Lakes are landlocked water bodies and are one of the main reserves of accessible water for humans. Although lakes can be both saline and freshwater, the latter is preferred as it translates into drinking water, along with other purposes. Lakes have long been the determinant of the location of settlements of civilisations and societies, their beliefs and value systems and their economic structure. Understandably so, the largest freshwater lakes in the world are also some of the most important lakes in the world. Here are the top 10 largest freshwater lakes in the world.
10) Lake Erie
Lake Erie is one of the largest lakes in the world, at approximately 25,720 square kilometres in area. It is the southernmost and the shallowest among the great lakes of North America, with the maximum depth of 210 feet. States of Ontario (Canada), New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio (United States of America). It was named Erie by native Americans, which translates into ‘cat’, due to its unpredictable nature. The primary inflow of water is from the Detroit level, and the outflow channels are Niagara river and the Welland Canal. However, the lake has been suffering from a number of problems in the recent years, most of them due to human activities. This has been a major cause of concern for the states dependent on this lake for their survival.
9) Great Slave Lake
The Great Slave Lake has an area of around 28,900 square kilometres and is situated in the Northern Territory of Canada. At more than 2000 feet, it is also the deepest lake in North America. Natives have lived around the lake for thousands of years and has contributed to their history. Now, the lake has a few cities on its western and northern banks, but it largely inhabited on the eastern front apart from a few tribal settlements. The lake has numerous inflow channels, like the Hay river, the Slave river, the Taltson River and the Yellowknife river. However, there is just one outflow river, namely the Mackenzie River. When the lake freezes, it forms the Ice Road, which connects various towns and allows them easier access to resources.
8) Lake Malawi
Lake Malawi is shared between the countries of Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. At 30,000 square kilometres, this lake is part of the East African Rift. It has the most number of species found in any lake in the world and hence has been declared as a biosphere reserve and national park by Mozambique and Malawi. Interestingly, Lake Malawi is a meromictic lake, which means that the layers of shallow and deep waters do now intermix, forming distinct multiple layers. The primary source of water for Lake Malawi is the Ruhuhu River, and the main outflow is the Shire River. Due to it’s unpredictable nature, it is also nicknamed as the ‘lake of storms’ by inhabitants.
7) Great Bear Lake
The largest lake situated completely in Canada, the Great Bear Lake is 31,000 square kilometres in area. Its maximum depth is approximately 1400 feet. The lake, along with the mountain ranges nearby, were named after the high population of Grizzly bear in the region. The lake is frozen throughout winter, and the temperatures remain unbearable for human beings. Therefore, the lake has little human settlement close by but is a major spot for fishing. There are also large deposits of minerals, especially uranium, close to the banks. Mining was an important activity in this area before it was shut down. The Great Bear Lake is a glacial lake, and the primary outflow is the Great Bear River.
6) Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal is situated in the Siberian region of Russia, and is famous for being the deepest lake in the world at 5,371 feet, and having the most volume of freshwater in any lakes of the world with 23,600 cubic kilometres of water. The lake itself is 31,500 square kilometres in area. It is estimated to be around 25 million years old, and perhaps one of the oldest lakes on Earth. Despite this, it has remained largely untouched by humans until recently, which allowed it to have clear waters and become the habitat of dozens of endemic species. It has 3 primary inflows, the Selenge River, the Barguzin River and the Upper Angara River. It also flows out into the Angara river. Despite its interesting characteristics, Lake Baikal has witnessed a drop in water levels which is largely attributed to human development projects and has raised an alarm with activists and natives alike.
5) Lake Tanganyika
This African lake is bordered by Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. At 32,890 square kilometres in area, it is also the world’s second deepest freshwater lake with 4,820 feet of maximum depth, and the world’s longest freshwater lake with 677 kilometres of height. The lake is surrounded by mountain ranges and is known for its extremely complex water flow patterns which are yet to be completely understood. The lake is essential for the countries’ fishing industries and is also the major source of nutrient supplies for those dwelling close to the lake. The primary inflows of the lake are the Ruzizi river, Malagarasi river and Kalambo river. The main outflow is the Lukuga river. However, it is believed that at some point the river had different inflow and outflow systems, with the Nile being one of them.
4) Lake Michigan
One of the most important lakes among the Great Lakes of North America, Lake Michigan is 58,000 square kilometres in area. It is also the second most in freshwater volume within lakes, with around 4,900 cubic kilometres of water. The lake is surrounded by the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. The name ‘Michigan’ is said to be derived from the word ‘michigami’ from a native language, which means the ‘great water’. At some point in history, the lake was also referred to as lake Illinois. It has been home to a number of settlements and tribes, which have now been replaced by cities. The lake also has a number os sandy beaches, which is why it has been nicknamed the ‘third coast’ of the United States. The lake is provided with water by a number of lakes, namely the Fox River, the Grand River, the Menominee River, the Milwaukee River, the Muskegon River, the Kalamazoo River, the St. Joseph River. However, there is only one outflow, which is the Straits of Mackinac.
3) Lake Huron
West of Lake Michigan is Lake Huron, which is shared between USA and Canada. It has a surface area of 59,600 square kilometres but has lower volumes of water than Lake Michigan. It is home to the Manitoulin Island, which is the largest island to be found in any lake throughout the world. The lake in infamous for hundreds of shipwrecks in the waters, largely attributed to unpredictable weather that the water body creates. The lake was once home to a number of fish and other species of animals, but this has suffered due to the introduction of exotic and invasive species post colonisation. The primary inflows of the glacial lake are the Straits of Mackinac, the St. Marys River. The main outflow of this river is the St. Claire River.
2) Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria is one of the African Great Lakes and is named after Queen Victoria. It has a total area of 69,485 square kilometres in area and is shared by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Along with cities and towns at its banks, there are a total of 84 islands inside the lake itself. It is a relatively shallow lake and has suffered tremendously in terms of biodiversity due to the introduction of new exotic species and water pollution. As a result, the fishing industry of the area has also suffered. The lake receives water from annual rainfall, as it lies in the tropical regions. Lake Kagera is also one of the sources of water. The lake’s outflow is the river Nile, which is what it is most famous for as well.
1) Lake Superior
The largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior, is also the second largest lake in the world if one takes into account the saline Caspian sea. At 82,400 square kilometres in area, it is also the part of the Great Lakes of North America and is shared by the USA and Canada. It is believed that previously, the Caspian Sea and Lake Superior were connected, but got separated over time. The lake has an island called the Isle Royal, which contains many smaller lakes, which in turn have their own islands as well. The lake has an important role to play in the temperature and weather patterns of the area, and forms a complex pattern yet to be studied thoroughly. The lake is home to many endemic species of fish, however, some have been wiped out due to overfishing and exotic species being introduced. The lake’s primary inflows are the Nipigon River, the St. Louis River, the Pigeon River, the Pic River, the White River, the Michipicoten River and the Kaministiquia River. The only outflow of Lake Superior is the St. Mary’s River.
These magnificent freshwater lakes are not only beautiful, but also essential for human survival. We must srtive to protect these from furhter degreadation, for our sake, and for the sake of their intrinsic value.