Lake Erie[1] is the fourth largest lake (by surface area) of the five Great Lakes, and the tenth largest on earth.[2] It is the southernmost of the five lakes, and it is also the shallowest and smallest by volume as well.[3][4]. As a result of its limited depth and volume, Lake Erie has the shortest average time of water residence.

It is bounded on the north by the Canadian province of Ontario, on the south by the U.S. states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, and on the west by the state of Michigan. The lake is named after the Erie tribe of Native Americans who lived along the Ohio and Pennsylvania shore.[3]


Lake Erie (42.2° N, 81.2° W) has a mean elevation of 571 feet[5] above sea level. It has a surface area of 9,940 square miles[5] with a length of 241 miles and breadth of 57 miles at its widest points. Due to its shallow depth, Lake Erie is also the warmest of the Great Lakes[6]

Lake Erie is primarily fed by the Detroit River—including outflow waters from Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair—and drains via the Niagara River into Lake Ontario. The Huron River, River Rasin and the Maumee River watersheds also feed directly into Lake Erie. The lake's drainage basin covers 30,140 square miles.


Michigan has two islands in Lake Erie: Indian Island and Turtle Island. The later, Turtle Island, is also within the state of Ohio. The state boundary was drawn through Turtle Island during the final portion of the boundary dispute with Ohio that was known as the Toledo War. The dispute was finally resolved by the United States Supreme Court in 1973.

Hydrology Edit

Lake Erie has a lake retention time of 2.6 years, which is the shortest of all the Great Lakes.[7] The level of water in Lake Erie, however, fluctuates with the passing seasons. The lowest levels are normally in January and February and the highest can be found in June or July. Its average yearly levels also vary depending on long-term precipitation variations, with levels falling during droughts and rising during periods of extended above-average precipitation. In short term events, such as storms, water in Lake Erie can be pushed to its eastern end causing storm surge in Buffalo, New York while causing the level along the Monroe County shoreline and the port of Toledo, Ohio to drop significantly. This has to do with the southwest-to-northeast axis of the lake which can parallel the path of North American storm systems.


Native AmericanEdit

At the time of European contact, there were several groups of Iroquoian cultures living around the shores of the eastern end of the lake. The Erie tribe (from whom the lake takes its name) lived along the southern edge, while the Neutrals (also known as Attawandaron) lived along the northern shore. Both tribes were conquered and assimilated by their hostile eastern neighbours, the Iroquois Confederacy between 1651 and 1657 AD, in what is referred to as part of the Beaver Wars.[8]

For decades after those wars, the land around eastern Lake Erie was claimed and utilized by the Iroquois as a hunting ground. As the power of the Iroquois waned during the last quarter of the seventeenth century, several other, mainly Anishinaabe Native American tribes, displaced them from the territories they claimed on the north shore of the lake.[9]

European exploration and settlementEdit

In 1669, the Frenchman Louis Jolliet was the first documented European to sight Lake Erie, although there is speculation that Etienne Brule may have come across it in 1615.[10] Lake Erie was the last of the Great Lakes to be explored by Europeans, since the Iroquois who occupied the Niagara River area were in conflict with the French, and they did not allow explorers or traders to pass through. Explorers 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. The lake effect ends or its effect is reduced, however, when the lake freezes over. Being the shallowest of the Great Lakes, it is the most likely to freeze and frequently does.[11] Due to the position of Lake Erie in relation to Michigan, lake effect snow generated by this lake rarely falls in Michigan. An anticyclonic wind blowing from the east can generate snowfall on the shores of Monroe County, but this is uncommon.

Water qualityEdit

Lake Erie infamously became very polluted in the 1960s and 1970s. The water quality deteriorated due to increasing levels of the nutrient phosphorus in both the water and lake bottom sediments. The resultant high nitrogen levels in the water caused eutrophication, which resulted in algal blooms. Algae masses and fish kills increasingly fouled the shoreline during this period, but a 1969 Time magazine article about a fire on the Cuyahoga River, a tributary feeding the lake at Cleveland so embarrassed officials that the United States Congress quickly passed the Clean Water Act of 1972.[12] Also in 1972, an agreement between Canada and the United States significantly reduced the dumping and runoff of phosphorus into the lake. The lake has since become clean enough to allow sunlight to infiltrate its water and produce algae and sea weed, but a dead zone persists in the central Lake Erie Basin during the late summer. The United States Environmental Protection Agency is currently studying this cyclic phenomenon.[13] Since the 1970s environmental regulation has led to a great increase in water quality and the return of economically important fish species such as walleye and other biological life.[14]


The lake consists of a long list of well established introduced species. Common non-indigenous fish species include the rainbow smelt, alewife, white perch and common carp. Non-native sport fish such as rainbow trout and brown trout are stocked specifically for anglers to catch. Attempts failed to stock coho salmon and its numbers are once again dwindling.

The lake has recently been plagued with a number of invasive species, including Zebra and quagga mussels, the goby and the grass carp. Zebra mussels and gobies have been credited with the increased population and size of smallmouth bass in Lake Erie.[15]

References Edit

  1. United States Geological Survey Hydrological Unit Code: 04-12-02-00
  2. Large Lakes of the World.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lake Erie - Facts and Figures, Great Lakes Information Network.
  4. Erie, Lake,
  5. 5.0 5.1 The New York Times Almanac, 2007 edition
  6. Dr. Charles E. Herdendorf on WKYC
  7. Great Lakes; Basic Information: Lake Erie. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  8. Trigger, Bruce; The Children of Aataentsic (McGill-Queen's University Press, Kingston and Montreal,1987, ISBN 0-7735-0626-8), pgs.789-797.
  9. Schmalz, Peter S.; The Ojibwa of Southern Ontario (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Buffalo, London, 1991, ISBN 0-8020-2736-9), pgs.13-34.
  10. Ashworth, William (1987). The Late, Great Lakes: An Environmental History, p. 36. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814318878.
  11. What's the physics behind "lake effect snow"?. the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board.
  12. Ashworth (1987), pp. 143-44.
  13. Lake Erie 'Dead Zone'. US EPA Lake Erie 'Dead Zone'. URL accessed on December 15, 2005.
  14. Recovery of Lake Erie Walleye a Success Story. Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
  15. ESPN - 2003/04 New York Northern Open: Smallmouth haven Erie to host Northern anglers

Further readingEdit

  • Assel, R.A. (1983). Lake Erie regional ice cover analysis: preliminary results [NOAA Technical Memorandum ERL GLERL 48]. Ann Arbor, MI: U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Research Laboratories, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.
  • Saylor, J.H. and G.S. Miller. (1983). Investigation of the currents and density structure of Lake Erie [NOAA Technical Memorandum ERL GLERL 49]. Ann Arbor, MI: U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Research Laboratories, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

External links Edit

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