Lake Superior is truly one of the most incredible places on Earth. As the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, this vast inland sea holds enough water to submerge all of North and South America under one foot of water! Spanning over 31,000 square miles, Lake Superior contains a wealth of wonders waiting to be explored. From its stunning natural beauty to its fascinating history, this magnificent lake has plenty of surprises in store.
In this article, we will uncover 9 fascinating facts about Lake Superior that are sure to leave you in awe of this phenomenal place. Discover mind-blowing details about its size, geology, ecology, history, and more! By the end, you’ll have a newfound appreciation for this extraordinary lake. So let’s dive right in!
Nestled on the border between Canada and the United States, Lake Superior is the crown jewel of the Great Lakes. As the largest, deepest, and coldest of the Great Lakes, it stands apart with its rugged natural beauty and air of mystery.
For centuries, Lake Superior has captivated explorers, artists, and adventurers with its vast expanses of stunning blue waters, soaring cliffs, and tranquil boreal forests. It’s a place of legends, shipwrecks, and record-breaking natural wonders that never cease to amaze.
In the following sections, we’ll explore some of the most fascinating facts and superlatives that make Lake Superior such an incredible place. From its staggering size and frigid temperatures to its diverse wildlife and storied history, Lake Superior has plenty of surprises in store!
1. Lake Superior Holds 10% of the World’s Surface Freshwater
Let’s start with the mind-blowing fact that Lake Superior contains 10% of the world’s surface freshwater 1! This means that nearly 1/10th of the global supply of surface freshwater is held in this single lake.
To put it in perspective, Lake Superior holds enough water to submerge all of North and South America under one foot of water. That’s an astonishing amount of water contained in one place!
In total volume, Lake Superior contains 2,900 cubic miles of water, making it the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and the third largest by volume. It’s no wonder Lake Superior’s Ojibwe name, “Gitchi Gami,” means “big water”!
2. It Would Take 191 Years for Lake Superior’s Waters to Flush
Due to the sheer volume of water it holds, Lake Superior has an extremely slow flushing rate. It’s estimated that it would take about 191 years for Lake Superior’s waters to completely flush out and replenish.
This slow flushing rate allows the lake to remain very clear and pristine. Water entering the lake has a long residence time, giving suspended particles more time to settle to the bottom rather than remaining suspended in the water column.
3. Lake Superior Has Over 350 Documented Shipwrecks
The vast expanse of Lake Superior has witnessed a long history of marine traffic and shipwrecks. Stormy conditions, rocky shoals, and foggy weather have claimed over 350 documented shipwrecks in Lake Superior’s waters.
Some of the most famous shipwrecks include the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, the Henry B. Smith freighter, and the SS Cyprus. Many sunken ships remain on the lake’s bottom, making it a popular place for wreck diving. The cold, fresh waters have preserved many shipwrecks remarkably well.
4. Lake Superior Rarely Freezes Over Completely
Despite bitterly cold winters, Lake Superior only rarely freezes over completely. This is due to its immense size and significant depth. The last time it came close to completely freezing over was in 2014 when it reached 91% ice coverage 2.
On average, about 40% of the lake surface freezes annually. Coastal areas and bays generally see more extensive ice than the open lake. But even in the coldest winters, some areas of open water persist.
5. It Has Incredibly Clear Water
Lake Superior is renowned for its crystal-clear waters. The average underwater visibility in Lake Superior is about 8 meters or 27 feet. However, visibility up to 30 meters has been observed in some areas.
This exceptional clarity helps support prolific aquatic plant and animal life. As sunlight penetrates deeper into the lake, it enables more aquatic vegetation to flourish. Lake Superior’s clear waters are a big part of what makes it so ecologically rich.
6. Lake Superior Has Its Own Park Bigger Than 9 States
On Lake Superior’s largest island, Isle Royale lies a national park that’s larger than 9 U.S. states! Isle Royale National Park covers 206 square miles, making it the fourth-largest island in the U.S 3.
The remote island provides a critical habitat for wildlife species like wolves and moose. It also offers stunning scenic beauty, with thick boreal forests and rocky cliffs plunging into Lake Superior’s icy waters. There are few places like it on Earth.
7. A Large Meteorite Crater Lies Beneath Lake Superior
Beneath the frigid waters of Lake Superior lies an ancient meteorite crater over 40 miles wide. This submarine crater formed over a billion years ago when a giant meteorite smashed into the Midcontinent Rift.
Known as the Lake Superior Meteorite Crater, this massive impact site was only discovered in 2007 through gravity mapping of the lake’s subsurface. The ancient crater is preserved remarkably intact below hundreds of feet of lake sediments.
8. Lake Superior Has Its Microclimate
Due to its immense size, Lake Superior influences local weather and climate. The lake’s surface absorbs and releases heat slower than surrounding lands. This temperature contrast creates a localized climate zone called the “Lake Superior High.”
In summer, the lake stays cooler than adjacent land areas. In winter, the lake keeps shoreline areas warmer than inland regions. Lake-effect snow also frequently develops when cold air passes over the warmer lake waters, picking up moisture.
9. The Lake Has Rare Bioluminescent Stone Structures
In 2016, scientists discovered a bioluminescent mineral structure growing in Lake Superior that had never been documented before. These tiny structures are made of living bacteria that accumulate iron minerals into branching shapes.
The structures glow when disturbed, creating a magical effect in Lake Superior’s wave-washed waters. This discovery just goes to show there are still unique secrets to uncover in this ancient lake!
These 9 facts only scratch the surface of what makes Lake Superior such a special place. Its size, beauty, biodiversity, and cultural heritage make it one of the most remarkable lakes on Earth. Lake Superior has rightfully earned its reputation as a true natural wonder of North America.
Whether you’re intrigued by its shipwrecks, inspired by its vistas, or curious about what lies beneath its waves, Lake Superior is guaranteed to spark your sense of adventure. Its vast size holds enough mysteries to keep you exploring for a lifetime. So come witness the magic of “Gitche Gumee” yourself!
- Lake Superior Overview, globalgreatlakes.org