The Great Lakes -- Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario -- and their connecting channels form the largest fresh surface water system on earth. If you stood on the moon, you could see the lakes and recognize the familiar wolf head shape of Lake Superior, or the mitten bounded by lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie. Covering more than 94,000 square miles and draining more than twice as much land, these Freshwater Seas hold an estimated 6 quadrillion gallons of water, about one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water supply and nine-tenths of the U.S. supply. Spread evenly across the contiguous 48 states, the lakes' water would be about 9.5 feet deep.
The channels that connect the Great Lakes are an important part of the system. The St. Marys River is the northernmost of these, a 60-mile waterway flowing from Lake Superior down to Lake Huron. At the St. Marys rapids, the Soo Locks bypass the rough waters, providing safe transport for ships. The St. Clair and Detroit rivers, and Lake St. Clair between them, form an 89-mile long channel connecting Lake Huron with Lake Erie. The 35-mile Niagara River links lakes Erie and Ontario, and sends approximately 50,000 to 100,000 cubic feet of water per second over Niagara Falls; the manmade Welland Canal also links the two lakes, providing a detour around the falls. From Lake Ontario, the water from the Great Lakes flows through the St. Lawrence River all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, about 1,000 miles away.
This system greatly affects our way of life, as well as all aspects of the natural environment, from weather and climate, to wildlife and habitat. Yet for all their size and power, the Great Lakes are fragile. In the past, this fragile nature wasn't recognized, and the lakes were mistreated for economic gain, placing the ecosystem under tremendous stress from our activities. Today, we understand that our health and our children's inheritance depend on our collective efforts to wisely manage our complex ecosystem.
Great Lakes Atlas U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) This Environmental Atlas and Resource Book is an excellent resource on the Great Lakes, including physical characteristics, natural processes, people, concerns, joint management and new directions (mirrored on Environment Canada's site).
Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem Team U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Check out this USFWS site for information on Great Lakes facts, invasive species, GIS research, education and much more!
Great Lakes Sea Grant Network A network of Sea Grant colleges and programs working in partnership with government and the private sector to meet the changing needs of Americans living in the Great Lakes region.
Office of the Great Lakes Activity Report State of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality The Office of the Great Lakes produces a monthly electronic Activity Report highlighting events, activities, and updates on the status of programs and issues affecting environmental protection, natural resource management, transportation, and recreation on the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Program University at Buffalo The mission of the Great Lakes Program (GLP) is to coordinate the development, evaluation and synthesis of scientific and technical knowledge on the Great Lakes Ecosystem in support of public education and policy formation.
Great Lakes GIS Great Lakes Fishery Commission The Great Lakes GIS Project proposes to provide comprehensive GIS projects for each Great Lake and the entire Great Lakes basin and provide recommendations for long-term distribution and maintenance of GIS-based data.
Great Lakes Science Center U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) The U.S. Geological Survey's Great Lakes Science Center was founded in 1927 and continues to provide scientific information for the sound management of Great Lakes fish populations and other important natural resources in the basin.
Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Study The Canadian and U.S. governments are conducting a joint study to evaluate the infrastructure needs of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway system, specifically the engineering, economic and environmental implications of those needs as they pertain to the marine transportation infrastructure on which commercial navigation depends.
Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Research Inventory International Joint Commission An Internet-based, searchable database created as a tool to collect and disseminate information on research programs relevant to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
National Water Research Institute (NWRI) Environment Canada / Environnement Canada NWRI, Canada's largest freshwater research establishment, conducts a comprehensive program of research and development in the aquatic sciences, in partnership with the Canadian and international science communities. NWRI research provides a sound basis for actions to sustain our natural resources and freshwater ecosystems.
NOAA Center of Excellence for Great Lakes and Human Health NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory The NOAA Center of Excellence for Great Lakes and Human Health (CEGLHH) is a multi-disciplinary research center which will focus on understanding the inter-relationships between the Great Lakes ecosystem, water quality and human health.
Tenth Biennial Report of Great Lakes Water Quality International Joint Commission Released in July 2000, this report discusses the current threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem, such as contaminated sportsfish, air toxics, and urbanization, and concludes with actions that the U.S. and Canadian governments must take in order to comply with the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1978.
The Biosphère Environment Canada Opened in 1995 as the only museum of water in America dedicated to the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, the Biosphère heightens public awareness of water's importance and the necessity to protect it.
The Great Lakes Geographer University of Western Ontario, Geography Department Since 1967, this peer-reviewed journal has acted as a forum for publishing research about the science and biology of the Great Lakes and related social and economic issues. View the current issue online!
The Large Lakes Observatory University of Minnesota - Duluth Located on the Duluth Campus of the university of Minnesota, the Large Lakes Observatory (LLO) is the only institute in the country dedicated to the study of large lakes world wide. The LLO focuses on the global implications of investigation in the areas of aquatic chemistry, circulation dynamics, geochemistry, acoustic remote sensing, plankton dynamics, sedimentology and paleoclimatology.
Upper Lakes Environmental Research Network (ULERN) A unique coalition of researchers, resource managers and educators in natural resources and environmental fields, ULERN facilitates collaborative aquatic, terrestrial and atmospheric research throughout the upper Great Lakes basin.
Water on the Web University of Minnesota/ National Science Foundation (NSF) Water on the Web (WOW) offers unique opportunities for high school and first year college students to learn basic science through hands-on science activities, in the lab and in the field, and by working with state-of-the-art technologies accessible through a free web site.