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Michigan, LakeBritannica Elementary Article

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Lake Michigan is the third largest of the five Great Lakes of North America. Its name comes from the Algonquian Indian word michigami, or misschiganin, meaning “big lake.” It is contained completely within the midwestern United States. The other Great Lakes are on the border between the United States and Canada. The state of Michigan is to the east and north, Wisconsin is to the west, Illinois is to the southwest, and Indiana to the southeast. Lake Michigan connects with Lake Huron through the Straits of Mackinac in the north.


Physical features

The lake is 321 miles (517 kilometers) long. At its widest point it is 118 miles (190 kilometers). Its greatest depth is 923 feet (281 meters). There are a few islands, all at the northern end of the lake. The largest is Beaver Island. About one hundred streams flow into the lake, but only a few are large. The Manistee, Pere Marquette, White, Muskegon, Grand, Kalamazoo, and St. Joseph rivers enter the lake from the east. The Fox and Menominee rivers flow into Green Bay, a northwestern arm of the lake.

The land along Lake Michigan is low and gently rolling for the most part. Sand dunes are common along the southeastern shore, notably at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and State Park.

Lake Michigan rarely freezes over from shore to shore, but it does freeze along the shores. Like all large bodies of water, Lake Michigan helps to keep temperatures in the region moderate. That is, winters are warmer and summers are cooler than they would be if the lake were not there.



Lake Michigan is part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. This passage connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. Because of the connection, international ports have grown up around the lake, at cities such as Milwaukee and Chicago. Other lake ports include Indiana Harbor in Indiana; Waukegan, Illinois; Green Bay, Port Washington, and Manitowoc in Wisconsin; and Manistee, Ludington, Muskegon, Grand Haven, and Charlevoix in Michigan. Also, a ferry carries passengers and their cars across the lake between Manitowoc and Ludington.

Lake Michigan is used a great deal to ship products. Large ships carry raw materials such as iron ore, coal, and limestone from mines at the north end of the lake and around Lake Superior to industries in cities at the south end, such as Chicago.

Lake Michigan also brings in tourist revenues. The number of fish in the lake has fallen, but projects to restock it with lake trout and to introduce coho salmon have been very successful. Recreational and commercial fishing have become successful on the lake. Popular summer resort areas dot its shores.




The first European to see Lake Michigan was the French explorer Jean Nicolet in 1634. The Jesuit priest Claude-Jean Allouez began missionary work among the Native Americans of Green Bay and the Fox River in 1668. The French explorer Louis Jolliet and the French missionary Jacques Marquette mapped the lake's western shore from Green Bay to Chicago in 1673. The French established trading posts on the eastern side of the lake, but after the French and Indian War ended in 1763 all of the area around the Great Lakes became British territory.


Modern issues

Lake Michigan faces water pollution from several sources, including waste disposal by industries and cities along its shores. Another source of pollution is runoff from farms. This runoff is often high in chemicals from fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides as well as bacteria from animal waste. The quality of the water is important because the lake supplies drinking water to about 10 million people. Also, some pollutants in the water affect fish or are stored in the bodies of fish. When people eat these fish, their health can be affected.

Some of Lake Michigan's fish and other organisms are threatened by what are called exotic species. These are animals, such as the zebra mussel, that have been brought into the area from somewhere else in the world. Some, such as the alewife, an Atlantic Coast fish, were able to invade the Great Lakes after the Saint Lawrence Seaway opened. Some, such as the spiny water flea, came as “hitchhikers” on international ships. These animals often have no natural predators in their new home, so they can multiply very quickly. They can quickly take over an area and compete for food with local species.

Programs for controlling these and other environmental problems in Lake Michigan had some success in the late 20th century. State and national organizations and agencies monitor lake conditions. They also carry out research projects that will make protecting the lake even more successful.