Which Great Lake Is The Most Shallow?

Lake Erie is the most shallow of all the Great Lakes.
Lake Erie is the most shallow of all the Great Lakes.

The southernmost part of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie, is the shallowest great lake. The Great Lakes, which are also known as the Laurentian Great Lakes, are located in North America and consist of interconnected lakes which occupy an average of 94,250 square miles. The Great Lakes consist of Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie. Lake Erie is located on the Canadian and US border and is the world’s 11th largest lake when measured by surface area. It is the fourth largest among the Great Lakes regarding surface area but the smallest among them regarding volume.

The lake has an estimated 871-mile shoreline which borders the province of Ontario in Canada to the north and the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan to the east, south, and west respectively. The lake is about 241 miles long and is 52 miles at its widest point. The lake gets its name from the Erie people who are the Native American people that lived on the lake’s southern shore.

Physical and Geological Characteristics 

Lake Erie has an estimated water surface area of 9,910 square miles and has a total volume of about 116 cubic miles. The lake has three basins namely the eastern, central, and western basins and has an average depth of 62 feet. The eastern basin has an average depth of about 80 feet while the central and western basins have an average depth of 60 and 24 feet respectively with the deepest point in the lake estimated to be about 210 feet. The great lakes were formed about 12,600 years ago by glacial ice. The lakes oldest rocks are about 400 million years old. Lake Erie is thought to have been one of the first of the lakes to be formed. An estimated 22,720 square miles of land directly drain into the lake with Detroit River providing 80 to 90 percent of the lake's water.

Social-Economic Significance 

Despite being the shallowest Great Lake, Lake Erie provides the most fish of all the Great Lakes. The fishing industry on Lake Erie has an estimated economic output of $1 billion annually and supports over 10,000 jobs per annum. Fish is bountiful in the central basin when walleye migrate from the western basin in mid-summer. The lake also provides drinking water to an estimated 11 million people. The lake’s shoreline is also a significant source of sand, salt, gypsum, and limestone. The lake is home to Amherst sandstone quarry in Ohio which is the largest in the world and salt mines in Cuyahoga. Lake Erie also has reserves of natural gas estimated at 3 trillion cubic feet. The lake’s harbors have had to undergo dredging because of the relatively shallow waters to accommodate large vessels that are crucial to the industrial economy along the shoreline. The steel industry in South Pittsburg and Detroit depend on the lake for transportation of limestone and iron ore to the ports of Cleveland and Ashtabula in Ohio.


An estimated eight billion gallons of sewage waste is dumped into Lake Erie. The untreated sewage contains viruses, bacteria and parasites like Salmonella which pose a threat to the 11 million people who depend on the lake for drinking water. The Northeast Ohio, Akron, and Toledo sewer districts are estimated to contribute the bulk of the sewage that find its way into the lake. Exposure to the pathogens in untreated water through contact or ingestion can cause numerous ailments including Hepatitis and other gastrointestinal illnesses.


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