Just How Large Is Lake Huron?

Pine-covered island in Georgian Bay, in the Canadian portion of Lake Huron.

5. Description

With a drainage basin of 133,900 square kilometers, Lake Huron is the second largest lake among the five Great Lakes of North America. Lake Huron faces Lake Ontario towards the north and east, and Lake Michigan towards the west. It receives water from Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, and in turn discharges water into Lake Erie. The Canadian province of Ontario lies to the east of this lake and the U.S. state of Michigan lies to its west, while the North Channel and Georgian Bay, both of which are part of the lake itself, lies towards Huron's northern end. The maximum depth of this 331 kilometer-long lake is 750 feet. A number of scenic islands lie in the northeastern part of this lake, such as the world-famous Mackinac Island.

4. Historical Role

The formation of Lake Huron is believed to have occurred during the melting of glaciers towards the end of the most geologically recent Ice Age. Prior to the age of European exploration, around 25,000 Hurons, indigenous people of the Iroquois nation, lived along the shores of the Lake Huron, practicing agriculture and hunting and fishing there. In the early 1600’s, the Hurons made contact with Samuel de Champlain of the New France settlement in Quebec, and then became partakers in the French fur trade. In 1613 and 1615, respectively, Champlain was the first European to explore Lake Huron and to map a canoe route to the lake. The latter would soon became an important part of the fur trade route across the Great Lakes. Later decades witnessed further explorations of Lake Huron and its adjacent Great Lakes. Native populations in the region soon plummeted due to war and the introduction of European diseases, and were gradually replaced by Scottish and English settlements towards the latter part of the 19th Century. Fur trading, salt mining, agriculture, and lumber trading supported the economy of these early European American settlements. On November 9th, 1913, Lake Huron was hit by one of the worst storms to ever hit the Great Lakes, sinking 10 ships plying on the lake, and killing 235 sailors. Today, more than 1000 ships lie buried in the watery graveyard of the lake, many of them preserved as artifacts.

3. Modern Significance

As part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, Lake Huron currently serves as an important route for commercial water traffic, with cargo ships plying regularly upon the lake's waters carrying iron ore, cereal grains, limestone, and other commercially significant commodities. Many ports are located along the lake, including Bay City, Cheboygan, and Harbor Beach. The settlements on the northern shores of Lake Huron are more sparsely populated, and mainly depend on forestry and mining for their livelihoods, while the more populous, southern settlements on the lake practice agriculture and lumbering activities for their incomes. Both commercial fishing of perch, walleye, and whitefish, and sports fishing of Rainbow trout and perch are practiced extensively on Lake Huron. The lake's habitats also serve as a popular tourist spot, attracting a large number of tourists each year to enjoy the scenic beauty of the lake, and to participate in a number of water activities.

2. Habitat and Biodiversity

Compared to the other Great Lakes, the area around Lake Huron has a much lower human population density. This fact, combined with the fact that the lake hosts a large number of islands, which count among them around 30,000, renders Lake Huron an ideal habitat for a large number of unique plants and animals to go unharmed. Over 30 species of shoreline and wading birds, and 27 species of waterbirds, breed in the Lake Huron habitats. Exposed limestone bedrocks called "alvars" are also found in the lake region, and these support certain rare forms of plant life exclusively adapted to grow in the poorly drained soils. Another unique ecosystem found along the lake is the oak-meadow ecosystem in the Pinery, a Provincial Park in Ontario. One of the last remaining oak savanna ecosystems of the world, the Pinery houses rare species like the Blue-Hearts flower and the Five-lined lizard. Whitefish, lamprey, White perch, walleye, and Lake trout are just some of the fishes found in the waters of Lake Huron.

1. Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes

Human activities and invasive species pose the two greatest threats to Lake Huron and its surrounding ecosystems. Discharges of industrial wastes and sewage from industries and human settlements based along the shores of the lake often contaminate the waters of Lake Huron. Fertilizer and pesticide run-offs from agricultural fields also pollute the lake waters, and contribute to the introduction of non-native species of plants and animals there. Invasions of the lake by invasive species, such as the Round goby, quaggas, Zebra mussels, and Spiny water fleas, have brought down the numbers of native flora and fauna of the aquatic habitats of the lake. Lake trout populations in Lake Huron have significantly been affected by the presence of invasive species like Sea lampreys, Alewife fish, and Rainbow smelt, as these are providing fierce competition to the Lake trout for food resources. The Type E botulism bacterium (which is particularly harmful to waterbirds) and E. coli bacteria have also been detected in the lake waters in some areas in recent years, the latter killing off large numbers of aquatic fauna in the lake, and both threatening human and wildlife populations alike.


More in Environment