Forget politics for today. Let’s talk GREAT Lakes.

I was born and raised on Lake Erie. My high school was literally on the shores of the lake. My children were raised in California. They thought Lake Tahoe was “huge.” I explained to them that when we drove from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe the entire distance of the trip would not have equaled driving along one side of Lake Erie’s shore. I explained, that like an ocean, one cannot see across Lake Erie. And, as a Great Lake, Lake Erie is dinky!

The United States is blessed with geography. (I think you would enjoy the linked post on American geography.) When we asked, “God bless America,” He did! We marvel at the beauty of our Nation, but do not tend to think about the fact that our geography was the primary reason the United States became a global superpower. (Yeah, me too. What the hell?!?!)

Among our many blessings of geography is the presence of the Great Lakes. “Great” scarcely describes these wonders. The combined shoreline of the Great Lakes equals nearly 44% of the circumference of the planet.

Water in the Great Lakes: They don’t call it “Superior” for nothing

  • Lake Superior is actually not a lake at all, but an inland sea.
  • All of the four other Great Lakes, plus three more the size of Lake Erie, would fit inside of Lake Superior.
  • Isle Royale is a massive island surrounded by Lake Superior. Within this island are several smaller lakes. Yes, that means there are lakes on a lake.
  • There is enough water in Lake Superior to submerge all of North and South America in 1 foot of water.
  • Lake Superior contains 3 quadrillion gallons of water (3,000,000,000,000,000). All five of the Great Lakes combined contain 6 quadrillion gallons.
  • Contained within Lake Superior is a whopping 10% of the world’s fresh surface water.

As I mentioned, I grew up on Lake Erie.

  • Lake Erie is only the fourth-largest Great Lake in surface area, and the smallest in depth. Nonetheless, it is the 11th largest lake on the planet.
  • When I lived on Lake Erie is was terribly polluted. It literally caught fire. The joke was “Why drill for oil in Lake Erie when you can just skim it off the top.” But within 30 years it became clean through environmental protections (I consider myself an environmentalist – but CO2 is not a pollutant). The original publication of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax contained the line, “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie.” A mere fourteen years later, the Ohio Sea Grant Program wrote to Seuss to make the case that conditions had improved. He removed the line.
  • And, by the by, dear global warming alarmists, without “retreating” glaciers we wouldn’t have Great Lakes (Footnote).

Lakes Michigan and Huron:

  • If not for the the Straits of Mackinac, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron might be considered one lake. Hydrologically speaking, they have the same mean water level and are considered one lake.
  • There are massive sinkholes in Lake Huron that have high amounts of sulfur and low amounts of oxygen, almost replicating the conditions of Earth’s ancient oceans 3 million years ago. Unique ecosystems are contained within them.
  • Lake Huron is the second largest among the Great Lakes, and the fifth largest in the world.
  • Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake that is entirely within the borders of the United States.
  • The largest fresh water sand dunes in the world line the shores of Lake Michigan.

Lake Ontario:

  • Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes in surface area, and second smallest in depth. Still it is the 14th largest lake on the planet.
  • The Canadian province of Ontario is named after the lake and not the other way around.

Because the Great Lakes are linked they create a waterway with 2,212 navigable miles. When combined with the 370 miles of the Saint Lawrence Seaway it is possible for a ship to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to Minnesota!

I hope you enjoyed our little foray into the great geographic wealth of our Nation.

Roy Filly


The present day lakes are the result of glaciers advancing and retreating over thousands of years (I wonder if anthropogenic global warming was around back then). A lake that is created by a glacier is referred to as a glacial lake. It is created by the large ice sheets eroding the land and then filling the spaces when the glacier melts. The land that is eroded is deposited by the glaciers as they advance and retreat. These formations, known as moraines, make up the boundaries of the present day Great Lakes. This long process has resulted in various lake stages within the Great Lakes basin.


About Roy Filly

Please read my first blog in which I describe myself and my goals.
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4 Responses to Forget politics for today. Let’s talk GREAT Lakes.

  1. Steve Kemp says:

    Interesting facts Roy. I’m from Oakland and always figured that Lake Merritt was created by glaciers moving down from the Oakland hills!

  2. Edward Gazzano says:

    Thanks for the tour. Last year I took a 2 week boat cruise on all 5 of the Great Lakes, starting in Chicago and ending in Toronto. What an unbelievable educational journey. There were days “at sea” when you could not see land. The highlight for me was an entire day’s visit on Mackinac Island where there are no cars, only horse-pulled carriages and bicycles.

  3. Mike Burton says:

    Great point about our being blessed by our geography with two large oceans and these great reservoirs of fresh inland seas of water. We are in many ways an island nation like Great Britain because of these blessings. A common theme is that we were both insulated from foreign invasion by oceans in our case and the English Channel in their case. So, we avoided having the need for large standing armies that other powers required and built a navy which was much less costly and allowed us to enjoy the mobility advantages of projecting force cheaply.

  4. Malcolm1 says:

    @Mike – Just a small point. I do not believe that we are allowed by our Constitution to have a “standing army.” We must authorize funds annually. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

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