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Great Lakes

By:
Edited by:
Michael J. Mac, Paul A. Opler, Catherine E. Puckett Haecker, and Peter D. Doran

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Abstract

The Great Lakes region, as defined here, includes the Great Lakes and their drainage basins in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. The region also includes the portions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the 21 northernmost counties of Illinois that lie in the Mississippi River drainage basin, outside the floodplain of the river. The region spans about 9º of latitude and 20º of longitude and lies roughly halfway between the equator and the North Pole in a lowland corridor that extends from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean.

The Great Lakes are the most prominent natural feature of the region (Fig. 1). They have a combined surface area of about 245,000 square kilometers and are among the largest, deepest lakes in the world. They are the largest single aggregation of fresh water on the planet (excluding the polar ice caps) and are the only glacial feature on Earth visible from the surface of the moon (The Nature Conservancy 1994a).

The Great Lakes moderate the region’s climate, which presently ranges from subarctic in the north to humid continental warm in the south (Fig. 2), reflecting the movement of major weather masses from the north and south (U.S. Department of the Interior 1970; Eichenlaub 1979). The lakes act as heat sinks in summer and heat sources in winter and are major reservoirs that help humidify much of the region. They also create local precipitation belts in areas where air masses are pushed across the lakes by prevailing winds, pick up moisture from the lake surface, and then drop that moisture over land on the other side of the lake. The mean annual frost-free period—a general measure of the growing-season length for plants and some cold-blooded animals—varies from 60 days at higher elevations in the north to 160 days in lakeshore areas in the south. The climate influences the general distribution of wild plants and animals in the region and also influences the activities and distribution of the human population.

The wild plants and animals and the natural systems that support them in the Great Lakes region are valuable resources of considerable local, regional, and national interest. They are also, in part, transboundary resources that we share with our Canadian neighbors to the north. The way these resources are changing over time is inadequately known and is a cause for concern for resource users and for those charged with managing and protecting these unique and valuable resources. This chapter describes the wild plants and animals and the systems that support them in the Great Lakes region; addresses their condition; and points out the gaps in our knowledge about them that, if filled, would aid in their conservation and appropriate use.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Book chapter
Publication Subtype:
Book Chapter
Title:
Great Lakes
Volume:
1
Year Published:
1998
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Great Lakes Science Center
Description:
36 p.
Larger Work Type:
Report
Larger Work Subtype:
Other Report
Larger Work Title:
Status and trends of the nation's biological resources
First page:
219
Last page:
254