The Great Lakes

Explore the physical properties of the world’s largest freshwater system, the so-called sweet-water seas. Every nook and cranny of this Wisconsin Sea Grant site has a Great Lakes focus. This topic page, in particular, drills down into the physical characteristics of the lakes. The following sections will explain the formation of the Great Lakes, and their current depth, shoreline attributes, temperature and more.



Plans

2014-17 Wisconsin Sea Grant College Program Strategic Plan
Wisconsin Sea Grant is guided by a 2014-17 Strategic Plan outlining its approach to basic and applied research, education, and outreach and technology transfer dedicated to the stewardship and sustainable use of the nation's Great Lakes and ocean resources.


2014-17 Wisconsin Sea Grant College Program Work Plan
The 2014-17 Communications and Advisory Services Work Plan provides an outline on how to deliver information to coastal constituents in the Great Lakes Basin.


2014-17 National Sea Grant College Program Strategic Plan
The 2014-17 National Sea Grant College Program Strategic Plan provides overall guidance to Wisconsin Sea Grant.


Leadership

Management Team Biographies
A five-person team leads Wisconsin Sea Grant. Read more...


Advisory Council

The Wisconsin Sea Grant Advisory Council provides policy guidance within established institutional goals, approves the overall program plan and budget, and participates in program planning.

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Advisory Committee on Outreach and Education

The University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Committee on Outreach and Education was formed to provide additional guidance on the direction of the program's outreach, education and communications efforts. 

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Mission and Vision Statements

Wisconsin Sea Grant Mission Statement
Here is the Wisconsin Sea Grant narrative on why it exists -- its mission statement. Read more...


Wisconsin Sea Grant Vision Statement
Here is the vision for Wisconsin Sea Grant as it enters the second decade of a new century. Read more...


Make a Tax-Deductible Gift

Your Support Matters

Through the Wisconsin Sea Grant and Water Resources Institute Fund, you play a direct role in safeguarding and sustainably using Wisconsin's aquatic treasures. Tax-deductible gifts made to this fund support multidisciplinary research, education and outreach.

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Facts About Wisconsin Sea Grant

2012-14 Biennial Report
Our 2012-14 biennial report offers details on support for research developing twin tests on diagnosing a deadly fish disease and exploration of the Lake Michigan food web. It also celebrates our support for marine-science learning and collaboration to the benefit of coastal communities. Read more...


National Sea Grant Report
The 33 programs of the National Sea Grant College Program make their mark on this country's coastlines. Our work in support of resiliency is highlighted. Read more...


Quick Facts
Explore some Wisconsin Sea Grant facts and milestones. Read more...


Partners and Collaborators
The work of Wisconsin Sea Grant scientists and staff is closely connected to the needs of government, industry and citizens at the local, state, regional, national and international levels. The work is done with myriad collaborators. Read more...


Awards
Wisconsin Sea Grant staff have been recognized for their accomplishments. The program's publications and websites have also received notice. Read more...


History
Founded in 1968, the Wisconsin Sea Grant College Program is one of 33 Sea Grant Programs in the U.S. Located in coastal areas, Sea Grant, much like its Land Grant counterparts, harnesses the academic strengths of  the nation's leading universities. Read more...


Speakers Bureau

Looking for a Speaker?

Our staff members are willing to deliver public presentations on Great Lakes topics. Email Moira Harrington or call (608) 263-5371 for assistance on arranging talks.




Research and Outreach

2016-18 Research and Outreach Projects
Wisconsin Sea Grant provides science for the sustainable use of Great Lakes resources. The 2016-18 research, education and outreach projects embody that work. Read more...


Publications Store

Visit, Learn and Go
This Sea Grant Online Publications Store features books, brochures, fact sheets, posters, reports and other handy and informative material. Read more...


Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy
Wisconsin Sea Grant is committed to protecting the privacy and security of its online visitors. This policy statement provides our visitors (including children, parents, and teachers) with an overview of the measures we have taken to provide a safe environment for everyone. Read more...


The Formation of the Great Lakes

How They Were Made
Thousands of years ago, the melting mile-thick glaciers of the Wisconsin Ice Age left the North American continent a magnificent gift: five fantastic freshwater seas collectively known today as the Great Lakes -- Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Read more...


Lake Superior
The greatest of the Great Lakes is Lake Superior, the northernmost and westernmost Great Lake -- and the biggest, the deepest, the coldest and the most pristine. Read more...


Lake Huron
The second-largest Great Lake, Lake Huron, has a surface area of 23,000 square miles -- slightly smaller than West Virginia -- making it the fifth-largest freshwater lake in the world. Read more...


Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is the third largest Great Lake and the fifth largest lake in the world. Bordered by Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, it is the only Great Lake that lies entirely within the boundaries of the U.S. Read more...


Lake Erie
Lake Erie is the fourth-largest Great Lake and the world's twelfth largest freshwater lake. Erie is about 210 miles long, 57 miles wide and about 570 feet above sea level. Read more...


Lake Ontario
The opposite of Lake Superior in almost every way, Lake Ontario is the easternmost, lowest in elevation, smallest in surface area and perhaps the most polluted Great Lake. Read more...


Photo Gallery
Great Lakes landscapes, cities, islands, bays and more. Read more...


Wisconsin Great Lakes Facts

Just 3 percent of the world's water exists as fresh water...
...2 percent is locked in the polar ice caps; less than 1 percent resides in freshwater lakes and streams.


The Great Lakes contain an estimated 5,500 cubic miles...
...(22,700 cubic kilometers) of water — a fifth of all the liquid surface fresh water on Earth.


The United States draws more than 40 billion gallons...
...(151 billion liters) of water from the Great Lakes every day — half of which is used for electrical power production.


About 6.4 million acres...
...(2.6 million hectares) of Lakes Michigan and Superior lie within Wisconsin's state boundaries.


Wisconsin's 15 coastal counties...
...contain more than 1.2 million acres of wetlands (486,000 hectares) — nearly a fourth of all of the state's remaining wetlands.


Wisconsin has more than 800 miles...
...(1,300 kilometers) of Great Lakes coastline.


More than a third of Wisconsin's population...
...lives in the 11 counties forming its Lake Michigan coast; 24 percent live in the three southeast coastal counties of Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha alone.


About 13 million salmon and trout...
are stocked in Lake Michigan each year by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.


Anglers net more than 500,000 trout and salmon...
...each year in Wisconsin waters of Lakes Michigan and Superior.  Great Lakes trout and salmon fishing stamp fees alone bring in $1.7 million a year to state coffers.


The Great Lakes have been colonized by 161 known nonindigenous aquatic species...
...over half of them since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959.


Wisconsin's power and water utilities...
...spend an estimated $5 million annually trying to protect water intakes from zebra mussels.


The assessed value of Lake Michigan lakeshore property...
...in just one Wisconsin county — Door County — is almost $2 billion.


Each year, Wisconsin's 12 active harbors...
...on lakes Michigan and Superior handle a total of more than 40 million tons (40 billion kilograms) of commodities valued at more than $7 billion.


More than 800 toxic contaminants...
...have been identified in Great Lakes water and sediment.


Five of the 43 Great Lakes "Areas of Concern"...
...identified by the U.S.-Canadian International Joint Commission are in Wisconsin — Superior Bay, Menominee River, Green Bay, Sheboygan River, and Milwaukee estuary.


Great Lakes Weather

Weather on the Great Lakes
The National Weather Service maintains graphic representations and data-rich information on the weather and navigational properties of the lakes. Read more...


Real-Time Lake Conditions
The Great Lakes Observing System provides real-time information lake conditions. Read more...


Water Levels on the Great Lakes

Why the Lake Levels Fluctuate
This brief explanation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains with the levels of the lakes varies and what affect that has on ecosystems and on development around the lakes. Read more...


Videos

FLUX: Water, Art and Science Part Two: Steve Carpenter
Water has been a source of inspiration for artists and scientists throughout history. Steve Carpenter of the UW-Madison Center for Limnology talks about issues related to water that inform his work and about how the disciplines of art and science might intersect. Read more...


FLUX: Water, Art and Science Part One: Sarah Fitzsimons
Water has been a source of inspiration for artists and scientists throughout history. Sarah FitzSimons of the UW-Madison Art Department talks about issues related to water that inform her work and about how the disciplines of art and science might intersect. Read more...


New Talent Tackles Wisconsin's Water Challenges

Eight enterprising, energetic new fellows were honored at a convocation held by the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute, Water Resources Institute, and the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program on Sept. 22, 2016, at the Milwaukee South Shore Yacht Club.
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Confronting Coastal Erosion and Flooding
Adam Bechle is learning to help coastal residents in Wisconsin confront coastal erosion and flooding. Bechle is the is the new J. Keillor Wisconsin Coastal Management and Wisconsin Sea Grant Fellow. Read more...


Wisconsin's 2017 Knauss Fellow Finalist: Danielle Cloutier

A brief talk with Wisconsin's 2017 Knauss Fellow Finalist. For more information about the Dean John A. Knauss Fellowships, please see http://seagrant.noaa.gov/fundingfellowships/knaussfellowship.aspx

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Are Flame Retardants Harming Frogs?
In Dr. William Karasov's lab, the northern leopard frog is front and center in a series of research experiments designed to explore how environmental toxins may be affecting the frog's immune system, growth and development.
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Climate Change: A Great Lakes Regional Perspective - Magnuson
A talk by John Magnuson
Emeritus Professor of Zoology and Limnology, UW-Madison on June 7 & 11 in Superior and Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Revitalizing Local Waterfront Economies
This video outlines the Great Lakes Legacy Act and highlights benefits it brings to communities. Read more...


Welcome Jane Harrison, Our First Social Scientist
Wisconsin Sea Grant welcomes social scientist Dr. Jane Harrison to our staff. Read more...


A Message from the Director
Dr. Anders Andren welcomes you to our Website and describes what Sea Grant does. Read more...


A Tour of the "Northerner"
Check out a historic Lake Michigan shipwreck without getting wet. Read more...


Beyond the Usual Suspects
E. coli bacteria sometimes contaminates the waters of Bradford Beach in Milwaukee. Where does it come from? How can it be reduced? Dr. Sandra MacLellan cracks the case. Read more...


Engineering Students Dive into Field Work
Wisconsin Sea Grant Coastal Engineering Specialist Gene Clark describes slope stability, erosion, and other coastal issues as students learn to deploy and operate instruments. Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Chin Wu conducted the class, called "Exploration and Investigation of Coastal Processes in the Great Lakes and Inland Lakes." Read more...


See More videos on the Great Lakes
Read more...


Related Publications

Visit Our Publication Store
For publications related to the history of the Great Lakes, see our publications store. Read more...


Related Websites

Gifts of the glaciers
Thousands of years ago, the melting mile-thick glaciers of the Wisconsin Ice Age left the North American continent a magnificent gift: five fantastic freshwater seas collectively known today as the Great Lakes - Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan,  Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Read more...


Glossary of the Great Lakes
Minnesota Sea Grant has prepared this reference site about environmental programs, agencies and terminology related to the Great Lakes. Read more...


Great Lakes Information from the Environmental Protection Agency
The Great Lakes - Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario - are an important part of the physical and cultural heritage of North America. Spanning more than 750 miles from west to east, these vast inland freshwater seas have provided water for consumption, transportation, power, recreation and a host of other uses. Read more...


Wisconsin's Water Library
Established in 1964 by the UW Water Resources Institute, Wisconsin's Water Library (formerly known as the Water Resources Library) is unique among UW-Madison's many libraries for its collection of almost 30,000 volumes of water-related information about the Great Lakes and the waters of Wisconsin. The library includes a curriculum collection, dozens of educational videos, a children's collection, and more than 20 journals and 100 newsletters. Read more...

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