A lake is a water body surrounded by land, not connected to the sea. Lakes are fed by rivers, rainfall, melting snow, and other inlets. They are formed due to glacial activities, volcanoes, and tectonic activities. North America happens to be home to five of the world’s top 10 largest lakes, primarily because it was covered in glaciers during the Ice Age. They are commonly known as the five Great Lakes.
There are an estimated 100 million lakes larger than one hectare on the planet. Here we take a look at the top 10 largest lakes in the world by area. It’s worth pointing out that the surface area of lakes changes over time due to various reasons including human activity.
The Aral Sea between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan was one of the world’s largest takes. Due to human activity and changing climatic conditions, the Aral Sea began shrinking about 50 years ago. Now it has become the size of a pond. Others such as Lake Urmia in Iran are also receding rapidly.
The ranking below is based on data from the CIA World Fact Book. Except for the Caspian Sea, all of them are freshwater lakes.
10- Great Slave Lake, 10,000 sq miles
Located in the Northwest Territories of Canada, the Great Slave Lake also happens to be the deepest lake in North America. It has a total surface area of 10,000 square miles and is 614 meters deep. It gets its name from “Slavey,” which is the Cree name for their enemies. The Northwest Territories’ capital Yellowknife is located on the northern shore of the lake. The ice on the lake is thick enough to hold cars and SUVs for half of the year.
9- Lake Malawi, 11,400 sq miles
At 11,400 sq miles, Lake Malawi aka Lake Nyasa is one of the top 10 largest lakes in the world. It is located between Tanzania, Mozambique, and Malawi in Africa. It is home to more species of fish than any other lake in the world. More than 1,000 different species of fish have been recorded in the lake. Malawi Lake’s layers are permanently stratified and its water layers do not mix. It is 350 miles long and 47 miles wide.
8- Great Bear Lake, 12,090 sq miles
The Great Bear Lake in Canada has a surface area of 12,090 square miles and a maximum depth of 446 meters. It’s the largest lake entirely within the borders of Canada. It gets its name from Denesuline word Satudene, which means “grizzly bear water people.” The Great Bear Lake is 320km long and 172km wide. It consists of five distinct arms – Dease, McTavish, McVicar, Keith, and Smith.
7- Lake Baikal, 12,200 sq miles
Located in the Siberia region of Russia, Lake Baikal is the deepest lake on the planet with a maximum depth of 1,642 meters. It was formed about 25 million years ago, which makes it the oldest lake on the planet. Baikal has the clearest water of any lake in the world. It holds between 20% and 23% of the unfrozen fresh water on the surface of Earth. It is also home to a large number of plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world.
6- Lake Tanganyika, 12,600 sq miles
Located between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Burundi, and Zambia, it is the second deepest (1,433 meters) and second oldest lake on the planet. Lake Tanganyika has a rich biodiversity. It holds about 18% of the world’s freshwater. It is 420 miles long and 31 miles wide. The lake has several islands within its boundary. It was formed because of tectonic movements.
5- Michigan Lake, 22,000 sq miles
One of the five Great Lakes, it is the largest lake entirely within the US borders. It has a surface area of 22,000 square miles and a maximum depth of 281 meters. It has some beautiful beaches. The Michigan Lake is often referred to as the “Third Coast” of the US because of its long stretches. The word Michigan comes from the Ojibwa word “michi-gami,” which translates to “large lake.”
4- Lake Huron, 23,000 sq miles
Lake Huron has the longest shoreline of the five Great Lakes in North America. Its shoreline measures 3,827 miles and the surface area is 23,000 square miles. It is connected to Michigan Lake by a five-mile-wide Straits of Mackinac. Lake Huron is estimated to have about 30,000 islands including the Manitoulin Island, which is popular among tourists. Lake Huron was named by early French explorers after the Huron people inhabiting the region.
3- Victoria Lake, 26,590 sq miles
Located in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, Victoria Lake is the largest lake in the continent of Africa. It is the second-largest freshwater lake in the world. It was named by British explorer John Hanning Speke after Queen Victoria in 1858. It’s the primary source of water for the mighty Nile River. The lake is pretty shallow with a maximum depth of just 84 meters. The lake has 84 islands in it.
2- Superior Lake, 31,700 sq miles
It’s the largest freshwater lake in the world with a surface area of 31,700 square miles. Lake Superior in North America has a maximum depth of 406 meters. It houses about 10% of the world’s fresh surface water, making it the third largest freshwater lake by volume. Lake Superior flows into Lake Huron through the St. Marys River. It contains more water than all the other four Great Lakes combined.
1- Caspian Sea, 143,000 sq miles
Despite its name, Caspian Sea has all the characteristics of a lake, hence it’s considered one. The lake is surrounded by Russia, Turkmenistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan. Geologically, the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea were part of the ancient Tethys Ocean. The Caspian Sea became landlocked due to climate change nearly 5.5 million years ago. It is the largest enclosed inland water body on the planet, accounting for more than 40% of the water in the world’s lakes. It gets more than 75% of its water from the Volga River in Russia. It is also the third deepest lake in the world.