Fascinating Facts About the Great Lakes

September 22, 2014

Great Lakes from space crop labeledThe Great Lakes previously underwent the greatest freeze in over thirty-five years in 2014 when 90% of the lakes froze over.  People from around the region rediscovered areas that haven’t been explored for years.  While the magnitude of 90% is a rather mind boggling number given the total size of the lakes, there are many other amazing facts associated with these impressive bodies of water.

USCGC Hollyhock breaks ice in Lake St. Clair – Photo by Coast Guard News

The Great Lakes-which consist of Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario-are the largest freshwater bodies on earth, making up 1/5th of the world’s surface freshwater.  The Lakes collectively hold 65 quadrillion gallons of water and cover 95,160 square miles.  Lake Superior is the deepest at 1,330 ft with Lake Erie being the shallowest at 210 ft.

lake depthsAround 14,000 years ago the area was covered by a glacier more than a half-mile thick that over time left the depressions that are now the Great Lakes.  The Great Lakes has over 35,000 individual islands and boasts the largest island of any inland water body at 1,068 square miles-Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron. There are over 3,500 species of animals and plants with over 170 species of fish in the Great Lake regions.

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Photo by James Marvin Phelps/flickr

The Great Lakes have been the home to many shipwrecks and the weather can change drastically.  The waves on the Great Lakes have been reported as high as 30 feet on some occasions, being limited only due to the surface area of the lakes.  The Le Griffen was the first known ship to go down in the Great Lakes and sunk in 1679 in Lake Michigan. The most famous ship to ever sink was the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 on Lake Superior.  The Great Lakes are also one of the few places where the shear size of the lakes can influence the weather.  It is called lake effect weather, which can produce heavy snowfalls along the coasts, sometimes in clear skies.

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Zebra Mussel infestation

The biggest problem facing the Great Lakes today are invasive species.  One of the most pesky is the zebra mussel, named for its black and white stripes.  It is believed these bivalve mollusks were introduced in the mid-1980’s when a European cargo ship discharged ballast water into the Great Lakes.  The mussel was already a problem in Eastern Europe and rapidly spread here.  The zebra mussel is now found in all the Great Lake regions and causes tremendous problems due to its prolific colonization ability.  They have nearly eliminated the native clam population.  There are also over 25 non-native species of fish that have invaded the lakes, causing a degradation of the plant life and the coastal wetlands.  In response to these invasive species, the U.S. Coast Guard implemented a program in the 1990’s that requires ships to exchange their ballast water (which is used by ships to regulate its weight when it loads and unloads cargo), or seal it for the duration they are in the Great Lakes.

Hurricane HuronOne last fascinating fact about the Great Lakes-back in 1996 a cyclone occurred over Lake Huron.  It became known as Hurricane Huron and from satellite pictures resembled a tropical hurricane.  It even had an eye, 18 miles wide.

Feel free to add any other facts about the Great Lakes and check out these amazing pictures of the previous great freeze. Now to leave you with a trivia question.  What is the only Great Lake entirely within the United States borders?

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites. I hope you learn many new things here that add to your knowledge.

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