The World’s 25 Largest Lakes, Side by Side

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The World's 25 Largest Lakes, Side by Side

The World’s 25 Largest Lakes, Side by Side

In many parts of the world, you don’t have to look very far to find a lake.

According to satellite data, there are roughly 100 million lakes larger than one hectare (2.47 acres) to be found globally. The largest lakes, which rival the size of entire nations, are more of a rarity.

One might expect the world’s largest lakes to be very alike, but from depth to saline content, their properties can be quite different. As well, the ranking of the world’s largest lakes is far from static, as human activity can turn a massive body of water into a desert within a single generation.

Today’s graphic – created using the fantastic online tool, Slap It On A Map! – uses the Great Lakes region as a point of comparison for the largest 25 lakes, by area. This is particularly useful in comparing the scale of lakes that are located in disparate parts of the globe.

The Greatest Lakes

The largest lake in the world by a long shot is the Caspian Sea – a name that hints at a past when it was contiguous with the ocean around 11 million years ago. This massive saline lake, which is nearly the same size as Japan, borders five countries: Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran. An estimated 48 billion barrels of oil lay beneath the surface of the basin.

The five Great Lakes, which run along the Canada–U.S. border, form one of the largest collections of fresh water on Earth. This interconnected series of lakes represents around 20% of the world’s fresh water and the region supports over 100 million people, roughly equal to one-third of the Canada–U.S. population.

Amazingly, a single lake holds as much fresh water as all the Great Lakes combined – Lake Baikal. This rift lake in Siberia has a maximum depth of 5,371ft (1,637m). For comparison, the largest of the Great Lakes (Lake Superior) is only 25% as deep, with a maximum depth of 1,333ft (406m). Lake Baikal is unique in a number of other ways too. It is the world’s oldest, coldest lake, and around 80% of its animal species are endemic (not found anywhere else).

Here’s a full run-down of the top 25 lakes by area:

Rank Lake Name Surface Area Type Countries on shoreline
1 Caspian Sea 143,000 sq mi
(371,000km²)
Saline 🇰🇿 Kazakhstan
🇷🇺 Russia
🇹🇲 Turkmenistan
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan
🇮🇷 Iran
2 Superior 31,700 sq mi
(82,100km²)
Freshwater 🇨🇦 Canada
🇺🇸 U.S.
3 Victoria 26,590 sq mi
(68,870km²)
Freshwater 🇺🇬 Uganda
🇰🇪 Kenya
🇹🇿 Tanzania
4 Huron 23,000 sq mi
(59,600km²)
Freshwater 🇨🇦 Canada
🇺🇸 U.S.
5 Michigan 22,000 sq mi
(58,000km²)
Freshwater 🇺🇸 U.S.
6 Tanganyika 12,600 sq mi
(32,600km²)
Freshwater 🇧🇮 Burundi
🇹🇿 Tanzania
🇿🇲 Zambia
🇨🇩 D.R.C.
7 Baikal 12,200 sq mi
(31,500km²)
Freshwater 🇷🇺 Russia
8 Great Bear Lake 12,000 sq mi
(31,000km²)
Freshwater 🇨🇦 Canada
9 Malawi 11,400 sq mi
(29,500km²)
Freshwater 🇲🇼 Malawi
🇲🇿 Mozambique
🇹🇿 Tanzania
10 Great Slave Lake 10,000 sq mi
(27,000km²)
Freshwater 🇨🇦 Canada
11 Erie 9,900 sq mi
(25,700km²)
Freshwater 🇨🇦 Canada
🇺🇸 U.S.
12 Winnipeg 9,465 sq mi
(24,514km²)
Freshwater 🇨🇦 Canada
13 Ontario 7,320 sq mi
(18,960km²)
Freshwater 🇨🇦 Canada
🇺🇸 U.S.
14 Ladoga 7,000 sq mi
(18,130km²)
Freshwater 🇷🇺 Russia
15 Balkhash 6,300 sq mi
(16,400km²)
Saline 🇰🇿 Kazakhstan
16 Vostok 4,800 sq mi
(12,500km²)
Freshwater 🇦🇶 Antarctica
17 Onega 3,700 sq mi
(9,700km²)
Freshwater 🇷🇺 Russia
18 Titicaca 3,232 sq mi
(8,372km²)
Freshwater 🇧🇴 Bolivia
🇵🇪 Peru
19 Nicaragua 3,191 sq mi
(8,264km²)
Freshwater 🇳🇮 Nicaragua
20 Athabasca 3,030 sq mi
(7,850km²)
Freshwater 🇨🇦 Canada
21 Taymyr 2,700 sq mi
(6,990km²)
Freshwater 🇷🇺 Russia
22 Turkana 2,473 sq mi
(6,405km²)
Saline 🇰🇪 Kenya
🇪🇹 Ethiopia
23 Reindeer Lake 2,440 sq mi
(6,330km²)
Freshwater 🇨🇦 Canada
24 Issyk-Kul 2,400 sq mi
(6,200km²)
Saline 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan
25 Urmia 2,317 sq mi
(6,001km²)
Saline 🇮🇷 Iran

The Great Lakes World Tour

For people living in Canada and the U.S., the shape and relative size of the Great Lakes system may be quite familiar. This makes the Great Lakes a fantastic point of comparison to help put the size of other world locations into perspective. To this end, we begin our Great Lakes World Tour.

First, the image below shows how the Great Lakes system would look if it was located in India.

great lakes compared with india

Distortions on commonly used maps can downplay the size of India compared to more northern nations. This view of the Great Lakes can help put India’s true size into perspective.

Next, we look at the Great Lakes overlaid within Central Europe.

great lakes compared with europe

In the context of Europe, the lakes are so large that they extend from the Netherlands over to Slovakia. Lake Superior’s surface area of 31,700 mi2 (82,000 km2), is similar in size to Austria. Here’s are the five Great Lakes and European countries of equivalent size:

Great Lakes Surface Area Equivalent Country Area
Lake Superior 82,000 km2 (31,700 sq mi) 🇦🇹 Austria 83,879 km2 (32,386 sq mi)
Lake Huron 60,000 km2 (23,000 sq mi) 🇱🇻 Latvia 64,589 km2 (24,938 sq mi)
Lake Michigan 58,000 km2 (22,300 sq mi) 🇭🇷 Croatia 56,594 km2 (21,851 sq mi)
Lake Erie 25,700 km2 (9,910 sq mi) 🇲🇰 North Macedonia 25,713 km2 (9,928 sq mi)
Lake Ontario 19,000 km2 (7,340 sq mi) 🇸🇮 Slovenia 20,271 km2 (7,827 sq mi)

Lastly, here is a look at the Great Lakes in Southern Australia. Australia is the world’s 6th largest country, so the Great Lakes only occupy one corner of its land mass.

great lakes compared with Australia

Australia’s lack of glacial history means that there are few permanent freshwater lakes in the country. Many of the country’s largest lakes only fill up during periods of excessive rainfall.

Shrinking out of the rankings

Not far from the world’s largest lake, straddling the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, lay the sand dunes of the Aralkum Desert. In the not so distant past, this harsh environment was actually the bed of one of the largest lakes in the world – the Aral Sea.

Aral Sea receding 1960 2020

For reasons both climatic and anthropogenic, the Aral Sea began receding in the 1960s. This dramatic change in surface area took the Aral Sea from the fourth largest lake on Earth to not even ranking in the top 50. Researchers note that the size of the lake has fluctuated a lot over history, but through the lens of modern history these recent changes happened rapidly, leaving local economies devastated and former shoreside towns landlocked.

Lake Chad, in Saharan Africa, and Lake Urmia, in Iran, both face similar challenges, shrinking dramatically in recent decades.

How we work to reverse damage and avoid ecosystem collapse in vulnerable lakes will have a big influence on how the top 25 list may look in future years.

The post The World’s 25 Largest Lakes, Side by Side appeared first on Visual Capitalist.


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