Discover the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes include, Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario. These lakes form the largest fresh water system on earth and they are North America’s greatest natural resource

Great Lakes

What are the Great Lakes?

The Great Lakes—Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario—and their connecting channels form the largest fresh surface water system on Earth. If you stood on the moon, you could see the lakes and recognize the familiar wolf head shape or the mitten bounded by lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie.

The Great Lakes, in their current state, are actually one of the youngest natural features on the North American continent. Covering more than 94,000 square miles and draining more than twice as much land, these Freshwater Seas hold an estimated 6 quadrillion gallons of water, about one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water supply and nine-tenths of the U.S. supply.

The Great Lakes system includes the five Great Lakes, Lake St. Clair and the connecting channels, along with many harbors and bays. Each lake has distinctive basin features, circulation and ecology. The Great Lakes, their respective watersheds and waterways, and the ocean are all connected. Within the Great Lakes system, water flows from Lake Superior and Lake Michigan to Lake Huron, through Lake St. Clair into Lake Erie, over Niagara Falls and into Lake Ontario before flowing through the St. Lawrence River into the ocean. Rivers and streams transport nutrients, dissolved gases, salts and minerals, sediments and pollutants from watersheds into the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes watershed includes part or all of eight U.S. states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York) and the Canadian province of Ontario. Today, more than 33 million people inhabit this drainage basin: more than one-tenth of the population of the United States and one-quarter of the population of Canada.

Great Lakes at a Glance

Great Lakes Topics

Great Lakes Formation and Physical Features

The Great Lakes are bodies of fresh water, making them one of North America’s greatest natural resources. Natural forces formed the Great Lakes and they contain many physical features including marshes, dunes and beaches. These lakes continue to shape the features of their watershed through different level fluctuations which effects on our ecosystem.

Header Image
Great Lakes

Great Lakes Ecosystems

The Great Lakes contain a variety of habitats that support a broad diversity of life including several different species of plants and fish. These ecosystems each have their own range of climates and soils that support these different species. The fresh water from these lakes is also a resources that helps sustain life on land.

Header Image
Great Lakes Ecosystems

Weather, Climate, and the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes have a large influence on regional weather and climate, making it much different than what you experience inland. These large bodies of water store a lot of energy in the form of heat, impacting the weather around them.

Header Image
Weather, Climate, and the Great Lakes

Humans and the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are socially, economically, and environmentally significant to the region, the nation and the planet. Its important we work to take care of the Great Lakes because we are interconnected to the lakes and depend on them as a resource.

Header Image
Humans and the Great Lakes

The Future of the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are a very important part of our ecosystem and much remains to be learned about them. Pollution and urban sprawl affect the health of the waterway, the species within it and eventually our health. Its important to preserve the future of the Great Lakes so we can continue to use them as a resource.
Header Image
The Future of the Great Lakes

Sponsors & Partners