Great Lakes

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Great Lakes basin

The Great Lakes are a series of five lakes located between the United States and Canada in north central North America. Together they are the largest group of fresh water lakes on Earth, making up 18% of total world supply.

The Great Lakes comprise:

Great Lake Details
Lake Area
(sq. miles)
(cubic miles)
Maximum depth
Height above sea level
Superior 31,700 2900 1332 600 2726 St. Marys River
Michigan 22,300 1180 925 577 1638 Straits of Mackinac
Huron 23,000 850 750 577 3827 Straits of Mackinac
Erie 9,910 116 210 569 871 Niagara River
Ontario 7,340 393 802 243 712 St. Lawrence River

Although several other large lakes and islands make up part of the Great Lakes System. They drain through the Saint Lawrence River into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. In 1959 the Saint Lawrence Seaway opened the Great Lakes to ocean-going boats, allowing travel well into the heart of North America. Although the Great Lakes themselves had been connected before this by a series of canals.

Since 1909 the United States and Canada have cooperated on the management and control of lake water with the International Joint Commission (IJC). At Niagara Falls, as much as 60% of the water is diverted for hydroelectric power generation for Ontario and New York State.

Because of the large size of the lakes many of the larger cities experience lake effect snow, where westerly winds capture moisture over the unfrozen lakes and when cooled over the land, heavy snows can fall. Additionally the lakes can moderate the warm temperatures in the summer, and release the heat in the fall.

Decline in Water Levels

"Government forecasters are projecting that Lake Superior, the largest of the five, will fall to its lowest level for September since modern recordkeeping began nearly a century ago."[1]


  • [1] The Great Lakes - An Environmental Atlas and Resource Book