Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thoughts on Lake Superior

True to its name, Lake Superior is a landscape of superlatives. Bounded by 3000 miles of shoreline, it is the largest freshwater lake (by surface area) on the planet; indeed, Lake Superior is roughly the size of Maine. While its volume is less than that of Lake Baikal, in Siberia, it holds more water than all of our other Great Lakes combined.

We humans, with our anthropomorphic tendencies, often view Lake Superior as a magnificent yet powerful beast, prone to punishing gales; in reality, it is a complex aquatic ecosystem, enclosed within a glacial basin of ancient rock. While the lake has significant effects on the climate of the lands that surround it, Superior's harsh weather is primarily a reflection of its latitude and longitude; were it in the southern U.S., its reputation would be entirely different. In addition, the character of Lake Superior varies with location, a reflection of prevailing winds, feeder streams and its underwater topography, and its shoreline encompasses a wide range of habitats, including dunes, rocky beaches, cliffs, wetlands and mountainous terrain.

To know Lake Superior is to understand its complex web of life, its geophysical anatomy, its geographic relationships and its susceptibility to the effects of human communities that line its basin; this, of course, would take a lifetime. Having traveled along its southern coast over the past two weeks, I have gained a better appreciation for the spectacular diversity of this vast and beautiful landscape.