Lake Superior

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: General Geography

Lake Superior, Canada/USA
Lake Superior, Canada/USA - Lake Superior sunset from Michigan
Lake Superior sunset from Michigan
Coordinates 48°00′N 88°00′W
Primary sources Nipigon River,
St. Louis River
Pigeon River
Pic River
White River
Michipicoten River
Kaministiquia River
Primary outflows St. Marys River
Basin countries Canada, USA
Max-length 563 km (350 mi)
Max-width 257 km (160 mi)
Surface area 82,414 km² (31,820 mi²) Canadian portion 28,700 km² (11,080 mi²)
Average depth 147 m (482 ft)
Max-depth 406 m (1333 ft)
Water volume 12,100 km³ (2900 mi³)
Residence time (of lake water) 191 years
Shore length1 4385 km (2725 mi)
Surface elevation 183 m (600 ft)
Islands Isle Royale
Apostle Islands
Settlements Duluth, Minnesota
Superior, Wisconsin
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Marquette, Michigan
1 Shore length is an imprecise measure which may not be standardized for this article.

Lake Superior, bounded by Ontario and Minnesota to the north and Wisconsin and Michigan to the south, is the largest of North America's Great Lakes. It is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and is the world's third largest freshwater lake by volume.


In the Ojibwe language, the lake is called "Gichigami" ("big water"), but it is better known as "Gitche Gumee" as recorded by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in The Song of Hiawatha. Lake Superior is referred to as "Gitche Gumee" in the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot.

The lake was named le lac supérieur, or "Upper Lake," in the seventeenth century by French explorers because it was located above Lake Huron.(Nute, 1946)

Geography and hydrography

Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes
Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. Lake Baikal in Siberia is larger by volume, as is Lake Tanganyika. The Caspian Sea, while vastly larger than Lake Superior in both surface area and volume, is saline; though presently isolated, in the past, it has been repeatedly connected to, and isolated from, the Mediterranean via the Black Sea.

Lake Superior (48°00’N, 88°00’W) has a surface area of 31,820 square miles (82,414 km²)—which is larger than South Carolina. It has a maximum length of 350 miles (563 km) and maximum breadth of 160 miles (257 km). Its average depth is 483 feet (147 m) with a maximum depth of 1,333 feet (406 m). Lake Superior contains 2,900 cu mi (12,100 km³) of water. There is enough water in Lake Superior to cover the entire land mass of North and South America with a foot (30 cm) of water. The shoreline of the lake stretches 2,726 miles (4,385 km) (including islands). The lake's elevation is 600 feet (183 m) above sea level.

Annual storms on Lake Superior regularly record wave heights of over 20 feet. (

The lake is fed by over 200 rivers. The largest include the Nipigon River, the St. Louis River, the Pigeon River, the Pic River, the White River, the Michipicoten River and the Kaministiquia River. Lake Superior drains into Lake Huron by the St. Marys River. The rapids on the river necessitate the Sault Locks (pronounced "soo"), a part of the Great Lakes Waterway, to move boats over the 25 foot (7.6 m) height difference from Lake Huron.

The largest island in Lake Superior is Isle Royale in the state of Michigan.

The larger towns on Lake Superior include: the twin ports of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin; Thunder Bay, Ontario; Marquette, Michigan; and the two cities of Sault Ste. Marie, in Michigan and in Ontario. Duluth, at the western tip of Lake Superior, is the most inland point on the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

Among the scenic places on the lake are: the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore; Isle Royale National Park; Pukaskwa National Park; Lake Superior Provincial Park; Grand Island National Recreation Area; Sleeping Giant (Ontario);and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.


North America cratons and basement rock, showing the formation of the primordial Keweenawan rift containing today's Lake Superior.
North America cratons and basement rock, showing the formation of the primordial Keweenawan rift containing today's Lake Superior.

The lake lies above a long-extinct Paleoproterozoic rift valley, the Keweenawan rift, which explains its great depths.

The land surrounding the lake has proved to be rich in minerals. Copper, iron, silver, gold and nickel are or were the most frequently mined. Many towns are either current or former mining areas, or engaged in processing or shipping. The sparsely populated Lake Superior country with its rugged shorelines and wilderness attract tourists and adventurers, making tourism a large modern industry.

Lake Superior is an important shipping route for iron ore and is part of the Great Lakes Waterway.

Water levels, including diversions of water from the Hudson Bay watershed, are governed by the International Lake Superior Board of Control which was established in 1914 by the International Joint Commission.


The Anishinabe, also known as the Ojibwe or Chippewa, have inhabited the Lake Superior region for over five hundred years, and were preceded by the Dakota, Fox, Menominee, Nipigon, Noquet, and Gros Ventres.

According to an old sailor's tale, Lake Superior never gives up her dead. This is due to the temperature of the water. Normally bacteria feeding off a sunken decaying body will generate gas inside the body, causing it to float to the surface after a few days. The water in Lake Superior however, is cold enough year-round to inhibit bacterial growth, meaning bodies tend to sink and never surface. This is poetically referenced in Gordon Lightfoot's famous ballad, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The last major shipwreck on Lake Superior was that of SS Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975.

American limnologist J. Val Klump was the first person to reach the lowest depth of Lake Superior on July 30, 1985 as part of a scientific expedition.

Lake Superior in winter, as seen from Duluth in December, 2004.
Lake Superior in winter, as seen from Duluth in December, 2004.


Although part of a single system, each of the Great Lakes is different. In volume, Lake Superior is the largest. It is also the deepest and coldest of the five. Superior could contain all the other Great Lakes and three more Lake Eries. Because of its size, Superior has a retention time of 191 years.

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