing, etc. are common in Great Lakes.
88. Fishing itself brings around 4 billion dollars a year!
89. There are many steamers and other ferry services which operate on Great Lakes. They take the tourists to different islands.
Great Lakes Facts: 90-95 | Pollution and Other Factors Affecting the Lakes
90. Logging or felling of trees around the Great Lakes not only impacted the spawning fishes but also led to soil erosion, flooding, and dislocated sediments.
91. Pollution in Great lakes has increased manifolds. There is a garbage patch of plastic in Great Lakes.
92. Mercury levels have increased in the past decade. Mercury in Great Lakes is having an adverse impact on human health (because of biomagnification) as elemental mercury can be absorbed easily by the human body.
93. Sewage has always been a threat for Great Lakes. Many laws have been passed to control the influx of sewage into Great Lakes.
94. However, the influx of sewage has not stopped but just decreased to an extent.
95. Climate changes impact the size and functioning of primary producers (diatoms, phytoplankton), which in turn impacts the food web of Great Lakes.
Great Lakes Facts: 96-102 | Shipwrecks
96. Storms and reefs in Great Lakes are a common sight. Sudden changes in the weather are common, especially in autumn season.
97. Coast of Lake Superior along Grand Marias to White Point is infamously called the Graveyard of the Great Lakes.
98. Le Griffon is the first ship to sink in Michigan in 1679. It is irony to note that it was the first ship to sail on Great Lakes.
99. SS Edmund Fitzgerald is the last and largest shipwreck that happened in Great Lakes. It particularly happened in Lake Superior on 10th November 1975.
100. Lady Elgin takes the first spot in shipwrecks when it comes to the loss of life. It was wrecked in 1860 on Lake Michigan and claimed the life of 400 people.
101. Other shipwrecks are HMS Ontario, Cyprus (in Lake Superior), L. R. Doty (found in Lake Michigan).
102. There are still two warships, Inkerman and Cerisoles (both of them were French minesweepers), which are still missing in Great Lakes. These warships vanished in 1918 in Lake Superior.