How Big Is Lake Superior?

Shores of Lake Superior, near Duluth, Minnesota in autumn.

5. Description

With a drainage basin of 127,700 square kilometers, Lake Superior is the largest of the five Great Lakes of North America. The lake is the most northwesterly among the Great Lakes, and is bounded by the Canadian province of Ontario and the state of Minnesota in the United States to the north, and the states of Wisconsin and Michigan in the United States to the south. Lake Superior receives water from over 200 rivers, the largest ones being Nipigon and the Saint Louis. The lake discharges its waters into the adjacent Lake Huron at its eastern end via the St. Mary’s River. Lake Superior has an average elevation of 600 feet above sea level, and a maximum depth of 1,332 feet. Isle Royale, St. Ignace, Apostle Islands, and Michipicoten are some of the most famous islands of Lake Superior.

4. Historical Role

Lake Superior, like the other Great Lakes of North America, was formed during the last Ice Age from the melting of glaciers. The lake region was probably inhabited by humans as far back as 10,000 years ago. The Plano people lived during this time, and practiced a hunting-gathering lifestyle here. In later years, a number of other Indian tribes occupied the lake and its surrounding habitats. In 1622, French explorer Étienne Brûlé became the first European to sight the Lake Superior. Since then, numerous European explorers, missionaries, and merchants traveled along the lake, many mapping its navigational routes as they went. Fur trading developed at a rapid pace along the lake and, in 1679, Lake Superior was opened to active fur trading. Between 1763 and 1793, the lake came under complete control of the British, but later, in 1817, Astor’s American Fur Company claimed the land for itself. A large number of shipwrecks have also been recorded on this lake, with the last one being the SS Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975.

3. Modern Significance

The recreation industry is quite well developed in the Lake Superior region, with seasonal hunting, fishing, and tourism each generating significant amounts of income for the local economy. There are also vast areas of privately owned forests along the lake yielding timber for commercial use. Lake Superior is also famous for the vast mineral resources buried in the area surrounding the lake. Iron ore, silver, copper, and nickel are currently mined at various sites near the lake. The Lake Superior also forms an important waterway, and allows for the transport of large and small cargo vessels carrying mined minerals along the lake to the processing industries at various locations. Food grains grown in the agricultural fields around the lake's basin are also transported via these same water routes to their own processing and distribution centers.

2. Habitat and Biodiversity

Though Lake Superior is not located close to the sea coast, its large size reduces the effects of a continental climate, thereby moderating the summer and winter temperatures, and at times creating "lake effect" snows in the winter. However, despite its large size and volume, Lake Superior is an oligotrophic lake, housing a relatively lower diversity of aquatic species than the other Great Lakes. This is because the lake has very little dissolved nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which are needed to support the growth of aquatic species. Despite this fact, over 80 fish species are still found in the waters of the lake, such as, for example, Lake sturgeons, Lake whitefish, walleye, Yellow perch, Brook trout, and Rock bass. The Lake Superior basin also encompasses some variety of micro-environments and habitats. like the Kakagon Slough, a 16,000-acre cold water wetland with a significant population of the threatened Piping plover birds and nurseries for the rapidly disappearing Lake sturgeon. Old growth forests of the Algoma Highlands and Lake Superior Highlands, along with other wild habitats along the lake, support populations of mammals like black bears, and lynxes, as well as such birds as Bald eagles, raptors, Peregrine falcons, and others.

1. Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes

Climate change poses a serious risk to the Lake Superior ecosystems. Due to its enormous size, the lake absorbs larger amounts of the sun’s rays than other lakes of smaller size. Reports estimate that Lake Superior’s summer surface water temperature has risen by 2.5° Celsius since 1979. This not only subjects the native cold water species of the lake to increased stress, but also promotes the proliferation of invasive species like Sea lampreys. The multiplication of invasive species significantly reduces the number of native species in the waters of the lake, disturbing the ecological balance of the aquatic ecosystem. Developmental activities along the shore of Lake Superior are also another significant threat to the integrity of Lake Superior and its biodiversity.


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