Today we begin a six-part series on the Great Lakes of North America, starting with Lake Erie. Lake Erie’s name comes from the Erie tribe, a shortened form of the Iroquoian word erielhonan, which means “long tail.”
Lake Erie is the fourth largest lake (by surface area) of the five Great Lakes. It is the southernmost, shallowest, and smallest by volume of the Great Lakes and therefore also has the shortest average water residence time (or detention time), which averages at about 2.6 years. Lake Erie’s water level fluctuates with the seasons as in the other Great Lakes. Generally, the lowest levels are in January and February, and the highest in June or July, although there have been exceptions. In winter, being the shallowest of the Great Lakes, it is the most likely to freeze and frequently does. In 2010, meteorologists reported that the lake had frozen over, marking the first time the lake had completely frozen over since the winter of 1995–1996. In past years, lake ice was so thick that it was possible to drive over it or go sailing on iceboats; but in the first decade of the 21st century, the ice has not been thick enough for such activities.
Lake Erie is bounded by the province of Ontario to the north, and the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York to the south, and Michigan to the west. The outflow from the lake provides hydroelectric power to Canada and the U.S. as it spins huge turbines at Niagara Falls. In a previous post, we discussed the detrimental effect of algal bloom on Lake Erie; pollution and protection have been a problem since the 1950’s and 60’s, and until the Clean Water Act was passed in 1973 and an International Water Quality Agreement between the US and Canada that same year, the amount of industrial waste and inadequately-treated sewage discharged into the lake was estimated at 1.5 billion gallons per day. Efforts are still on-going to restore the integrity of Lake Erie’s waters.
Lake Erie is by no means obsolete, though. The lake supports a strong sport fishery, as well as commercial fishing, and ice fishing when the lake has frozen over. Additionally, there are public parks, shipwreck dives, islands (most notably Kelleys island, Pellee island and South Bass island), water sports, cruises, biking and hiking, and vineyards along the shoreline. Lake Erie also floats commercial shipping enterprises with numerous ports and lighthouses. Take time this summer to explore some of the wonders of this Great Lake!