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The Great Lakes
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Lakes

The Great Lakes of North America

Much of the information in this section is revisited in the Other section of this page, or on other pages of this website, in 'question and answer' format.

The five Great Lakes of North America (often referred to simply as the Great Lakes) form an inter–connected sequence. Along with the rivers that connect them, they form a significant part of the border between Canada and the USA. The largest of them, Lake Superior, is the world's second largest lake, after the Caspian Sea; lakes Huron and Michigan are fourth and fifth respectively (third largest is Lake Victoria).

Lake Michigan does not form part of the border, and is entirely within the USA. It's the largest lake in the world that's entirely in one country. The state of Michigan is actually separated into two parts by the lakes Michigan and Huron (and the Straits of Mackinac, which separates the two lakes).

The basin that feeds the five Great Lakes of North America covers an area roughly the size of the United Kingdom and France combined. The total surface area of the five lakes is roughly the same as that of the UK. The five lakes contain about 5,439 cubic miles of water – about 21% of the world's surface fresh water by volume.

Many of the largest cities in the USA and Canada are on or near the shores of the Great Lakes. Green Bay, a city made famous by the Packers NFL franchise, is named after an inlet of Lake Michigan.

Water flows through the lakes from west to east. Fortunately for the quizzer, the order of size is effectively the same as the order in which the water flows, and because this is from west to east it's the same order that we see them in on a map.

It's now time for a mnemonic! The five lakes are, from west to east (with their respective surface areas in square miles):

Superior Michigan Huron Erie Ontario
31,700 22,300 23,000 9,910 7,340

There are two commonly–used mnemonics for remembering this order:

Sally Made Henry Eat Onions
Sergeant Major Hates Eating Onions

I said above that the order of size is "effectively" the same as the order of water flow. I can get away with this because hydrologically speaking, lakes Huron and Michigan are just one lake (separated, as we have seen, by the Straits of Mackinac), so water doesn't actually flow between them. In fact, as you can see from the first table above, Lake Huron is slightly larger than Lake Michigan.

You can also see that the first three lakes (Superior, Michigan and Huron) are all roughly the same size, as are the last two (Erie and Ontario); but each of the first three is significantly larger than either of the last two – Michigan is well over twice the size of Erie.

The lakes are fed by countless rivers; Lake Superior alone is said to be fed by over two hundred, none of which is predominant. But each lake is drained by just one river, which in the case of the first four connects it to the next lake in the series – and in the case of Lake Ontario, connects it to the sea. This gives rise to a sequence which can come up in quizzes. To explain this however, we need to introduce one more lake: Lake St. Clair, which sits between Huron and Erie. Its area is just 430 square miles – in other words, it's about one seventeenth the size of Lake Ontario.

The following table gives the names of the five rivers in question.

Superior to Huron Click to show or hide the answer
Huron to St. Clair Click to show or hide the answer
St. Clair to Erie Click to show or hide the answer
Erie to Ontario Click to show or hide the answer
Ontario to the sea Click to show or hide the answer

You may have noticed that Lake Michigan doesn't appear this sequence. As explained above, it's really part of the same lake as Huron. If you're asked about the order in which water flows through the lakes, you can think of the word SHEO – which is almost like SHOE, except that the last two letters are the wrong way round!

The Niagara River is of course the one that flows over Niagara Falls, and two popular quiz questions ask which lake is above or below Niagara Falls. To help us remember the answers, we have the help of the English National Opera, or ENO (Erie – Niagara – Ontario).

Since 1829, lakes Erie and Ontario have also been connected by the Welland Canal (which bypasses Niagara Falls).

Other

Maximum depth of Loch Ness Click to show or hide the answer
Once the world's 4th largest lake, but now reduced to less than 10% of its former size (since the rivers that fed it were diverted in the 1960s – causing a major ecological disaster); lies between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan Click to show or hide the answer
Lake Sevan – currently (2005) covers 3% of the country's surface area (940 km2), but prior to human intervention in the Soviet era it was 1,360 km2 Click to show or hide the answer
Crater lake in Djibouti: at 509 ft (155 m) below sea level, the lowest point on land in Africa and the second–lowest land depression on Earth after the Dead Sea; the world's largest salt reserve — surface area 21 sq miles (54 km2). (Lake Karum, in Ethiopia, is sometimes known by the same name.) Click to show or hide the answer
Lake Nasser was formed by the Click to show or hide the answer
Lake Eyre (largest); Lake Amadeus, Lake Disappointment, Lake Torrens Click to show or hide the answer
The world's deepest lake; and the largest entirely within one country (although only marginally larger than the Great Bear Lake) Click to show or hide the answer
English name for Llyn Tegid, Wales's largest natural lake Click to show or hide the answer
Largest lake in Central Europe – often known as "the Hungarian sea" Click to show or hide the answer
The only Lake in the English Lake District Click to show or hide the answer
Lake at the junction of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (German name) Click to show or hide the answer
Great Slave Lake, Great Bear Lake; about two million lakes altogether (half of the world's total) Click to show or hide the answer
The world's largest enclosed inland body of water, by area, and thus generally regarded as the world's largest lake (see also Seas) Click to show or hide the answer
Shores in Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon, as well as the country with the same name Click to show or hide the answer
The Italian resort of Bellagio lies at the tip of the peninsula that bifurcates Click to show or hide the answer
Donald Campbell was killed (1967) on Click to show or hide the answer
English name for the Bodensee Click to show or hide the answer
Largest lake in the Republic of Ireland Click to show or hide the answer
The world's lowest point on land (430 metres below sea level in 2017) Click to show or hide the answer
Largest of three lakes on the River Shannon, and second largest in the Republic of Ireland Click to show or hide the answer
Keswick lies just off the northern shore of Click to show or hide the answer
Cleveland, Ohio is on Click to show or hide the answer
Separated by Niagara Falls (above and below, respectively) Click to show or hide the answer
Artificial lake near Pitlochry Click to show or hide the answer
Land of a Thousand Lakes (actually claims to have over 60,000) Click to show or hide the answer
Italy's largest lake, by area Click to show or hide the answer
Lac Leman is the French name for Click to show or hide the answer
Lausanne is on the shore of
Separated from the main body of Lake Huron by the islands of Manitoulin (the world's largest lake island) and Macinac Click to show or hide the answer
Lake in County Sligo, but partly in County Leitrim (Republic of Ireland), with around 20 islands, including Innisfree – mentioned in the poetry of W. B. Yeats Click to show or hide the answer
Lake Volta is the largest lake in Click to show or hide the answer
8th largest lake in the world, and the largest entirely in Canada Click to show or hide the answer
Lake in Arizona, crossed by London Bridge Click to show or hide the answer
Second largest of the Great Lakes Click to show or hide the answer
The largest lake in Western Europe: formed by the blocking off of the Zuider Zee (in the Netherlands), named after the river that feeds it (the IJssel) Click to show or hide the answer
The world's largest man–made lake: on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe; created between 1958 and 1963 by damming the Zambezi River Click to show or hide the answer
Lake Naivasha is a freshwater lake with no visible inlet or outlet, in Click to show or hide the answer
England's largest reservoir – in terms of volume of water (cf. Rutland Water) Click to show or hide the answer
Europe's largest lake (the world's 14th largest) – Russia, near St. Petersburg; drained by the River Neva Click to show or hide the answer
Loch Seaforth Click to show or hide the answer
Scottish freshwater loch with the greatest surface area (cf. Loch Ness) Click to show or hide the answer
Former salt lake, now dried up due to damming, in north–western China: often said (e.g. on Wikipedia) to be the westernmost extremity of the Great Wall of China Click to show or hide the answer
Italy's longest lake (but see Lake Garda); mainly in Italy but partly in Switzerland Click to show or hide the answer
Locarno (Switzerland), Arona, Verbania and Luino (Italy) are on the shores of
The Borromean islands (Isola Bella, Isola Madre, Isola dei Piscatore) and the Brissago islands (San Pancrazio or Grande Isola, Isolino or Isola Piccola) are in
Third largest lake in Africa: formerly known as Lake Nyasa Click to show or hide the answer
Largest lake in South America (Venezuela) – connected to the Gulf of Venezuela (Caribbean Sea) by Tablazo Strait Click to show or hide the answer
Lake formed by the Hoover Dam – the USA's largest man–made lake, when full (which it hasn't been since 1983) Click to show or hide the answer
The only Lake in Scotland (all the others are lochs, or lochans, etc.) Click to show or hide the answer
The only Great Lake that's entirely in the USA; name is Native American for 'Great Lake' Click to show or hide the answer
Chicago and Milwaukee are on; Green Bay is an arm of
The deepest freshwater lake (loch) in Scotland, and in the British Isles Click to show or hide the answer
Kenyan lake with the world's largest population of flamingos Click to show or hide the answer
Formed by the Aswan Dam Click to show or hide the answer
Wadi Halfa – a town in North Sudan – was partly submerged under
Largest inland lake in the UK (and in the British Isles) Click to show or hide the answer
Circular volcanic lake near Rome, famous for the ships built by Caligula and scuppered there after his downfall (salvaged in 1929–32, destroyed by fire in 1944) Click to show or hide the answer
Known as "the Mirror of Diana" – a nearby grove is sacred to her
Scottish freshwater loch with the greatest volume of water (cf. Loch Lomond) Click to show or hide the answer
The largest lake entirely in Switzerland Click to show or hide the answer
Central America's largest lake – 98.7% of the size of Titicaca Click to show or hide the answer
Florida's largest lake (head of the Everglades, west of Palm Springs) Click to show or hide the answer
Smallest of the five Great Lakes Click to show or hide the answer
Toronto is on the shore of
The Norfolk Broads were formed by Click to show or hide the answer
Countries with shores on Lake Titicaca Click to show or hide the answer
Man–made lake in Utah – Rainbow Bridge lies on its shore Click to show or hide the answer
Lake in Staffordshire after which a famous English writer was named Click to show or hide the answer
England's largest reservoir – in terms of surface area (cf. Kielder Water) Click to show or hide the answer
Lake Tahoe is in the Click to show or hide the answer
Lake Victoria: named by Click to show or hide the answer
The Great and Little Bitter Lakes are part of the Click to show or hide the answer
Largest of the North American great lakes, and the world's largest freshwater lake (if Michigan and Huron are considered to be separate lakes) Click to show or hide the answer
Known to the Native Americans as Gichigami (big water) – rendered by Longfellow (in Hiawatha) as Gitchee Gumee
North America's largest Alpine lake: in the Sierra Nevada, on the border of California and Nevada, at an altitude of 6,225 ft (1,897 m); a major tourist attraction and skiing centre Click to show or hide the answer
Ethiopia's largest lake, and the source of the Blue Nile Click to show or hide the answer
The World's longest freshwater lake; second largest in Africa, by surface area Click to show or hide the answer
Largest natural lake in Wales Click to show or hide the answer
Also known as the Sea of Galilee Click for more information Click to show or hide the answer
Second largest lake in South America, by surface area (after Maracaibo), and the largest by volume of water Click to show or hide the answer
Highest navigable lake in the world
Lake in Kenya, formerly known as Lake Rudolf, where the British anthropologist Richard Leakey made many important discoveries of early human remains – including a skull believed to be approximately 1.9 million years old Click to show or hide the answer
Second largest lake in the English Lake District (after Windermere) Click to show or hide the answer
Pooley Bridge and Patterdale lie at either end of
Africa's largest lake, and the world's second largest freshwater lake after Lake Superior: surface area approximately 68,800 square km (26,600 square miles); crossed by the equator Click to show or hide the answer
The world's largest reservoir, or man–made lake (Ghana) – formed by the Akosombo Dam, and named after the river that was dammed to form it Click to show or hide the answer
Deepest lake in England Click to show or hide the answer
Largest lake in England Click to show or hide the answer
The village of Ambleside lies at the northern end of

© Haydn Thompson 2017–18