Lake Erie

Lake Erie

[eer-ee]
Erie, Lake, 9,940 sq mi (25,745 sq km), 241 mi (388 km) long and from 30 to 57 mi (48-92 km) wide, bordered on the N by S Ont., Canada, on the E by W N.Y., on the S by NW Pa. and N Ohio, and on the W by SE Mich. and NW Ohio.; fourth largest of the Great Lakes. It is 572 ft (174 m) above sea level with a maximum depth of 210 ft (64 m), making it the shallowest of the Great Lakes and the only one with a floor above sea level. It is part of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system and is linked to Lake Huron by the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, and St. Clair River, and with Lake Ontario by the Niagara River (Lake Erie's only natural outlet) and the Welland Canal. The New York State Canal System links the lake with the Hudson River. Several small rivers, including the Maumee, Sandusky, and Cuyahoga, flow into the lake from the south; the Grand River enters from Ontario. Lake Erie is partially icebound in winter and is usually closed to navigation from mid-December to the end of March. Rich agricultural lands border the Canadian shore, where the chief towns are Port Colborne and Port Stanley. The principal U.S. cities on the lake are Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, and Toledo; all are ports with heavy industry. Untreated industrial and municipal wastes from lakeshore cities—and from Detroit, whose wastes enter the western end of the lake—polluted the waters and rendered surrounding areas foul smelling. A U.S.-Canadian pact (1972) ended the discharge of contaminating materials into the water, and the environmental damage has since abated. Numerous recreation facilities are provided at national (Point Pelee and Fort Malden in Canada), provincial, and state parks located on the lake's islands and shores. The first European to see the lake was French explorer Louis Jolliet in 1669. The British and the French, and later the British and the Americans, fought for its control. The battle of Lake Erie (Sept. 10, 1813), a naval engagement in the War of 1812, led successfully by the U.S. leader Oliver H. Perry against the British, was fought at Put-in Bay.

Lake, in U.S. and Canada. The fourth largest of the five Great Lakes, it lies between lakes Huron and Ontario and forms the boundary between Canada (Ontario) and the U.S. (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York). It is 240 mi (388 km) long and has a maximum width of 57 mi (92 km), with a surface area of 9,910 sq mi (22,666 sq km). The Detroit River carries inflow from Lake Huron to the west, and the lake discharges at its eastern end through the Niagara River. It is an important link in the St. Lawrence Seaway; its ports handle steel, iron ore, coal, and grain. The area was once inhabited by Erie Indians; when the French arrived in the 17th century they found the Iroquois living there. The British were in the region in the 18th century, and the U.S. shores were settled after 1796. It was the site of the Battle of Lake Erie, an important engagement of the War of 1812.

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Lake Erie is the fourth largest lake (by surface area) of the five Great Lakes, and the tenth largest globally. It is the southernmost, shallowest, and smallest by volume of the Great Lakes and therefore also has the shortest average water residence time. It is bounded on the north by the Canadian province of Ontario, on the south by the U.S. states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, and on the west by the state of Michigan. The lake is named after the Erie tribe of Native Americans who lived along its southern shore.

Geography

Lake Erie (42.2° N, 81.2° W) has a mean elevation of 571 feet (174 m) above sea level. It has a surface area of 9,940 square miles (25,745 km²) with a length of 241 miles (388 km) and breadth of 57 miles (92 km) at its widest points.

It is the shallowest of the Great Lakes with an average depth of 62 feet (19 m) and a maximum depth of 210 feet (64 m). For comparison, Lake Superior has an average depth of 483 feet (147 m), a volume of 2,900 cubic miles (12,100 km³) and shoreline of 2,726 miles (4385 km). Because it is the shallowest, it is also the warmest of the Great Lakes.

Lake Erie is primarily fed by the Detroit River (from Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair) and drains via the Niagara River and Niagara Falls into Lake Ontario. Navigation downstream is provided by the Welland Canal, part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Other major contributors to Lake Erie include the Grand River, the Huron River, the Maumee River, the Sandusky River and the Cuyahoga River.

Point Pelee National Park, the southernmost point of the Canadian mainland, is located on a peninsula extending into the lake. Several islands are found in the western end of the lake; these belong to Ohio except for Pelee Island and 8 neighboring islands, which are part of Ontario. The cities of Buffalo, New York; Erie, Pennsylvania; Toledo, Ohio; Port Stanley, Ontario; Monroe, Michigan; and Cleveland, Ohio are located on the shores of Lake Erie.

The drainage basin covers 30,140 square miles (78,000 sq. km).

Islands

  • Middle Bass Island
  • Middle Sister Island
  • Mohawk Island
  • Mouse Island
  • North Bass Island
  • North Harbour Island
  • Pelee Island
  • Rattlesnake Island
  • South Bass Island
  • Starve Island
  • Sugar Island
  • Turtle Island
  • West Sister Island
  • Hydrology

    Lake Erie has a lake retention time of 2.6 years, which is the shortest of all the Great Lakes.

    Like the rest of the Great Lakes, Erie's levels fluctuate with the season of the year, with the lowest levels in January and February, and the highest in June or July. Its average yearly levels also vary depending on long-term precipitation variations, with levels falling during droughts and rising during periods of extended above-average precipitation.

    Lake Erie's short-term level changes are often subject to weather, since its shallowness and the southwest-to-northeast alignment of its longitudinal axis make it particularly prone to seiches, especially during high southwesterly winds, when the lake water tends to pile up at one end of the lake. This can lead to large storm surges, potentially causing damage onshore. During one storm in November 2003, the water level at Buffalo rose by 7 feet (2.1 m) with waves of 10-15 feet (3-4.5 m) on top of that, for a cumulative rise of as much as 22 feet (6.7 m). Meanwhile, Toledo at the western end of the lake will measure similar drops in water level. After the storm event, the water will slowly slosh back and forth, similar to the effect in a bath tub, until equilibrium is re-established.

    History

    Native American

    At the time of European contact, there were several groups of Iroquoian cultures living around the shores of the eastern end of the lake. The Erie tribe (from whom the lake takes its name) lived along the southern edge, while the Neutrals (also known as Attawandaron) lived along the northern shore. Both tribes were conquered and assimilated by their hostile eastern neighbours, the Iroquois Confederacy between 1651 and 1657 AD, in what is referred to as part of the Beaver Wars.

    For decades after those wars, the land around eastern Lake Erie was claimed and utilized by the Iroquois as a hunting ground. As the power of the Iroquois waned during the last quarter of the seventeenth century, several other, mainly Anishinaabe Native American tribes, displaced them from the territories they claimed on the north shore of the lake.

    European exploration and settlement

    In 1669, the Frenchman Louis Jolliet was the first documented European to sight Lake Erie, although there is speculation that Etienne Brule may have come across it in 1615. Lake Erie was the last of the Great Lakes to be explored by Europeans, since the Iroquois who occupied the Niagara River area were in conflict with the French, and they did not allow explorers or traders to pass through. Explorers had followed rivers out of Lake Ontario and portaged into Lake Huron.

    Environment

    Weather

    Like the other Great Lakes, Erie produces lake effect snow when the first cold winds of winter pass over the warm waters, making Buffalo, New York, the eleventh snowiest place in the entire United States, according to data collected from the National Climatic Data Center. The lake effect ends or its effect is reduced, however, when the lake freezes over. Being the shallowest of the Great Lakes, it is the most likely to freeze and frequently does.

    The lake is also responsible for microclimates that are important to agriculture. Along its north shore is one of the richest areas of Canada's fruit and vegetable production, and along the southeastern shore in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York is an important grape growing region, as are the islands in the lake. Apple orchards are abundant in northeast Ohio to western New York.

    Water quality

    Lake Erie infamously became very polluted in the 1960s and 1970s. The water quality deteriorated due to increasing levels of the nutrient phosphorus in both the water and lake bottom sediments. The resultant high nitrogen levels in the water caused eutrophication, which resulted in algal blooms. Algae masses and fish kills increasingly fouled the shoreline during this period, but a 1969 Time magazine article about a fire on the Cuyahoga River, a tributary feeding the lake at Cleveland, Ohio so embarrassed officials that the United States Congress quickly passed the Clean Water Act of 1972. Also in 1972, an agreement between Canada and the United States significantly reduced the dumping and runoff of phosphorus into the lake. The lake has since become clean enough to allow sunlight to infiltrate its water and produce algae and sea weed, but a dead zone persists in the central Lake Erie Basin during the late summer. The United States Environmental Protection Agency is currently studying this cyclic phenomenon.

    Since the 1970s environmental regulation has led to a great increase in water quality and the return of economically important fish species such as walleye and other biological life.

    Economy

    Fisheries

    Lake Erie is home to one of the world's largest freshwater commercial fisheries. Once a mainstay of communities around the lake, commercial fishing is now predominantly based in Canadian communities, with a much smaller fishery—largely restricted to yellow perch—in Ohio. The Ontario fishery is one of the most intensively managed in the world. It was one of the first fisheries in the world managed on individual transferable quotas and features mandatory daily catch reporting and intensive auditing of the catch reporting system. Still, the commercial fishery is the target of critics who would like to see the lake managed for the exclusive benefit of sport fishing and the various industries serving the sport fishery.

    Commercial landings are dominated by yellow perch and walleye, with substantial quantities of rainbow smelt and white bass also taken. Anglers target walleye and yellow perch, with some effort directed at rainbow trout. A variety of other species are taken in smaller quantities by both commercial and sport fleets.

    Management of the fishery is by consensus of all management agencies with an interest in the resource (the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan and the province of Ontario) under the mandate of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which is driven by comprehensive fisheries assessment programs and sophisticated mathematical modeling systems. The Commission remains the source of considerable recrimination, primarily from United States based angler and charter fishing groups with a historical antipathy to the commercial fishery. This conflict is complex, dating from the 1960s, with in U.S. fisheries management that led to elimination of commercial fishing in most U.S. Great Lakes states. The process began in Michigan, and its evolution is well documented in Szylvian (2004), using Lake Michigan as a case study. The underlying issues are universal, wherever sport and commercial fishing coexist, but their persistence in the Lake Erie context, one of the most intensively scrutinized and managed fisheries, suggests that these conflicts are cultural, not scientific, and therefore not resolvable by reference to ecological data. These debates are largely driven by social, political and economic issues, not ecology.

    The lake consists of a long list of well established introduced species. Common non-indigenous fish species include the rainbow smelt, alewife, white perch and common carp. Non-native sport fish such as rainbow trout and brown trout are stocked specifically for anglers to catch. Attempts failed to stock coho salmon and its numbers are once again dwindling.

    The lake has recently been plagued with a number of invasive species, including Zebra and quagga mussels, the goby and the grass carp. Zebra mussels and gobies have been credited with the increased population and size of smallmouth bass in Lake Erie.

    Agriculture

    The lake's formerly more extensive lakebed creates a favorable environment for agriculture in the bordering areas of Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. The lake also supports a strong commercial and sport fishery. But since high levels of pollution were discovered in the 1960s and 1970s, there has been continued debate over the desired intensity of commercial fishing.

    The drainage basin has led to well fertilized soil. Ohio's north coast is widely referred to as the nursery capital.

    Transportation

    The Port of Cleveland generates over $350 million and over 15 million tons of cargo. The traffic in Lake Erie, which is the most of the lakes, along with being the shallowest and roughest of lakes has led to it containing the most known shipwrecks of the Great Lakes.

    See also

    References

    Further reading

    • Assel, R.A. (1983). Lake Erie regional ice cover analysis: preliminary results [NOAA Technical Memorandum ERL GLERL 48]. Ann Arbor, MI: U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Research Laboratories, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.
    • Saylor, J.H. and G.S. Miller. (1983). Investigation of the currents and density structure of Lake Erie [NOAA Technical Memorandum ERL GLERL 49]. Ann Arbor, MI: U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Research Laboratories, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

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