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Lake Erie is the fourth largest lake (by surface area) of the five Great Lakes in North America, and the thirteenth largest globally.It is the southernmost, shallowest, and smallest by volume of the Great Lakes and therefore also has the shortest average water residence time. It is bounded by Ontario to the north, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York to the south, and Michigan to the west. The lake is named after the Erie tribe of Native Americans who lived along its southern shore. The outflow from the lake provides hydroelectric power to Canada and the U.S. as it spins huge turbines at Niagara Falls.
Lake Erie History
- The Great Lakes were gouged out by glacial ice between 1 million and 12,600 years ago.
- Lake Erie was one of the first Great Lakes to be uncovered during the last retreat of the glacial ice.
- Several precursors to the modern Lake Erie have been identified, some of which lasted long enough to leave behind well-developed beaches many miles from the lake’s current position.
- The oldest rocks from which the Lake Erie basin was carved are about 400 million years old and formed in a tropical ocean reef environment.
- Lake Erie and its shoreline are a major source of many minerals. The largest sandstone quarry in the world is located in Amherst, Lorain County, Ohio. Salt mines in Cuyahoga and Lake *Counties extend out under Lake Erie and are an important source of revenue to the State. Sand, gypsum, and limestone used for construction purposes are found in abundance. Large reserves of natural gas—over 3 trillion cubic feet—are located under Lake Erie.
- Lake Erie is the twelfth largest lake in the world (in area), and its border includes four states (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan) and one Canadian Province (Ontario).
- Lake Erie is the southernmost, shallowest, warmest, and most biologically productive of the five Great Lakes. These are part of the reason it is the largest Great Lakes sport fishery.
- Lake Erie has three basins: the western basin includes the islands area; the central basin extends from the islands to about Erie, Pennsylvania, and Long Point, Canada; and the eastern basin extends from Erie, Pennsylvania to the east end of the lake.
- Lake Erie is about 241 miles (388 km) long, about 57 miles (92 km) wide at its widest, and has about 871 miles (1,402 km) of shoreline. The length of Ohio’s shoreline is about 312 miles (502 km).
- The maximum depth is 210 feet (64 m) and occurs in the eastern basin. Average depths in the basins are: western, 24 feet (7.3 m); central, 60 feet (18.3 m); and eastern, 80 feet (24.4 m).
- The water surface area is 9,910 square miles (25,667 sq. km) and the volume is 116 cubic miles (483 cu. km).
- 22,720 square miles (58,845 sq. km) of land drain directly into Lake Erie; however, if the drainage areas of the upper Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, and Huron) are included, the total drainage area of Lake Erie is 263,650 square miles (682,850 sq. km).
- Lake Erie has a retention/replacement time of 2.6 years, which is the shortest of the Great Lakes.
- Water flow from the Detroit River makes up 80 to 90 percent of the flow into the lake.
- The outlet for Lake Erie is the Niagara River; consequently, it is Lake Erie that feeds water to Niagara Falls.
- Basin rainfall is about 35 inches per year.
- About 34 to 36 inches of water evaporate from the lake surface per year.
- Elevation of the Low Water Datum (chart “0″) is 569.2 feet (173.5 m) above Father Point, Quebec. Average water elevation is about 571 feet (174 m) above the same point. Because it is so shallow, Erie is the only Great Lake that is entirely above sea level (the bottom of the other Great Lakes extend below sea level).