The redistribution of suspended organisms and materials by large-scale currents is part of natural ecological processes in large aquatic systems but can contribute to ecosystem disruption when exotic elements are introduced into the system. Toxic compounds and planktonic organisms spend various lengths of time in suspension before settling to the bottom or otherwise being removed. We constructed a simple physical simulation model, including the influence of major tributaries, to qualitatively examine circulation patterns in Lake Ontario. We used a simple mass balance approach to estimate the relative water input to and export from each of 10 depth regime-specific compartments (nearshore vs. offshore) comprising Lake Ontario. Despite its simplicity, our model produced circulation patterns similar to those reported by more complex studies in the literature. A three-gyre pattern, with the classic large counterclockwise central lake circulation, and a simpler two-gyre system were both observed. These qualitative simulations indicate little offshore transport along the south shore, except near the mouths of the Niagara River and Oswego River. Complex flow structure was evident, particularly near the Niagara River mouth and in offshore waters of the eastern basin. Average Lake Ontario residence time is 8 years, but the fastest model pathway indicated potential transport of plankton through the lake in as little as 60 days. This simulation illustrates potential invasion pathways and provides rough estimates of planktonic larval dispersal or chemical transport among nearshore and offshore areas of Lake Ontario. ?? 2011 Taylor & Francis.