Lake Superior

A little east of the middle of North America, Lake Superior (or gichigami in Ojibwe) retains the defining characteristics of a lake, but behaves like an inland sea. It has a small tide, busy international ports and 3-quadrillion gallons of water. That's:

  • 3,000,000,000,000,000 gallons (11.4-quadrillion liters)
  • Enough to submerge North and South America under 1 foot of fresh water
  • 10% of the world’s fresh surface water
  • Over half of the water contained in the Great Lakes

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and the third largest by volume. Scoured into its present form by the retreating glacial ice sheet covering the region during the last Ice Age (about 10,000 years ago), Superior’s cold waters are bounded by northern hardwood and conifer forests and buffeted by continental weather patterns. continued…


Featured Articles

What Good is a DiatomWhat Good is a Diatom
These tiny particles have inspired everyone from Victorian microscopists to Lake Superior researchers. Read how diatoms are helping paint the picture of Lake Superior history today.
Lake Superior's Chemical Imbalance? Element Cycles and Ultra-oligotrophyLake Superior's Chemical Imbalance? Element Cycles and Ultra-oligotrophy
Learn about Lake Superior's unusual nitrate trend and why this ultra-cold Great Lake might not be ultra-oligotrophic.
Mix-up over Lake Superiorís MixingMix-up over Lake Superiorís Mixing
For years, Lake Superior was thought to be monomicticógoing through just one cycle of mixing or thermal stratification per year. Data in recent years is proving it to be dimictic (mixing through two annual cycles), though textbooks and websites are slow to catch up.
Climate and Lake Superiorís Crunchy CreaturesClimate and Lake Superiorís Crunchy Creatures
Copepods, the animals that dominate Lake Superior's zooplankton scene and look like food to many fish species, respond to wind and water temperatures.
Pulp Mill Effluent and FishPulp Mill Effluent and Fish Don't Mix (Well)
Endocrine disrupting chemicals found in pulp mill wastewater can impact fish. Five scientists discuss what they learned from Canadian and U.S. rivers surrounding Lake Superior.
Ice Cover Lacking on LakeIce Cover Lacking on Lake
Find out how ice cover influences evaporation, supports fisheries, and produces astonishing ice volcanoes.

Featured Initiatives

Superior Facts: Facts About the Greatest Great Lake
Whether you visit Minnesota's North Shore or live there year-round, Lake Superior is a constant source of wonder.
Lake Superior's Natural Processes
The lake has a significant impact on patterns. There are also several interesting physical processes that take place in the lake.
Lake Superior's Physical Characteristics
Despite Lake Superior’s massive size, it only manages to support a limited amount of aquatic life.
Rip Currents: Escape the Grip of the Rip!
About rip currents on the Great Lakes and what you need to know to enjoy the beach safely
Winds Blew "Whale Burps" onto Superior's Shore
Winter winds whipping around Duluth and Lake Superior can produce more than snowdrifts. They can also produce "whale burps." Also known as surf balls, these oval or round bundles of fibrous material periodically show up on coastlines throughout the world.

See Also:

AudioLake Superior Audio
Collection of Lake Superior audio.
VideoLake Superior Videos
Collection of Lake Superior videos.
Making A Great Lake Superior
The conference drew over 440 attendees to Duluth, from over 70 towns and cities across the U.S. and Canada.

This page last modified on October 14, 2014     © 1996 – 2014 Regents of the University of Minnesota     The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
NOAA logo UMD logo University of Minnesota University of Minnesota Extension logotype