The water slammed onto the sand as it reared up. It came back after withdrawing. The surf attacked the beach and exploded over the breakwater. White gulls stood out against a dull sky as they fought to stay aloft in winds that had gathered strength over hundreds of miles of open water. A gale warning was issued by the National Weather Service. The spray from the angry surf wasn't salty, and the wind advisory wasn't for the coast along Cape Cod or California. On a spring day, this seaside scene unfolded along the shores of a lake far from the nearest ocean.
The Great Lakes of North America are comprised of Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario. They hold more than a fifth of Earth's unfrozen fresh water and help move more than 15 billion dollars worth of cargo each year. The only lakes with such a distinction are their own U.S. Coast Guard district. Superior and its siblings are capable of storm surge, rip currents, rogue waves, and destructive surf. According to estimates, they have claimed more ships than the Gulf of Mexico and the Black Sea combined. Is the Great Inland Seas really called the Great Inland Seas?
John Richard Saylor is the author of Lakes: Their Birth.
Many people think that the Great Lakes are greater than lakes. The United States Environmental Protection Agency describes them as a vast inland freshwater sea.THE GASTRO OBSCURA BOOK
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You might associate seas with saltwater, but it is not possible to separate lakes from seas, according to the director of the Large Lakes Observatory at the University of Minnesota. The Baltic Sea is fresh.
Generally speaking, seas are defined by size and borders. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, describes seas as smaller than oceans and at least partially covered by land, and the exception is the Sargasso Sea in the center of the Atlantic Ocean. The Caspian Sea is an example of an inland body of water. The Caspian Sea is not considered a large lake by most scientists because it is surrounded by land.
The Dead Sea is a saltwater lake, while the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay are both seas. The Red Sea may be a young ocean according to a growing number of scientists.
The people who have known the Great Lakes the longest haven't decided what they are. The emergence of the lakes began more than 10,000 years ago when the glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age. Humans were present to witness the first marshy areas and deeper bodies of water created by meltwater. Some of the earliest evidence of humans in the Great Lakes region was described in a paper in the journal PaleoAmerica. In the same year, obsidian was described as evidence of toolmaking, found at the bottom of Lake Huron. The chemical composition of the material indicates that the volcanic glass came from Central Oregon, which is about 2,500 miles to the west.
The Great Lakes have been home to several Native American and First Nations peoples, most of which are culturally and linguistically distinct from each other. The Great Lakes are perceived in a number of different ways, but there is continuity among them.
I refer to Anishinaabe as a confederacy of different nations, which include Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa. There are different dialects across the region, and different ways a spoken language is written down. When talking about one of the Great Lakes, Anishinaabe people say gichigami, gichi-gami, or chigamiing, which all translate as big or great body of water.
I believe that the word "sea" is a colonial word that was brought here by Europeans.
The science remains unclear across languages. Do people studying the Great Lakes see them as inland seas? The answer is a resounding "sort of."
The Large Lakes Observatory refers to the lakes as the "Laurentian Great Lakes." It is a nod to their birth from the remnants of the ice sheet. The Midwestern lakes are closer to the sea in some aspects. I don't know if that makes them a sea, but it is a characteristic large lakes share with oceans and seas.
Scientists study the big lakes as if they were seas.
Lauren Fry, a principal investigator at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, says that the modelers who work on things like currents and waves use ocean models. Conducted on the Great Lakes are often carried out using equipment designed for oceanography, including remotely operated vehicles, deepwater probes called sondes, and repurposed marine watercraft.
Lake Superior is the world's largest lake by surface area, if you're willing to call it a lake.
Fry would not call the Great Lakes inland seas. The lakes are dependent on the land surrounding them in a way larger seas are not. The water levels, chemical composition, and other characteristics of the lakes are affected by precipitation and runoff.
Fry says it's hard to call it an inland sea because of the land surface processes on the lakes. She calls them a system of large lakes, connected by channels.
Fry says that he would fall into different camps depending on whether he was wearing a hydrologist's hat or a canoer hat. I am a paddler and, in terms of safety, you have to think about it as if you are on a sea. We have rip currents. There is storm surge. We have meteotsunamis.
The Great Lakes have documented meteotsunamis, which have the same characteristics as tsunamis created by earthquakes. Severe storms and other extreme meteorological events generate meteotsunamis. They travel across large areas of water, growing in height, before crashing on the beach. One such wave-gone-wrong in Lake Michigan in June 1954 killed seven people in Chicago.
For many years, the phenomenon was grouped with seiche events, tide-like conditions that can occur in all five lakes. Over several hours or even days, the water in the lake is stirred back and forth by seismos.
Lake Erie is aligned southwest to northeast, just like most of the region's weather systems.
Lake Superior is known for dangerous waves of a different kind. The three sisters are known as the large waves because they appear to travel as a trio, swamping a ship before it recovers from the first battering. While scientists are still trying to understand how the waves form, the phenomenon has been implicated in the tragic 1975 loss of Edmund Fitzgerald; shortly before the ship went down, the captain of another vessel nearby reported being hit by multiple 30- to 35-foot waves in quick succession.
The Great Lakes may be described as inland seas in order to remind the public of the threat they pose. The Great Lakes have about 100 people drown each year.
Natalie Chin, climate and tourism outreach specialist for Wisconsin Sea Grant, says that the experience of kayaking or boating on Lake Superior is different than on a small lake. It's important to respect the power of the Great Lakes.
Superior is a city at the lake's southwestern tip. Sea Grant is a national network of universities and federal and state partners, mostly along the Atlantic and Pacific, that are studying and protecting coastal resources. She sees the value in emphasizing the sea-like qualities of Lake Superior, even though she doesn't think a formal name change is necessary.
Chin says that it comes down to the question of how to keep people safe and how to convey that the lakes are unpredictable.
In the end, the perception of the Great Lakes is in the eye of the beholder. Lake Superior is small compared to the Gulf of Mexico or the Black Sea. You would swear you were in the open ocean when you were thrown around in a boat on the Great Lakes.
The difference between lake and sea is more about language and culture.
He says that he is attracted to the romance of thinking of large lakes as seas, and that it makes an important point about large lakes being different in important ways from most lakes on Earth.
The Great Lakes are in a category of their own, according to the University of Minnesota.
Chigamiing or gichi-gami are older words than sea or ocean.