Most people know of Minnesota as the Land of 10,000 Lakes... and the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. But not many realize that the Great Lakes originate here as well.
The Great Lakes are the largest body of fresh water on earth, holding 95% of the surface freshwater in the US, and more than 1/5 of the entire planet’s fresh water supply. They begin inland on the St. Louis River, at the remote headwaters region of Lake Superior, and travel 2,300 nautical miles to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where lake water from the heart of North America empties into the Atlantic ocean.
Geologists refer to the Great Lakes as a river, since Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario are connected as a continuous body, sharing 10,000 miles of shoreline; more than the East and West coasts of the mainland US combined. 37 million people live in the Great Lakes Basin, and more than 26 million of them rely on the lakes for their drinking water. The lakes’ ecosystem also provides the natural resources necessary for jobs, food production, heavy industry, shipping, and tourism.
It’s hard to believe that something as big as the Great Lakes could ever fail. But environmental challenges threaten the diversity of the lakes’ plant and animal life, which in turn risks the overall health of the region. Dangers to the Great Lakes include habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, altered hydrology, climate change, and most recently, flying Asian carp and poisonous, floating microbeads.
400 years ago, in 1615, French explorer Samuel de Champlain was the first European to glimpse the Great Lakes. Since then, the lakes have been exploited more than they’ve been respected. Toxic algae, closed beaches, and disappearing fish are just a few symptoms of broader, more complicated issues resulting from modern human contact with our freshwater seas.
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