According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of ‘Great Lakes’ is:
“the large freshwater lakes (Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie,
and Ontario) which lie on the northern borders of the United States.”
The Free Dictionary adds this information to the definition of ‘Great Lake’:
“a series of five lakes between the U.S. and Canada, comprising Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior; connected with the
Atlantic by the St. Lawrence River.”
BASIC CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GREAT LAKES:
*The Great Lakes make up the largest body of fresh water on Earth, accounting for one-fifth of the freshwater surface on the planet containing 6 quadrillion gallons.
*If all the water in the Great Lakes were emptied evenly over the lower 48 states, the entire U.S. would be covered in 9 ½’ of water!
*The area of the combined Great Lakes is 95,160 square miles. This area is larger than the state of Texas.
*The Great Lakes area shore line, when laid out, could span half the circumference of the Earth!
*The Great Lakes are often referred to as “the nation’s fourth seacoast”.
*More than 30 million people live in the Great Lakes Basin. This represents 10% of the U.S. population and 30% of the Canadian population.
*Initially, the Great Lakes area was covered by a glacier that was more than a half-mile thick. As the glacier melted, it slowly moved toward Canada and left behind a series of large depressions that filled with water. These formed the basic shape of the Great Lakes, eventually taking the form that is familiar today.
*There are numerous rivers and tributaries that connect the Great Lakes. The Straits of Mackinac connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and there is such a steady flow of water between these two bodies that they could be almost be considered one lake. Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are connected by the Niagara River, including Niagara Falls. The St. Lawrence River connects Lake Ontario to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which leads out to the Atlantic Ocean.
*The Great Lakes are dotted with more than 35,000 islands. Most of the islands are small and uninhabitable.
*There have been many shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, as storms and reefs can make navigation treacherous.
*The Great Lakes have been altered considerably from pollution, plants, animals and fungus that are not native to the area. Currently, there are more than 140 federal programs designated for environmental restoration and management of The Great Lakes, according to the EPA. Eight U.S. states, Canada and 40 Tribal Nations are part of the initiative to clean up and protect the lakes.
The Great Lakes can all be found in Regions 2, 4 and 6 and border the states of: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York
FUN FACTS ABOUT THE GREAT LAKES:
A). Lake Superior
*At 31,699 square miles, Lake Superior is the largest of the 5 in surface area and in water volume which is 2,903 cubic miles.
*Lake Superior’s deepest point is at 1,332’. The average depth is 483’.
*The shoreline of Lake Superior is 2,726 miles.
*The highest wave recorded on Lake Superior was just over 31’ high.
*Lake Superior is known to ‘never give up her dead’. Over 350 ships and more than 10,000 lives have been lost to her waters.
*There are more than 78 different species of fish in Lake Superior, and hosts over 10,000 species of birds during fall migration.
*Over 300 rivers and streams empty into Lake Superior.
*In the summer, Lake Superior sees the sun set 35 minutes later on her western shore than on her eastern shore.
*Lake Superior almost never freezes over completely.
*The average temperature of Lake Superior’s water is 36°.
*Lake Superior has its own tide.
*Off of Wisconsin’s part of Lake Superior there is now a drift less area due to the dense basalt that once acted as a wall for the glaciers.
B). Lake Huron:
*Lake Huron is the 2nd largest of the Great Lakes with a surface area of 23,000 square miles.
*Lake Huron has the longest shoreline of the Great Lakes, equaling 3,827 miles.
*Lake Huron is the 3rd largest of the Great Lakes in volume, with 850 cubic miles of water.
*There are 30,000 islands on Lake Huron
*There is an Ojibway legend that says that there is a ‘great lynx’ who has an underwater den near the mouth of the Serpent River that empties into Lake Huron.
*Lake Huron is connected to Lake Michigan by the Straits of Mackinac. Some think that this makes them one lake.
*A tropical hurricane formed over Lake Huron on September 11, 1996 complete with an 18 mile wide eye. It was the largest tropical hurricane on record to form on a lake in the U.S.
*There have been more than 1,000 shipwrecks on Lake Huron with many still at the bottom and 22 of them are preserved as artifacts. They can be seen at the Fathom Five National Marine Park.
C). Lake Michigan:
*Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake that is located entirely in the U.S.
*The Ojibwa Indian word, “Mishigami” means ‘Great Water’ which eventually translated into ‘Michigan’.
*Lake Michigan is the 3rd largest of the Great Lakes with a surface area of 22,404 square miles.
*Lake Michigan is the 2nd largest of the Great Lakes by volume with 1,180 cubic miles of water.
*Lake Michigan is 307 miles long by 118 miles wide with a shoreline that is 1,640 miles long.
*Lake Michigan’s average depth is 279 feet and is 923 feet at its deepest point.
*Within Lake Michigan there is a “triangle” with a similar reputation to the Bermuda Triangle, where a large amount of ‘strange disappearances’ have occurred.
*The northern part of the Lake Michigan watershed is covered with forests, is sparsely populated, and economically dependent on natural resources and tourism. The southern portion is densely populated with industrial development and rich agricultural areas along the shore.
*Lake Michigan has so many beaches, that it is often referred to as the ‘Third Coast’ of the United States.
*Lake Michigan has over 275,000 miles of sand dunes.
*Lake Michigan empties into Lake Huron through the Straits of Mackinac at such a rate that the water is completely changes about every 100 years.
*The lake forms a link in a waterway system that reaches east to the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence River and south through the Chicago River locks, to the Mississippi River and on to the Gulf of Mexico.
*The Petoskey stone is made up of a fossilized coral, and the only place in the world it is found is on Lake Michigan beaches in northern Michigan. It has become Michigan’s state stone.
PETOSKEY STONES LAKE MICHIGAN
D). Lake Erie
*Lake Erie is the 4th largest of the Great Lakes with a surface area of 26,667 miles.
*By volume, Lake Erie is the smallest of the Great Lakes holding 116 cubic miles of water.
*Lake Erie is the 11th largest lake in the world.
*Lake Erie’s average depth is 62’ with the maximum depth at 210’, making it is the shallowest of the Great Lakes.
*Lake Erie is 241 miles long and 57 miles wide.
*Lake Erie has 871 miles of shoreline.
*The main natural outflow from the lake is via the Niagara River, which provides hydroelectric power to Canada and the U.S.
*Lake Erie has the shortest residence time of all the Great Lakes which is 2.6 years. Residence time is the amount of time that water stays in the lake.
*The Lake Erie Fisheries is one of the largest commercial freshwater fisheries in the world. This provides 10,000 jobs and boosts the economy by $1 billion annually.
*There have been reports of a ‘Loch Ness’- type monster lurking in the waters of Lake Erie. It has been described as black, about 35’ long with a ‘snake-like’ head and can move faster than a boat. During the 19th century, this monster was named, ‘Bessie’ or ‘South Bay Bessie’.
*There have also been reports of a ‘Lake Erie Mirage Effect’ where people from Cleveland can see the Canadian shoreline as if it were just offshore even though it is over 50 miles away. It is speculated that it’s a weather related phenomenon that works like an oasis mirage in the desert.
*Lake Erie is a favorite place for divers looking for shipwrecks and is estimated to have somewhere between 1,400 and 8000. There are more shipwrecks per mile than any other freshwater location in the world.
*The large number of shipwrecks on Lake Erie is attributed to the strong winds that shift the sandbars causing the wrecks.
E). Lake Ontario
*Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes by surface size covering 7,340 square miles.
*Lake Ontario’s volume is 393 cubic miles.
*Lake Ontario is 193 miles long and 53 miles wide.
*Lake Ontario’s shoreline is 1,146 miles long.
*There are about 1,864 islands that line Lake Erie’s U.S.-Canadian border.
*Baymouth Bars (longshore drifts that create bays that are completely cut off from a main body of water) have created hundreds of lagoons and sheltered harbors on Lake Ontario.
*Lake Erie’s primary inlet is the Niagara River.
*Lake Erie serves as the Great Lakes Basin’s outlet to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River.
*Lake Ontario plays host to thousands of migratory birds including birds of prey.
*Lake Ontario has a “seiche”, a natural rhythmic motion as water sloshes back and forth every 11 minutes.
*Because of the warm weather that comes in from the south, Lake Ontario almost never freezes over.
*Ontario, Canada was named for the lake and not the other way around.
*As of 2015, about 50 people have successfully swum across the lake. The first person who accomplished the feat was Marilyn Bell, who did it in 1954 at the age of 16.
*Babe Ruth hit his first major league home run at Hanlan’s Point Stadium in Toronto. It landed in Lake Ontario and is evidentially still there.
*The Lake got its name, ‘Ontario’ meaning, ‘beautiful great lake’ from the Iroquois.
The Great Lakes are exceptionally beautiful and offer so much to do and see during any time of the year. They are also so big that you can’t really appreciate the sheer size of these lakes. On our tour of the region, we did the best we could and took some boat excursions out onto the waters, climbed a few lighthouses and enjoyed some seriously high bridges! These lakes are also all located in some beautiful areas of the country, so take some to head up north and enjoy the wonders of the Great Lakes!