You are here

Facts about the Lakes

This page is part of the project: Great Lakes Climate Change and Lake-Levels

The Great Lakes


Basic Stats

  Lake Superior Lake Michigan Lake Huron Lake Erie Lake Ontario
Surface Area (mi2) 31,700 22,300 23,000 9,910 7,340
       Volume (mi3) 2,900 1,180 850 116 393
Length (mi) 350 307 206 241 193
Width (mi) 160 118 183 57 53
Shoreline (mi) 2,726 1,659 3,827 871 712
Retention Time (yr) 191 99 22 2.6 6
Drainage Basin (mi2) 49,300 45,600 51,700 30,140 24,720
Source: EPA

Various statistics on each Great Lake, with the depths being in the bathymetry section below. Lakes Michigan and Huron are considered individually in this table.  However, hydrologically these lakes are a single lake and would be the largest lake (in terms of surface area) in the Great Lakes system. Lake Superior is the largest lake, when Lakes Michigan and Huron are considered separately, in terms of surface area and volume and has the longest retention time of water by far. Lake Erie is the smallest of the Great Lakes with the lowest volume and shortest retention time of water. Because of the Georgian Bay and the Manitoulin Island (which is the largest freshwater lake island in the world), Lake Huron has the longest shoreline out of any of the lakes, even beating out Lake Superior. Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron all have comparably similar sized drainage basins, more on the specifics of each drainage basin below.


Source: NOAA (NCEI)

Note: Units are in meters.

  Lake Superior Lake Michigan Lake Huron Lake Erie Lake Ontario
Average Depth (m) 147 85 59 19 86
Maximum Depth (m) 406 282 229 64 244
Source: EPA

Color-coded map showing the bathmetry of each lake as well as the topography of the surrounding land. Table shows the numerical values for the lakes. The numbers are measured with respect to sea level. Lake Erie is the shallowest lake whereas Lake Superior is by far the deepest. Lake Ontario is the 2nd deepest lake out of the Great Lakes system when considering average depth. However, Lake Michigan has a greater maximum depth compared to Lake Ontario. 


Drainage Basins

Image result for lake huron drainage basin map

Source: Environment Canada

Color-coded map showing the overall drainage basin area as well as indicating the basins for each Great Lake. Major cities in the Great Lakes basin are also indicated. The reason the Lake Michigan drainage basin shrinks to only be right along the coast in the Chicago area is from the Chicago River as that flows into the Mississippi River. 

Elevation Profile

Image result for great lakes height profile

Source: US Army Corp of Engineers

Note: Numbers on top of lake surfaces indicate elevation above sea level (i.e. Lake Superior is 601.1ft above sea level). Numbers at the bottom of the lakes indicate maximum depth (i.e. Lake Superior's deepest point is 1330ft below its surface).

A profile view of the Great Lakes system showing the various lake's depths with respect to each other as well as the total length of the entire Great Lakes system. It also shows the man-made locks that have been constructed throughout the system,