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Lake Erie

Lake Erie, looking southward from a high rural bluff near Leamington, Ontario
Lake Erie, looking southward from a high rural bluff near Leamington, Ontario

Lake Erie is one of the five large freshwater Great Lakes in North America, the world's largest such lakes. Lake Erie itself is the 13th largest natural lake, if the Caspian and Aral Seas are counted.

It has a surface area of 24,000 km² (10,000 sq. miles), an average depth of 19 meters (62 feet), and a retention time of 2.6 years. It contains 483 cubic kilometers of water. (For comparison, Lake Superior has an average depth of 483 feet (147 m), a volume of 12,232 cubic km and a retention time of 191 years.)

Lake Erie is primarily fed by the Detroit River (from Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair) and drains via the Niagara River and Niagara Falls into Lake Ontario. Navigation downstream is provided by the Welland Canal, part of the Great Lakes Waterway. Other major tributaries of Lake Erie include the Grand River, the River Raisin, the Maumee River and the Cuyahoga River.

The American states Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York are located to the south of Lake Erie; Michigan lies to the west, and the Canadian province of Ontario lies to the north. Point Pelee National Park, the southerlymost point of the Canadian mainland, is located on a peninsula extending into the lake. Several islands are found in the western end of the lake; these belong to Ohio except for Pelee Island, which is part of Ontario.

The cities of Buffalo, New York, Erie, Pennsylvania, Toledo, Ohio and Cleveland, Ohio are located on the shores of Lake Erie. It was the last of the Great Lakes discovered by the French explorers, who had followed rivers out of Lake Ontario and portaged into Lake Huron.

Like the other Great Lakes, Erie produces lake effect snow when the first cold winds of winter pass over the warm waters, leading to south Buffalo being one of the snowiest places in the United States. The effect ends, however, when the lake freezes over, which it frequently does.

Sour cherry orchard on Lake Erie shorelineLeamington, Ontario
Sour cherry orchard on Lake Erie shoreline
Leamington, Ontario

The lake is also responsible for microclimates that are important to agriculture. Along its north shore is one of the richest areas of Canada's fruit and vegetable production, and along the southeastern shore in Pennsylvania and New York is an important grape growing region.

Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and became famously polluted in the 1960s and 1970s (see Swill). It became a dead lake, eliminating favorite fishing waters for sport and commercial fishermen, but the problem did not get much attention until the great Cuyahoga River Fire in June of 1969. Pollution from Cleveland and other Ohio cities had so contaminated this tributary of Lake Erie with petrochemicals that it actually burned. The fire embarrassed state officials and impelled the U. S. federal government to impose cleanup efforts.

Environmental regulation led to a great increase in water quality and the return of fresh water fish and other biological life; however, invasive zebra mussels currently threaten the entire Lake Erie ecosystem.


1813: Battle of Lake Erie, Oliver Perry

See also

North American Great Lakes
Lake Superior | Lake Michigan | Lake Huron | Lake Erie | Lake Ontario

Last updated: 02-07-2005 02:02:40
Last updated: 02-18-2005 14:02:19