The Great Lakes contain the largest supply of fresh water on earth; 20% of the earth's total fresh water; 9,402 miles of shoreline; and 94,710 total square miles of surface area (about the size of Texas). The Great Lakes basin is a 295,200 square mile area within which all surface area drains into the Great Lakes. It includes parts of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ontario and Quebec.
"Uppermost Lake" (French); Kitchi-gummi, a Chippewa Indian translation, signifies "Great Water," or "Great Lake." A Jesuit name, "Lac Tracy," was never officially adopted.
Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes by surface area and volume, and rich in natural resources.
Surface Area: 31,700 mi2 / 82,100 km2 Volume: 2,934 mi3 / 12,230 km3
Length: 350 mi / 563 km
Depth: 489 ft / 149 m average; 1,335 ft / 407 m maximum
Shoreline Length: 2,726 miles / 4,385 km (including islands)
Elevation: 600 ft / 183 m
Outlet: St. Marys River to Lake Huron
Retention/Replacement Time: 191 years
Champlain called it the Grand Lac. It was later named "Lake of the Stinking Water" or "Lake of the Puants," after the people of other nations who occupied its shores. In 1679, the lake became known as Lac des Illinois, because it gave access to the country of the Indians od that name. Allouez called it Lac St. Joseph, by which name it was often designated by early writers. Others called it Lac Dauphine. Through the further explorations of Jolliet and Marquette, it received its final name of Michigan, Algonquian for "Great Water."
Michigan is the third largest Great Lake (although Lake Huron-Michigan, at 45,300 mi2 / 117,400 km2 is technically the world's largest freshwater lake. This is because what have traditionally been called Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are really giant lobes of a single lake connected by the five mile wide Strait of Mackinac.)
Surface Area: 22,278 mi2 / 57,750 km2
Volume: 1,180 mi3 / 4,920 km3
Length: 307 mi / 494 km
Depth: 279 ft / 85 m average; 925 ft / 282 m maximum
Shoreline Length: 1,659 miles / 2,670 km (including islands)
Elevation: 581 ft / 177 m
Outlet: Straits of Mackinac to Lake Huron
Retention/Replacement Time: 99 years
Since its French discoverers knew nothing as yet of the other lakes, they called it La Mer Douce, the sweet or fresh-water sea. A Sanson map in 1656 refers to it as Karegnondi.
Huron is the second largest Great Lake (although Lake Huron-Michigan, at 45,300 mi2 / 117,400 km2 is technically the world's largest freshwater lake. This is because what have traditionally been called Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are really giant lobes of a single lake connected by the five mile wide Strait of Mackinac.) It has the longest shoreline of the Great Lakes, counting its 30,000 islands.
Surface Area: 22,973 mi2 / 59,500 km2
Volume: 850 mi3 / 3,540 km3
Length: 206 mi / 331 km
Depth: 194 ft / 59 m average; 748 ft / 229 m maximum
Shoreline Length: 3,827 miles / 6,157 km (including islands)
Elevation: 581 ft / 177 m
Outlet: St. Clair River to Lake Erie
Retention/Replacement Time: 22 years
The greater part of its southern shore was at one time occupied by the Eries, a tribe of Indians from which the lake derived its name. This name is always mentioned by the early French writers as meaning "cat"; Lac du Chat means "Lake of the Cat." Many attribute this reference to the wild cat or panther.
Lake Erie is the fourth largest Great Lake and is the shallowest and warmest.
Surface Area: 9,906 mi2 / 25,657 km2
Volume: 116 mi3 / 483 km3
Length: 210 mi / 338 km
Depth: 62 ft / 19 m average; 210 ft / 64 m maximum
Shoreline Length: 871 miles / 1,400 km (including islands)
Elevation: 571 ft / 174 m
Outlet: Niagara River and Welland Canal
Retention/Replacement Time: 2.6 years (shortest of the Great Lakes)
Champlain first called it Lake St. Louis in 1632. On a Sanson map in 1656, it remained Lac de St. Louis. In 1660, Creuxius gave it the name Lacus Ontarius. Ontara in Iroquois means "lake," and Ontario, "beautiful lake."
Ontario is the smallest in surface area of the Great Lakes.
Surface Area: 7,340 mi2 / 18,960 km2
Volume: 393 mi3 / 1,640 km3
Length: 193 mi / 311 km
Depth: 282 ft / 86 m average; 804 ft / 245 m maximum
Shoreline Length: 726 miles / 1,168 km (including islands)
Elevation: 246 ft / 75 m
Outlet: St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean
Retention/Replacement Time: 6 years
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