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The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes

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The Great Lakes extends from west to east, spanning more than 750 miles and are shared between the United States and Canada. Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario are dominant inland freshwater “seas” that are a significant part of both the physical and cultural heritage of North America. The lakes are valuable resources that provide water for consumption, transportation, electricity and recreation. As a freshwater ecosystem, the Great Lakes contain 84% of North America's surface freshwater and roughly 21% of the world's supply of surface fresh water.

The smallest of the lakes in volume is Lake Erie at 119 cubic miles; it’s roughly 10,000 square miles, with 871 miles of shoreline and about 62 feet (210 feet, maximum). The Erie tribe and the Iroquois are some of the first peoples that lived on the lake. The lake has more than 26 islands and is dotted with beaches and distinct lighthouses. It is a prime location for commercial freshwater fishery and is considered the Walleye Capital of the World.

Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes, at roughly 160 miles wide and about 350 miles long and is the cleanest, clearest and coolest as well. The shores of Lake Superior are varied with forests in the north where it is rocky, and its southern shores display sandstone cliffs and pebble beaches. Shipwrecks are a part of Lake Superior’s history and the wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975, is a notable example.

Lake Huron is the third largest of the lakes by volume at 850 cubic miles of water, and has a surface area of 23,000 square miles and a shoreline covering 3,827 miles. It is characterized by shallow, sandy beaches and rocky shores. The lake has some 30,000 islands, with Manitoulin Island as the most prominent island. Lake Huron is known for many shipwrecks -more than 1000.

Lake Michigan is the only lake located entirely within the United States. At roughly 22,300 square miles, it connects to Lake Huron through the Straits of Mackinac. Its name originates in the Ojibwa (Chippewa) word “michi- gami,” meaning "large lake." Lake Michigan has numerous islands, with Beaver Island as the largest. The Great Lakes’ shipwreck history extends to Lake Michigan, with its most notable maritime disaster being the sinking of the Westmoreland steamer on December 7, 1854.

Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes in surface area, at 7,340 square miles, and has a “seiche”, a natural rhythmic motion, where the water sloshes back and forth every 11 minutes. The Thousand Islands region, an archipelago of 1,864 islands and the largest island, Wolfe Island are a part of several islands on Lake Ontario. The lake is host to numerous migratory birds and is a habitat for swans, loons, ducks, geese and grebes, along with other water fowls.

The Great Lakes continue to be popular today for recreation and commercial activities. Full of history and mystery, the Great Lakes are true North American treasures.


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