10 Deep Facts About the Great Lakes

NASA // CC BY PUBLIC DOMAIN
NASA // CC BY PUBLIC DOMAIN

The Great Lakes of North America, which span 750 miles from east to west, form the largest fresh water system on Earth. Here are 10 facts about Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario.

1. LAKE SUPERIOR IS BY FAR THE BIGGEST AND DEEPEST.

The numbers for the world’s largest freshwater lake (in terms of surface area), which straddles the U.S.-Canada border and touches Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, are staggering: 31,700 square miles of surface water; 350 miles wide and 160 miles long; 2,726 miles of shoreline; an average depth of nearly 500 feet, with a maximum depth of 1,332 feet; and a volume of 2,900 cubic miles, more than enough to fill all the other Great Lakes combined.

2. ONTARIO AND ERIE ARE THE SMALLEST.

Lake Erie, which borders Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, measures 241 miles across and 57 miles long, larger than Lake Ontario’s 193-mile-by-53-mile footprint. But Erie’s average depth is just 62 feet and has a volume of around 119 cubic miles, much smaller than Ontario’s average depth of 283 feet and volume of 395 cubic miles. The two lakes are connected by the 35-mile long Niagara River.

3. ONLY ONE OF THE LAKES IS LOCATED ENTIRELY IN THE U.S.

As its name suggests, Lake Michigan and its 1180 cubic miles of water, 22,300 square miles of surface water, and 1600 miles of shoreline is the only one of the Great Lakes that lies entirely within American borders. It is the second-largest of the Great Lakes by volume and is connected to Lake Huron by the Straits of Mackinac between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas.

4. YOU CAN TAKE A 6500-MILE DRIVE AROUND THE LAKES.

The Great Lakes Commission established the Circle Tour in 1988 as a scenic tourist drive around the five lakes and through the eight states (and Ontario) that make up the GLC. Just to navigate Lake Michigan’s 900-mile Circle Tour alone would take approximately 14½ hours without any stops.

5. A FIRE PAVED THE WAY FOR MASSIVE ENVIRONMENTAL REFORMS.

A fire on the Cuayahoga River in June 1969, and the iconic image that was published thereafter, helped spur a number of environmental regulations aimed at cleaning up the waterway that feeds Lake Erie, as well as America’s lakes and rivers in general. Amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, known as the Clean Water Act, were enacted in 1972 regulating water pollution and discharge, and gave the Environmental Protection Agency broader pollution control powers. In addition, the United States and Canada signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Act in 1972 to “restore and protect the waters of the Great Lakes.”

6. THE LAKES CONTAIN MORE THAN 35,000 ISLANDS.

Of the thousands of islands scattered throughout the lakes, the largest is Manitoulin in Lake Huron. It is the largest freshwater lake island in the world at 1068 square miles and has a population of around 12,600. Georgian Bay, also on Lake Huron, includes about 17,500 islands, while the archipelago in the St. Lawrence River known as the Thousand Islands actually houses around 1,800 islands.

7. EACH LAKE NAME IS DERIVED FROM EITHER NATIVE AMERICAN LANGUAGES OR FRENCH.

Lake Erie is named after the Erie Tribe, which occupied the southern shores of the lake. Michigan comes from a French version of the Ojibwa word michigami. Huron is named for the Huron tribe. The Iroquois lent their language to the naming of Ontario, which means “beautiful lake.” French explorers called the great body of water above Lake Huron “le lac superieur,” or upper lake.

8. SHIPPING STILL DOMINATES.

The Canadian and U.S. lake fleets, made up of carriers, tankers, bulk freighters (“lakers”), tugs, and barges, haul upwards of 125 million tons of cargo a year. About 40 percent of the cargo is iron ore and other mined products like coal, salt, and stone, while another 40 percent is wheat, corn, oats, soybeans, and other agricultural products. Other cargo includes steel, scrap metal, iron products, fuel, and chemicals.

9. THE LARGEST FISH IN THE LAKES CAN WEIGH OVER 200 POUNDS.

Fishing is a revered pastime on the Great Lakes, one of the largest freshwater fisheries in the world. Some of the most common catches include trout, salmon, walleye, perch, herring, and bass. Lake sturgeon are the biggest species of fish found in the lakes, and they can weigh over 200 lbs. 

10. LAKE SUPERIOR HAS CLAIMED A NUMBER OF SHIPS AND LIVES.

While the wreck of the famed SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior has generated a hit song, memorials, and conspiracies surrounding its sinking, a number of other commercial ships have sunk and perished through the years in the area around Whitefish Bay near Whitefish Point, Michigan. A wooden steamer called the Vienna of Cleveland sank in 1892 on Lake Superior and is a popular spot for divers; the Comet also sank on Lake Superior and took 11 lives with it in 1875; the John M. Osborn collided with the Alberta in 1884 and drowned four men; and on just its second voyage, the SS Cyprus sank near Deer Park, Michigan in 1907, killing 22 of its 23 crewmembers.

The dangerous stretch of water on southern Lake Superior between Munising, Michigan and Whitefish Point has been called the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes,” and “Shipwreck Coast,” as hundreds of ships have been lost in the area. It is estimated that 6000 ships have sank in the Great Lakes, with a loss of nearly 30,000 lives.

Note: The piece has been amended to include lake sturgeon as the Great Lakes' largest species of fish.

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10 Fascinating Facts About Daylight Saving Time

Doucefleur/iStock via Getty Images
Doucefleur/iStock via Getty Images

Whether you savor the extra sunlight in the summer or dread the jarring time jump, Daylight Saving Time is inevitable (at least in most parts of the country). Here are 10 things you should know before making the semiannual change.

1. Benjamin Franklin was half-joking when he suggested Daylight Saving Time.

More than a century before Daylight Saving Time (DST) was adopted by any major country, Benjamin Franklin proposed a similar concept in a satirical essay. In the piece, published in 1784, he argued:

"All the difficulty will be in the first two or three days; after which the reformation will be as natural and easy as the present irregularity [...] Oblige a man to rise at four in the morning, and it is more than probable he will go willingly to bed at eight in the evening; and, having had eight hours sleep, he will rise more willingly at four in the morning following."

In one prophetic passage, he pitched the idea as a money-saver (though at the time people would have been conserving candle wax rather than electricity). To enforce the out-there plan Franklin suggested taxing shutters, rationing candles, banning non-emergency coach travel after dark, and firing cannons at sunrise to rouse late-sleepers. While his essay clearly brought up some practical points, Franklin may have originally written it as an excuse to poke fun at the French for being lazy. He wrote that the amount of sunlight that goes wasted each morning would likely come as a shock to readers who “have never seen any signs of sunshine before noon.”

2. Official credit for the Daylight Saving Time idea goes to a bug collector.

The first serious case for DST came from a peculiar place. While working at a post office by day, an entomologist who did most of his bug hunting at night soon became frustrated by how early the sun set during the summer months. He reasoned that springing the clocks forward would allow more daylight for bug collecting—along with other evening activities. The clocks could be switched back in the winter when people (and bugs) were less likely to be found outdoors.

When the idea was proposed to a scientific society in New Zealand in 1895 it was panned for being pointless and overly complicated. Just two decades later, Daylight Saving Time would begin its spread across the developed world.

3. World War I pushed Daylight Saving Time into law.

In 1916, Germany became the first country to officially adopt Daylight Saving Time. It was born out of an effort to conserve coal during World War I, and Britain, along with many other European nations, was quick to follow the Germans’ lead. It wasn’t until 1918 that the time change spread to the U.S. A year after entering the war, America began practicing DST as an electricity-saving measure. Most countries, including the U.S., ceased official observation of the switch following wartime. 

4. Daylight Saving Time gained renewed popularity during the energy crisis.

The U.S. reconsidered DST in the 1970s, when, once again, the argument pivoted back to energy conservation. The oil embargo of 1973 had kicked off a nationwide energy crisis and the government was looking for ways to reduce public consumption. Daylight Saving Time was imposed in the beginning of 1974 to save energy in the winter months. Not everyone was enthusiastic about the change: Some of the harshest critics were parents suddenly forced to send their children to school before sunrise.

5. Daylight Saving Time may actually be an energy waster.

Despite Daylight Saving Time’s origins as an energy-saving strategy, research suggests it might actually be hurting the cause. One 2008 study conducted in Indiana found that the statewide implementation of DST two years earlier had boosted overall energy consumption by 1 percent. While it’s true that changing the clocks can save residents money on lighting, the cost of heating and air conditioning tends to go up. That extra hour of daylight is only beneficial when people are willing to go outside to enjoy it.

6. Daylight Saving Time is also a health hazard.

Even if DST was good for your energy bill, that wouldn’t negate the adverse impact it can have on human health. Numerous studies show that the extra hour of sleep we lose by springing ahead can affect us in dangerous ways. An increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and susceptibility to illness have all been linked to the time change.

7. But there are some benefits to Daylight Saving Time.

Though people love to complain about it, Daylight Saving Time isn’t all bad news. One notable benefit of the change is a decrease in crime. According to one study published in 2015, daily incidents of robbery dropped by seven percent following the start of DST in the spring. This number was heavily skewed by a 27 percent dip in robberies during the well-lit evening hours.

8. Daylight Saving Time is not observed nationwide.

DST has been widely accepted across the country, but it’s still not mandated by federal law. U.S. residents resistant to springing forward and falling back each year might consider moving to Arizona. The state isn’t exactly desperate for extra sunlight, so every spring they skip the time jump. This leaves the Navajo Nation, which does observe the change, in a peculiar situation. The reservation is fully located within Arizona, and the smaller Hopi reservation is fully located within the Navajo Nation. The Hopi ignore DST like the rest of Arizona, making the Navajo Nation a Daylight Saving donut of sorts, suspended one hour in the future for half the year.

9. Daylight Saving Time starts at 2 a.m. for a reason.

Daylight Saving Time doesn’t begin at the stroke of midnight like you might expect it to. Rather, the time change is delayed until most people (hopefully) aren’t awake to notice it. By waiting until two in the morning to give or take an hour, the idea is that most workers with early shifts will still be in bed and most bars and restaurants will already be closed.

10. The candy industry lobbied for an extension of Daylight Saving Time.

Until recently, losing an hour of daylight in the fall presented a problem for the candy industry. That’s because Daylight Saving Time traditionally ended on the last Sunday in October, a.k.a. before Halloween night. Intense lobbying to push back the date went on for decades. According to one report, candy lobbyists even went so far as to place tiny candy pumpkins on the seats of everyone in the Senate in 1986. A law extending DST into November finally went into effect in 2007.

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