View Full Version : Why are the Great Lakes called lakes and not seas?

05-31-2002, 08:00 AM
Why are the Great Lakes called lakes and not seas? What makes a sea a sea? Are the Great Lakes called lakes because they lack salt? Wouldn't that just make them fresh water seas? They seem big enough to be seas to me...

05-31-2002, 08:17 AM
Nasa's response:

First a primer about what's the difference between a lake and a sea. While "sea" is a general designation for all the salt water in all the oceans, it's also the name associated with bodies of salt water that are partially landlocked, like the Red Sea. "Sea" is used as well to designate inland bodies of salt water, such as the Aral Sea, and sometimes even inland bodies of fresh water, for example the Sea of Gallilee. A lake is considered to be a large, inland body of fresh water, though, no distinction is given as to exactly how large a body of water must be to be a lake. For our purposes, we'll say that any inland water body is a lake, regardless of whether it contains fresh or salty water.

05-31-2002, 08:30 AM
As someone who grew up less than a mile from Lake Superior, I can say that there really *should* be a different word for 'really really big lake.' I remember being confused as a child because that huge body of water that was visible from all over town was a 'lake'. The teeny tiny mud-encrusted thing I saw on the way to our cabin was also a 'lake'. Made no sense to me.

'course, lately a lot of people who live next to the Great Lakes tend to refer to anything you can see across as a 'puddle'.

Athena, who recently purchased a house that's a 10 minute walk from Lake Superior

05-31-2002, 10:25 AM
In general, if it has fresh water and an outlet, it's a lake; if it has no outlet (and therefore salt water), it's a sea. I'm not sure whether temporary bodies would be called lakes or seas; I suspect lakes but I'm not sure.

(I'm ignoring inconsistencies like the Great Salt Lake...)

05-31-2002, 04:58 PM
As someone who grew up less than a mile from Lake Superior, I can say that there really *should* be a different word for 'really really big lake.'Really, though, how many bodies of water are there in the world which are too big to see across? I'm guessing that for things called lakes, the Great Salt Lake and the five Great Lakes are it. And those are all in the western hemisphere, so weren't discovered until the English language was already devoloped. We do, though, have a two-word term for them: Great lakes.

05-31-2002, 05:18 PM
...how many bodies of water are there in the world which are too big to see across?

Lake Victoria in eastern Africa would qualify. Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa also are nothing to sneeze at.

California's Salton Sea, on the other hand, is virtually invisible on my world map.

05-31-2002, 05:43 PM
If you wait around a 100 or years or so, the Salton Sea may become invisible even if you are standing next to it.

But it was Sonny Bono's dream to see the Salton Sea kept alive. I've you've ever been there, you would wonder why. It was created by accident anyway.

05-31-2002, 05:57 PM
The Caspian Sea is a lake under one popularly accepted definition (landlocked body of water with no direct outlet to the Ocean, salty or fresh), and if you believe it to ba a lake, it is actually the World's largest, by a factor of over 4. From one "top ten" list:

The Caspian Sea - Europe, 143,240 square miles

Lake Superior - North America, 31,700 square miles

Lake Victoria - Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, 26,820 square miles

The Aral Sea - Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, 24,700 square miles

Lake Huron - North America, 23,000 square miles

Lake Michigan - United States, 22,300 square miles

Lake Tanganyika - Africa, 12,350 square miles

Lake Baikal - Russia, 12,200 square miles

Great Bear Lake - Canada, 12,095 square miles

Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi) - Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania, 11,150 square miles

The Great Salt Lake doesn't make the top ten by a long shot - the Great Salt Lake fluctuates a lot, but is somewhere in the vicinity of 2000 sq mi. If we admit it to our universe of "large lakes" looking for another word, there's quite a few of them.

05-31-2002, 06:25 PM
In fact, this list of "over 1600 square mile" lakes lists 36, and places The Great Salt Lake at 34th (1800 sq mi):


To complete the list regarding the Great Lakes, that list places Great Slave and Chad ahead of Erie, and Lake Winnepeg ahead of Ontario.

Figures regarding lakes like the Great Salt Lake, Chad and Eyre are bound to be questionable - they fluctuate a lot, and Chad has been shrinking dramatically over the last couple decades.

Spavined Gelding
05-31-2002, 09:13 PM
My WAG is that they are lakes, not seas, because the French named them, not the Germans---thus, Lac Superior, not Hochsee. See also Lake Constance and Bodensee.

05-31-2002, 09:51 PM
Lakes Michigan and Huron are the same lake. (I think it is because they are at the same elevation)

There was a some problems on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Because the contestant said that Huron was bigger than Michigan, but the show said the other way around (think they wer measuring volume instead of area or something)


06-01-2002, 02:09 AM
So far I don't see anyone giving what geographers accept as the difference:
A lake is landlocked-a sea is all the waters that extend between the landmasses.Oceans are seas (Atlantic,Pacific,etc,) but a named sea (Mediterraen,Carribean,etc.)has distinctive geographical boundaries,eg,Carribean,the Antilles westward to So.America/Mexico.,the Med.Giraltar eastward to Turkey/Israel.Seas also are connected to an ocean.

The Bay of Bengal is classified as a Sea,but the Bay of Biscaye (western coast of France from below Normandy to Spain),is not.

A pond is a lake.Not very big but by definition it is one.A puddle is,too-and what we used to call our parking lot entrance in heavy rains-Lake Wetfoot :)

I guess you can name your waterbody what you like-the academic geographers just won't accept it.

Lake Eyre (Aus.) mentioned earlier with a sq.mileage of abt 2500 (bigger than the state of Delaware)-has been said to have been almost completely dried up in protracted dry periods.

Also for a billionare type spin on largest bodies of water-one (or both) of the African lakes in the top 10 holds more water than Superior or Michigan IIRC-they're deeper by 1 1/2 to 3 times.

06-01-2002, 08:59 AM
We can't forget Lake Titicaca! :D

heh heh heh heh heh heh

06-01-2002, 10:02 AM
Let's not forget that the Great Lakes of North America now officially include the mighty Lake Champlain (http://geography.about.com/library/weekly/aa030298.htm). Got that? But there are still five, if we merge Michigan and Huron. Of course, that just means the mnemonic is C-O-M-E-S, and who really wants that?

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