Lake Extremes

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Here are a few of the most extreme lakes in the world including the world’s largest freshwater lake, the world’s largest saltwater lake, the world’s deepest freshwater lake, the highest navigable lake, and the saltiest lake in the world.

Largest Freshwater Lake in the World

Lake Superior in North America is the largest freshwater lake in the world. Lake Superior is bordered by Ontario, Canada, and the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan in the United States. Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area although it falls in third place if the measurement is taken by volume.

Lake Superior’s surface area is 31,700 square miles. The lake connects to Lake Huron via St. Marys River. The lake is 560 kilometers long and 257 kilometers broad and contains 2,900 cubic miles of water, which is enough to cover North and South America in water up to a depth of 30 centimeters. Over 200 rivers flow into Lake Superior from the United States and Canada, and Lake Huron connects to Lake Superior via St. Marys Lake as well as the man-made Soo Locks that make ship transportation between the two bodies of water feasible.

Landsat satellite image of Lake Superior.  Source: NASA.

Landsat satellite image of Lake Superior. Source: NASA.

Largest Saltwater Lake in the World

The Caspian Sea is the largest saltwater lake in the world bordered by Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan. The name comes from the Romans who originally named the lake; they called it a sea because it was salty, not knowing that it was surrounded by land. The Caspian Sea is approximately 371, 000 square kilometers in area and at its deepest measures 1, 025 meters.

The Caspian Sea remains slightly salty in nature because of the many mineral deposits that lines its shores although freshwater rivers, the Volga River and the Ural River, flow into it. Oil and natural gas is abundant in the region and many of the surrounding countries utilize this resource by mining the lake. The Caspian Sea’s composition also assists with the abundance of sturgeon in the waters which produce world-class caviar prized throughout the globe.

Satellite image of the Caspian Sea acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite on June 11, 2003.

Satellite image of the Caspian Sea acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite on June 11, 2003.

Deepest Freshwater Lake in the World

Lake Baikal, located in Russia, is the world’s deepest freshwater lake as well as the world’s oldest freshwater lake. Part of what makes Lake Baikal so unique is its position on the tectonic plate that the Asian continent rests on. This region is often studied as it most closely resembles what the shorelines of other continents like North America, Europe and Africa used to look like before their tectonic plates broke apart.

Lake Baikal is over 1, 637 feet deep and contains roughly four miles of thick sediment at its base. This nutrient-rich sediment combined with the cold water helps a variety of unique underwater creatures thrive in its waters. Lake Baikal is also home to 27 islands which are mostly uninhabited, aside from the freshwater seals that populate the region.

This satellite image of Lake Baikal, captured on May 4, 2012, by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite, shows ice breaking up in the central part of the lake.

This satellite image of Lake Baikal, captured on May 4, 2012, by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite, shows ice breaking up in the central part of the lake.

Highest Navigable Lake in the World

Lake Titicaca in South America is the highest navigable lake in the world. Bordered by Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is considered by local people to be the birthplace of the sun. The surface of the lake is at 3,812 meters and is considered the highest navigable lake because of the commercial vessels that operate on it; Lake Titicaca isn’t, in fact, the world’s highest lake, but it is the deepest and highest lake that can be navigated by large boats and ships.

Lake Titicaca has an average depth of 107 meters and is fed by five major rivers throughout Peru and Bolivia. The lake has over 500 species of aquatic animals that reside within it and on its shores, despite the often cold and hostile climate caused by the lake’s elevation.

A satellite image showing Lake Titicaca, which straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia with the Andes Mountains to the top right.  Source: NASA

A satellite image showing Lake Titicaca, which straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia with the Andes Mountains to the top right. Source: NASA

Saltiest Lake in the World

The saltiest lake in the world isn’t the Dead Sea, as many people think, but is actually located in the most unexpected of places: Antarctica. Lake Don Juan in Antarctica is the world’s saltiest lake at 40% salinity. Although temperatures in the area regularly hit -30 degrees Celsius the water remains in a liquid state because of its incredible salinity. Lake Don Juan is actually a pond, coming in at varying sizes every year. However, the pond rarely measures more than a foot deep and comes in as shallow as 10 centimeters in some places. Additionally, the pond can shrink to just a few square meters during parts of the year.

Don Juan Pond, Antarctica.  Source: NASA.

Don Juan Pond, Antarctica. Source: NASA.

References

Lake Baikal. Lake Baikal Facts. 2014. http://www.lakebaikal.org/

Lonely Planet. Peru. Lake Titicaca. 2014. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/peru/lake-titicaca

United States Board on Geographic Names. USGS. Geographic Names Information System. Antarctica Detail. 11 October 2014. http://geonames.usgs.gov/apex/f?p=gnispq:5:::NO::P5_ANTAR_ID:3975

Wikipedia. Lake Superior. 2014. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Superior

World Atlas. Caspian Sea. 2014. http://www.worldatlas.com/aatlas/infopage/caspiansea.htm