Lake Erie

LAKE ERIE BASIN Michigan Sea Grant

Lake Erie

Bordered by: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York and Ontario.
Inflow from Detroit (and Maumee) River(s)
Outflow to Niagara River
Dimensions: 241 mi long by 57 mi wide by 210 ft deep max (62 ft av.)
Surface Area: 9.910 mi sq.
Water Volume: 116 mi cu
Islands: 31 total, 13 Canadian, 18 American
Water Cycle: 2.6 years

Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, but it is certainly not uniform in depth. As you can see below, the lake is divided into different areas with different depths.  Most relevantly, the western portion of the lake is incredibly shallow, especially around the coastlines and where the river-mouths are.


Bathymetric map of Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, from Wikipedia


Connecting Waters

Lake St. Clair sits right above Lake Erie and right below Lake Huron. This small lake only take a week on average to cycle its water, which then flows through the Detroit River.  The Detroit River, much like Lake Erie, has had its share of various pollution problems over the years, including nutrient pollution, but has been cleaned up quite a bit.






The largest watershed areas are Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario.


All of the lakes are large enough to have microclimates which produce similar affects to oceans – they act as heat sinks in summer, keeping the area from getting too hot, and heat sources in winter, keeping the area from getting too cold.  This is certainly true even for shallow Lake Erie, though Erie is unique in that it can completely freeze over in the winter. The lakes can cause localized snowfall which is termed “lake effect snow” and around Lake Erie this phenomenon is especially common on the eastern shore.  The ice covers can limit this sometimes extreme snow by preventing the warm lake water that causes it from escaping into the cooler air.  However, as the world is heating up due to climate change, winters are seeing less ice cover on the lake. The effects of climate change also include more evaporation which lowers water levels, but also more rain, which may come at unexpected and inopportune times.


The microclimate effect of the lake also means that temperatures fluctuate less around the lake than they do further inland, even in the coldest of winters.  This is great for agriculture.  However, agriculture (on the large scale) is in turn bad for the lake.

Maumee River

Most nutrient pollution comes from the Maumee river, even though it’s not the primary source of water.