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When Will the Great Lakes Dry Up?

There’s been a lot of talk about increasing temperatures and how they’re negatively impacting our planet. Glaciers are disappearing, chunks of icebergs are falling into the ocean, and wildfires rage out of control in many portions of the United States. Some people are beginning to question when the Great Lakes will dry up or if it’s even possible.

Today, we’re diving into this question of the Great Lakes drying up and what it would mean. Let’s get started!

What Are the Great Lakes?

The Great Lakes are a chain of five freshwater lakes in the northern Midwest of the United States. The lakes separate portions of Canada and the United States. The five great lakes are Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario.

The great lakes cover 94,250 square miles and are the largest group of freshwater lakes on earth. They contain 21% of the world’s surface freshwater. Due to their massive size, they often resemble seas more than lakes. It’s not uncommon to witness rolling waves, strong currents, and intense, sustained winds.

However, the Great Lakes aren’t only big; they’re deep. While each lake is unique, the average depths between the lakes range from 60 to 480 feet deep. The deepest parts of the five lakes range from 210 to 1,300 feet. 

How Were the Great Lakes Formed?

Nearly 20,000 years ago, during the Last Glacial Period, massive ice sheets acted like bulldozers as they plowed through the areas we refer to as the Great Lakes.

They created huge valleys as they passed. However, as the glaciers melted, the water filled the large valleys and the lakes as we know them have maintained their shape for the past 3,000 years.

Pro Tip: Be safe while going for a swim in the Roughest Great Lake.

Family tubing on Great Lake
The Great Lakes may be the perfect vacation destination, but they are slowly disappearing.

What Is the Significance of the Great Lakes?

The Great Lakes are incredibly significant to the surrounding areas. They’re a source of drinking water, transportation, hunting, fishing, recreation, and irrigation. The Great Lakes contain 90% of the United State’s freshwater supply, and millions of people in the United States and Canada receive their drinking water from the lakes. To say the residents and environment depend on the Great Lakes is a massive understatement.

What Would Happen If the Great Lakes Dried Up?

Approximately 40 million people depend on the Great Lakes for drinking water. If the Great Lakes were to dry up, these residents would need to find another clean, safe drinking water source. However, since the Great Lakes contain 90% of the United States’s freshwater, it would not be easy.

Irrigation would also become an issue. Irrigation in this part of the country is far more than having a vibrant, green front yard. Farmers use irrigation to water their crops and keep them alive. Without access to irrigation, farmers would have trouble growing much of the produce we use for food and many other purposes. While they may grow some, their total yield would take a tremendous hit.

Another thing to consider is the role the Great Lakes play in shipping goods. Many farmers and manufacturers in the region utilize the Great Lakes for shipping. Without the ability to ship goods, these crucial industries would have to rely on other shipping means. This would likely take longer, cost more, and have more impact on the environment.

The Great Lakes play a vital role and are worth protecting. However, reports indicate that some of the Great Lakes have lost more than three trillion gallons of water and receded by more than four inches in a single month. 

Both the U.S. and Canada rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water.

What’s the Shallowest Great Lake?

Of the five Great Lakes, Lake Erie takes the title for being not only the smallest but also the shallowest. While Lake Erie has a maximum depth of 210 feet, its average depth is only 62. Lake Michigan’s average depth is deeper than Lake Erie’s deepest point. However, Lake Superior’s deepest point is an incredible 1,332 feet. 

Will the Great Lakes Rise With Global Warming?

While the full impacts of global warming are nearly impossible to predict, some reports indicate it could cause issues for the Great Lakes. Depending on the lake, some predictions are that they’ll increase from six to 33+ inches. While rising water levels would mean not running out of water, it would cause various issues for those in the region.

The primary issues residents would face are flooding and erosion. This may not be a problem for everyone, but those who live or have businesses in flood zones or along the shores of these coasts would experience the impact.

Climate modeler Pengfei Xue of Michigan Technological University said, “Looking at the coastal hazards, their probability is going to increase and they will be more severe.”

What Will the Great Lakes Look Like in the Future?

Much of the latest research indicates that the Great Lakes will continue to grow as long as climate change continues. Scientists predict that by 2050, almost all lakes will increase in size and depth. 

As a result, erosion will likely continue along the shores of the lakes and cause them to grow slowly. However, many hope that environmental changes as people become more aware of our environmental impact will slow any negative consequences. 

Pro Tip: Want to know if you can safely swim in each Great Lake? We uncovered Which Great Lake Is the Dirtiest?

What Is the Biggest Threat to the Great Lakes?

While the Great Lakes are vast, they’re not immune from potential threats. Some of the biggest threats to the Great Lakes include invasive species, pollution, climate change, and the destruction of habitats for native species. The most significant threats to the lakes vary and will change by who you’re asking. However, protectors of the lakes can join forces and stand against any threats. When we stand united, everyone wins, including the lakes.

Have you visited one of the Great Lakes? Which one? Tell us in the comments!

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