Largest Lakes in the World

How are Lakes Formed? And The Largest Lakes in the World

You have got some time off after a long and exhausting period of working, all you want is peace, silence and a little bit of fresh air. The seaside seems like a good option at first glance, since you could turn your back to “the civilized world” and enjoy the peaceful nothingness offered by the endless sea. But it’s too crowded there, full of tourists. Staying home, maybe? Definitely not, you’ve had enough of concrete structures and materials within lately. So what do you do? The best alternative here is, of course, the nearest lake where you can enjoy the view while you feel the breeze sliding on your face in a huge moment of silence.

It is known that one’s relating himself/herself to the nature has a positive impact on the general happiness level [1]. Although the causes of that are arguable, it may be because the sounds of nature and the high oxygen levels in less “humanized” areas have an effect on human brain activity, thus psychology, in a positive sense. One thing is certain, it feels so good to be surrounded by trees while enjoying a slow activity by the side of a lake!

Could a larger lake provide a larger amount of happiness? Probably not, but still, for those who enjoy trips to lake sides, or those who definitely want to see the “top-10” for everything existing on this planet, here are the 10 largest lakes in the world! However, instead of giving a simple list with huge photos, let’s first have a look at how lakes are formed.

How are lakes formed?

Although the lakes in the world map do not usually change, a lot of lakes frequently occur and disappear. Another thing that happens continously is that the sizes of lakes change. However, most of these happenings occured in different geological ages, in the distant past.

Lakes are formed due to different factors. These are tectonic movements, glacial movements and volcanic mass movements.

Tectonic lakes are those which appear due to the movements in the earth’s crust, which also result in the occurance of continents. The move of the crust from point A to point B, or massive movements which result in the appearance of a new mountain range form rifts and ridges, also causing earthquakes. These rifts and ridges are then filled up with water thanks to rainfall, underground or surface water, which results in a new lake. At times, these new ridges can trap a part of an ocean or the sea, again resulting in the formation of a new lake, as in the Caspian Sea, whose water has a lot of common features with ocean water.

Glacial lakes, as the name suggests, are formed due to the movements of the glaciers. Glaciers are in constant movement due to gravity and temperature, and the movement of a large glacier results in a rift large enough to form a lake. These rifts are filled with water because of the melting glaciers due to rainfalls or temperature, forming the glacial lake. The reason why the state of Minnesota is called “The City of 10.000 Lakes” is that thousands of years ago, the area was covered in glaciers and many glacial lakes were formed in the region through time.

Crater lakes  are smaller than the other types of lakes in size. When a volcanic mountain goes extinct, the area that is called the ‘crater’ is filled with water, depending on the level of rainfall in the region, and a new lake is thus formed. A volcano can become extinct due to underground movements or the blockage of the crater owing to explosions. Lake Nemrut in Turkey and Crater Lake in Oregon, US, can be counted among the examples.

Apart from these major types of lakes, lakes can also be formed in the rifts caused by dissolving masses of rocks, in the basins they are formed due to the erosional blockage of a stream and the rifts caused by meteor hits [6] [7][8].

Now that we have briefly covered how lakes are formed, let’s have a look at the largest lakes in the world and their features.

10. Great Slave Lake

Great Slave Lake

Covering an area of 27,200 km² (10,502 sq mi), Great Slave Lake, located in Canada, is the deepest lake in North America (614 m/2,014 ft) [2]. Great Slave Lake is the 10th largest lake in the world, while it is also the second largest lake of Canada – Northwest Territories. Discovered by a British fur trader, Samuel Hearne, the lake was covered in ice when it was first discovered. Great Slave lakes hosts a lot of islands on its East and although the deepest point of the lake is 614 meters, the average depth of the lake is 41 meters. The lake is mostly frozen between November and June each year and it is what remains of what was once a much larger glacial lake.

9. Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi is the 9th largest lake in the world with a coverage area of 29,600 km² (11,400 sq mi) [3]. The basin of the lake is distributed among Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. Formed due to the separation of tectonic plates, Lake Malawi is famous for being the lake hosting the highest number of fish species in the world. The most important source of inflow for Lake Malawi is River Ruhuhu and the average depth of the lake is 292 meters, with a deepest point of 706 meters. Western world heard about the lake thanks to the Portuguese tradesman Candido Jose da Costa Cardoso in 1846 and the area where the lake is the widest is 75 kilometers wide.

8. Great Bear Lake

Great Bear Lake

Among the lakes that are entirely in Canada, Great Bear Lake is the largest one with an area of 31,153 km² (12,028 sq mi). At the same time the lake is the 8th largest in the world. The deepest point of the glacial lake is 446 meters and the average depth of its is 71.7 meters. The lake has 26 islands which take up 759.3 kilometer squares. Great Bear Lake is covered in ice between November and July each year. Moreover, the lake is quite rich in uranium resources.

7. Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal is the world’s largest unfrozen fresh water lake which contains approximately 20% of world’s fresh water [4]. Moreover, with a surface area of 31,722 km² (12,248 sq mi), it is the 7th largest lake in the world. The basin of the lake is located entirely in Russia and the main sources of inflow for the lake are Selenge, Barguzin and Yukarı Angara lakes. The average depth of the lake is 744.4 meters and the deepest point is 1642 meters. The formation of Lake Baikal, like Lake Malawi, is due to tectonic movements. Another feature of Lake Baikal is that it is one of the oldest geological lakes with an approximate age of 25-30 Million. Two species of the grayling and Baikal Seal are specific to the region. Furthermore, Lake Baikal hosts over 1000 plant and 2500 animal species. Many religious and spiritiual features have also been attributed to the lake, due to the shamanic – tengriist (mostly Turkic) presence around the region.

6. Lake Tanganyika 

Lake Tanganyika

World’s second largest fresh water lake, Lake Tanganyika, with a basin from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania to Zambia, is the 6th largest lake in the world with an area of 32,900 km² (12,700 sq mi). Like many great lakes, Lake Tanganyika was first formed due to tectonic movements. The main sources of inflow for the lake are Ruzizi, Malagarasi and Kolombo rivers. The average depth of Lake Tanganyika is 570 meters and the deepest point of the lake is 1470 meters. The lake, which is home to over 300 fish species and several hundreds of invertabrate species, also hosts many indigenous species. At the same time, Lake Tanganyika provides employment for over 100,000 fishermen and is also kind enough to serve as a transport route. It is also known that the west bank of the lake is used by Che Guevara to train Congolese revolutionists.

5. Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

Located in the US, Lake Michigan is the 5th largest lake in the world with a surface area of 58,000 km² (22,300 sq mi). Formed by glacial movements like many other lakes in North America, the average depth of Lake Michigan is 85 meters and the deepest point is 281 meters. It is known that the first people to reside around the lake is Hopewell Indians. Lake Michigan is connected to the ocean by means of manpower and to meet that purpose, Saint Lawrence and Great Lakes channels were constructed. The lake, which is also home to numerous beaches, is also used for transportation purposes. Along with providing fish and drinking water, Lake Michigan also has a lot of national parks around it.

4. Lake Huron

Lake Huron

Lake Huron is not only the 4th largest lake in the world with an area of 59,600 km² (23,000 sq mi), but it is also the 3rd largest fresh water lake in the world [5]. Like the other great lakes in North America, Lake Huron was also formed due to the movement of glaciers. The main sources of inflow for Lake Huron are Mackinac Strait and Saint Mary’s River. The deepest point of the lake is 229 meters and the average depth of its is 59 meters. Huron, which was separated from Lake Michigan, has more or less the same features with Lake Michigan. There also are over 1000 shipwrecks under the waters of Lake Huron.

3. Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria

Named after Queen Victoria in 1858 by an explorer, Lake Victoria is the 3rd largest lake in the world (68,800 km² / 26,600 sq mi). The basin countries of the lake include Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Named after Queen Victoria with the courtesy of John Hanning Speke, an explorer, Lake Victoria has an average depth of 40 meters and the deepest point of the lake is 83 meters. Having 84 islands within its body, the main source of inflow for Lake Victoria is River Kagera. It is estimated that the lake is around 400.000 years old, which makes Lake Victoria a relatively young one. Another feature of the lake is that the largest scale fishing activities in Africa are carried out in this lake. At the same time, the lake provides transportation for Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

2. Lake Superior

Lake Superior

Lake Superior, having the US and Canada as it basins, is the second largest lake in the world with a surface area of 82,100 km² (31,700 sq mi). Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes in North America and, as you may have already guessed, it is formed due to glacial movements. The average depth of the lake is 147 meters and the deepest point is 406 meters. The main sources of inflow for Lake Superior are River Kaministiquia, River Michipicoten, River White, River Pigeon, River Pic, River Nipigon and St. Louis river. Residence around the lake is estimated to be dating back to 10.000 years ago. Lake Superior is also used for industrial and transportation purposes, which also includes passenger transportation. Moreover, the lake is known to host over 80 fish species.

1. Caspian Sea

Caspian Sea

With a surface area of 371,000 km² (143,200 sq mi), Caspian Sea is the largest body of water in the world that is surrounded by land. That’s for sure. But its status as a lake is a bit contradictory since Caspian Sea, to some extent, has the characteristics of an ocean. However, this doesn’t keep it from being the largest lake in the world, in my opinion. Caspian Sea has Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia as its basin countries. Having the rivers Volga, Ural, Kura and Terek as its main sources of inflow, the average depth of the Caspian Sea is 211 meters. The depth reaches 1025 meters at its deepest point. The Caspian Sea is thought to be a part of an ocean, trapped by tectonic movements around 5,5 million years ago. The north bank of the river is used as a source of drinking water due to the streams reaching the lake. The Caspian Sea is also quite rich in the diversity of species living within its body. The Caspian Tiger, which officially went extinct in 1970 was also among the indigenous species of the region. Naturally, British, American and Russian presence is visible around the lake, since it is also rich in oil resources. The Caspian Sea is used for the purposes of transportation, too.

How do lakes disappear?

As lakes can be formed by the nature due to natural movements, it is also possible that they disappear. Of course, this process is not observable by human eyes because lakes are formed in thousands and sometimes millions of years and the disappearance of lakes may take that many years as well. Some lakes are also known to reduce to the level of a ‘swamp’ and even the plants within a lake has got something to do with this.

Some lakes, on the other hand, disappear seasonally. A particular lake may evaporate due to a sudden increase in temperature. The sudden appearance of rifts and temperature changes are also among the factors which cause lakes to disappear.

Lastly, and unfortunately, we, humans, are also capable of having lakes disappear. In deed, we are a strange species who can actually achieve drying out a lake for industrial purposes (see Lake Aral).


As seen, lakes can be formed due to tectonic, volcanic or glacial reasons. Their disappearance may be due to similar reasons, but we, as humans, should also be counted among these reasons.

The fact that most of the great lakes of the world are in North America, on the other hand, is not a coincidence. It is so because this region was covered in glaciers in the distant past and as stated in the introduction, these glaciers constantly move, causing lakes to be formed.

It seems to be our duty as humans to protect and preserve these lakes, which are also drinking water resources.

For sure, it is quite interesting to know more about lakes, however, if you are looking for something more interesting, check out our list of the most interesting places in the world!


1. Zelenski, J. M., & Nisbet, E. K. (2014). Happiness and Feeling Connected The Distinct Role of Nature Relatedness. Environment and Behavior,46(1), 3-23.

2. Hebert, Paul (2007). “Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories”. “Encyclopedia of Earth”. Washington, DC: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment.

3. “Malawi Cichlids”. AC Tropical Fish.

4. “The Oddities of Lake Baikal”. Alaska Science Forum.

5. “Great Lakes Factsheet No. 1”. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. June 25, 2012.

6. Lake Formation. Water Encyclopedia.

7. Origin of Natural Lakes. Wikipedia.

8. LakeNatural Geographic Encyclopedia.

The Largest Lakes in the World
Article Name
The Largest Lakes in the World
The Largest Lakes in the World and their Features

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