The Dynamic Great Lakes

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Overview

The five Great Lakes, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario with their connecting waters are the world’s largest freshwater system; about 20 per cent of all the fresh surface water on this planet. Each lake differs from the other and yet these connected lakes are one flowing system connected to the Atlantic through the St. Lawrence River. Unique ecosystems evolved in these lakes since the last Ice Age but in the last 200 years commercial fishing and the Lamprey Eel wiped out larger ...

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Overview

The five Great Lakes, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario with their connecting waters are the world’s largest freshwater system; about 20 per cent of all the fresh surface water on this planet. Each lake differs from the other and yet these connected lakes are one flowing system connected to the Atlantic through the St. Lawrence River. Unique ecosystems evolved in these lakes since the last Ice Age but in the last 200 years commercial fishing and the Lamprey Eel wiped out larger fish. Shipping on the Great Lakes from all parts of the world has brought exotic species that threaten to topple food pyramids. Pollution carried through the air and water damages life in and around these lakes. Through knowledge, and the democratic process, The Dynamic Great Lakes encourages us to appreciate and understand these lakes and to get involved in finding answers to their problems.

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Editorial Reviews

Peter Wild
Are dinosaurs cruising the benthic depths of the Great Lakes even while we go about our daily tasks? Not exactly. Yet sturgeon, fish weighing up to 300 pounds and similarly plated with armor,are nosing around down there. Occasionally you can see the monsters appear, making their spawning runs up rivers and surfacing like submarines in the pools beneath waterfalls... The five Great Lakes, holding nearly twenty percent of the earth's fresh water, are quite young. Gouged out by glaciers, they assumed their present shapes a mere 3,000 years ago. For that, they are a dynamic shifting system, still changing and exhibiting surprising differences. Lake Ontario, for example, the easternmost, although smallest of the bodies, holds more water than Lake Erie, its shallower nearby sister. Here's a handy primer for all such things, from the interaction of phytoplankton and calcium carbonate that gives a white cast to these inland oceans come August and helps clean the water to the charming ice volcanoes spouting chilly "lava" in the winter. This is intriguing stuff for adults, but the straightforward presentation also lends itself to use in schools, beginning about the sixth grade and up. And yes, we get the latest news on the zebra mussel, the tube nose goby, and other threats to the natural scheme of things. Also good news; how since the banning of DDT in the 1970's, the bald eagles have come back.
U.S. Water News
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781588517319
  • Publisher: Publish America
  • Publication date: 12/1/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 112
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.27 (d)

Read an Excerpt

How the Great Lakes Were Formed

"In wildness is the preservation of the world." Henry David Thoreau

In comparison with the age of the Earth, the Great Lakes are quite young. While planet Earth is about 4.5 billion to 5 billion years old, the five Great Lakes were beginning to emerge l0,000 years ago and have only existed as we know them today for the past 3,000 years or so. The five great lakes were formed in the last part of the Great Ice Age or the Pleistocene Era as great moving mountains of ice called glaciers melted. Imagine that one year equals one minute on Planet Earth's Calendar:

January: Earth is formed
February: Earth's crust is formed Precambrian era
March-June: Saltwater seas formed Paleozoic era
August: First life formed in the seas
November; the earliest fossils formed
mid December: dinosaurs roamed the land
after mid December: eagles fly through the air
late December: mammals roam the planet
End of December: the last day of the last week of the year during the Pleistocene era, 2,500,000 years ago, human being began to inhabit planet Earth. In the last few minutes, the last of the glaciers melt and the Great Lakes emerge.

What the Precambrian Era Gave Us

Five sixths of all time was during the Precambrian Era: the time when Earth's Crust was formed. The Earth shook and rumbled, volcanoes erupted molten rock, hot lava, flew high into the air and flowed, creating land masses as the molten rock cooled and hardened.

The volcanoes formed the hard bedrock that can still be seen today in parts of the Great Lakes basin, especially on the northern shore of Lake Superior where it forms the backbone of the continent. This ancient rock backbone is the Canadian Shield, or the Laurentian Shield. The Laurentian Mountains were once active volcanoes that eroded over the ages by ice, running water and wind to their present shapes: hills and small mountains. These rocks formed more than 500 million years ago by the volcanic heat and pressure during the Precambrian era are among the most ancient rocks found onEarth and are also found on Minnesota's Lake Superior shoreline and also underlie the northern edge of Lake Huron as well as the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan.

The Precambrian era laid the bedrock, a strong foundation for other events to build upon.

What the Paleozoic Era Left Behind

During the Paleozoic era, saltwater seas covered much ofthe middle part of North America, including the part we call the Great Lakes region, as the land flooded again and again for 230 million years. During this time, ancient forms of life: algae, zooplankton, fishes, shellfish and corals, lived and died in these warm, shallow salt water seas leaving their fossil remains behind. In some places there are still fossil reefs formed by ancient corals which died leaving their durable limestone formations in the Great Lakes.

Since corals do not grow in freshwater we know these reefs are ancient remnants of the paleozoic epoch. The Petoskey stone is the fossil of a coral. When polished, the Petoskey stone shows a honeycomb pattern that was once a living colony ofsea animals. The fossil corals belong to types of coral that are extinct. Another type of common fossil found on Great Lakes beaches are the crinoids.

Today people find fragments of their round or tube shaped stems. Crinoids resembled sea lilies but like corals were really marine animals. Attached to the sea floor by a stem sometimes 70 feet long with food gathering fronds at the top, crinoids swayed to and fro with the currents.

Sometimes people find the imprint of a fish or the imprint of trees and ferns that are now extinct. Great deposits of the shells of microscopic algae called diatoms are widespread around the Great Lakes as well as coccoliths.

Coccoliths, another microscopic form of phytoplankton, have shells of calcium carbonate which often contain a drop of oil; the fossils of coccoliths build up beds of chalk and limestone. Limestone underlies much of the Great Lakes basin. Fossils of plant and animal life, brachiopods and mollusks that once lived in a salt water sea lie on the bottom of the Great Lakes basin are sometimes washed up on the beaches of the freshwater Great Lakes.

In addition to fossils, we also find great deposits of limestone, dolomite, gypsum and salt beds underground. Coal,oil and gases in the Great Lakes area were also formed in thePaleozoic era. These are called fossil fuels and sometimes we can see the imprint of a fossil plant, such as a fern, on a lump of coal. Fossil fuels were formed from ancient plants.

Eventually these Paleozoic saltwater seas retreated and other eras of geological time began, the Mesozoic, the Cenozoic and the Pleistocene era or the Great Ice Age.

What the Pleistocene Era or Great Ice Age Left Us

During the Great Ice Age or the Pleistocene era about a million or more years ago, about a quarter of Earth's land area became covered with ice in Europe, Greenland, Canada and the United States. Increasing amounts of precipitation fell and were stored as snow. As a result, the sea levels dropped 300 to 400 feet resulting in a land bridge connecting Alaska and Asia.

Giant Bulldozers: the Work Of Glaciers

Snow began to accumulate, so much snow that the summer heat did not melt all of it. This went on year after year for thousands of years, until the snow in the Hudson Bay area of Canada grew so deep that it squeezed together, formed ice and then began to flow-something like pancake batter spreading out on a griddle except for the temperature: cold rather than hot. The glaciers grew and grew until some as high as seven miles and the weight of the ice was so great that it compressed the hard bed rock of the earth as easily as a child dents a balloon with one finger.

These moving mountains of ice called glaciers, spread across the continent and then melted back north four times, something like a slow motion yo-yo. There were long periods of time in between glaciers when the weather became quite warm, but then another glacier would form and flow down from the north again. Each time the snow accumulated, then turned to ice and began to flow across mountains and valleys, great changes occurred in the soil, rocks, plant and animal life.

Soil on top of the Canadian shield of hard bedrock was scraped off by the moving force of the glaciers, but the ancient rock of the Canadian Shield is so hard that the tremendous weight and power of moving ice could not crush it, but only rounded off mountains and left polished grooves in the hard rock. In other places, the glacier broke off huge boulders, froze them in their ice and carried them along slowly, then dropped them thousands of miles away.

The glaciers ground softer rocks into smaller and smaller pieces. The underside of the glacier picked up sharp pieces of stone and rasped them across the earth. The glacier rasped polished grooves in hard rock along Lake Superior's northern shore and other places such as Kelly's Island in Lake Erie.

Some Ice Age glaciers remain in northern Canada and Greenland. By studying these glaciers, geologists know that a glacier moves only 150 feet per day at the most. Sometimes it only moves a hundred or so feet per year. Although glaciers work slowly, they work powerfully. The last glacier went as far south as the Ohio River in the east and the Missouri River in the west.

These flowing mountains of ice dropped a blanket of sand, silt, and gravels of all sizes to a depth of 400 feet at its end and filled up river valleys from l,000 to l,500 feet on top of the bedrock surface. The glacier acted something like a conveyor belt dropping all sorts of debris off the end of the belt. We find deposits such as this today. These rocks, gravels and sands can be of various sizes and types.

Sometimes a large chunk of ice imbedded in the soil would break off of the main glacier. This chunk of ice, when melted, became a lake or a pothole in the ground. There are many lakes of this type in the Great Lakes basin.

The Work of Melting Water From The Glaciers

When the glaciers finally melted for the last time, the water from the ice gushed across the land carving deep river beds. Flowing water sorts all kinds of material into layers according to their sizes and weights. The flowing melt water from the glaciers sorted the stones and soils into layers called stratifications. Today we find silt in layers; sand in layers; gravel in layers. This is the reason we find gravel pits with gravel of nearly all the same size; marshes with silt, and sand deposits. The sand dunes on the eastern edge of Lake Michigan are a gift of the glaciers and the west wind as the sand piled up along the shoreline.

Coastal lakes formed on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan: Muskegon Lake, Hamlin Lake and Silver Lake were caused 3,000 to 4,000 years ago by water levels 25 to 30 feet higher than they are today. The water flooded back into an area and then sand bars formed in rivers blocking their entrances to Lake Michigan. Currents moving along the shoreline as well as sand transported from inland closed the entrances of the rivers into Lake Michigan forming coastal lakes.

After the last major retreat of the ice sheet l4,000 years ago, glacial melt water ponded in the southernmost lake, Lake Erie. Then it ponded in the tip of Lake Michigan and parts of Lake Huron. By l0,500 years ago, major ice advances were over and the five Great Lakes were emerging, first at the southern ends and very gradually northward to Lake Superior. The glaciers melted over thousands of years. All five Great Lakes were free of ice about 3,000 years ago.

Free of the tremendous weight of the glaciers, the land slowly rebounded causing all five of the Great Lakes to begin draining out the St. Lawrence River. The Great Lakes' basins and the unique shapes of the land surrounding them emerged into the forms we now see: there is the mitten shape of Michigan's lower peninsula and some people think Lake Superior looks like the shape of a wolf's head with Isle Royale as the wolf's eye and Duluth, Minnesota the wolf's snout.

The shape of the land and the places where freshwater collected were determined by the action of Ice Age glaciers and later by the tremendous power of flowing water as the ice melted. The glaciers carved 35,000 islands in the Great Lakes.

Soon life invaded the glacial melt water from tributary rivers and streams such as the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers. Microscopic one celled plants and animals, larger plankton such as freshwater shrimp, freshwater worms, fingernail clams and larvae of insects such as mayflies and caddis flies. Forage fishes such as Lake Herring, and Emerald Shiners and then predator fishes such as Perch, Lake Whitefish, Walleye, Lake Trout.

From glacial melt water devoid of life, unique ecosystems evolved in and around the Great Lakes.

Dynamic Great Lakes

The name for change is dynamic. Just as a young child changes from day to day, the geologically young Great Lakes change due to natural causes: shorelines erode as the levels of water rise and fall; marshes on the edges of the lakes change due to natural processes. Waves form peninsulas then wash them away; waves erase beaches then build them up again. Engineers have tried to counteract these powerful forces, but their efforts have usually been futile.

The shoreline along northern Lake Superior is still rising about an inch every one hundred years. The Earth is still rebounding from the tremendous pressure of the glaciers. Thousands of years ago this rebounding caused the system of lakes to flow toward the Atlantic.

All of the water flows from basin to basin beginning at the headwaters of Lake Superior in Canada's Lake Nipigon, down through a network of small streams and then downward still through the connecting channels between each of the Great Lakes and finally to the sea. Presently the Great Lakes have these elevations above sea level which causes them to flow from one to another constantly like water flowing from a series of basins.

Lake Superior is 600 feet/ l83 m above sea level
Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are both 58l feet/ l77m above sea level;
Lake Erie is 57l feet/ l74 m above sea level;
Lake Ontario is 264 feet/ 75 m above sea level
From Lake Ontario, the water flows down the St. Lawrence River for l,000 miles then mixes with the salt water of the Atlantic.

On the Great Lakes, linked by connecting rivers and man made locks, a ship may navigate for 2,342 miles from Duluth, Minnesota at the western tip of Lake Superior to Kingston, Ontario at the entrance of the St. Lawrence River and then down the Saint Lawrence River to the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the North Atlantic Ocean making shipping to and from the Great Lakes world wide.

The Great Lakes hold 22.7 trillion cubic meters or 6 quadrillion gallons of fresh water. Half of the lakes' volume of water comes from precipitation. The rest of the water flowing into the lakes comes from tributaries draining into them and from ground water. Rivers and streams around the Great Lakes basin drain an area of l94,000 square miles; twice the total surface area of the lakes. In comparison, other large lakes have drainage basins six times their size, therefore it is important for the integrity of the Great Lakes not to divert water out of the watershed.

The precipitation plus water flowing into the lakes from tributary streams and groundwater compensates for evaporation.

Lake Michigan water is diverted down the Mississippi River at Chicago which lowers the level of Lakes Michigan and Huron by 2.5 inches or 6 centimeters.

Locks built at the outlets of Lake Superior and Ontario affect the Lakes' levels. For example, the locks at Lake Ontario keep enough water flowing in the channels between the lakes for navigation and at the same time reduce Lake Ontario's fluctuations by one foot or .3 meters. A hydroelectric dam between Massena New York and Cornwall, Ontario regulates water levels in Lake Ontario.

Water levels on the Great Lakes are extremely variable: fluctuations in the amount of rain and snow can affect water levels by ten feet.

In l848, Louis Agassiz, a Swiss naturalist and professor of geology at Harvard had a hunch that immense sheets of ice once covered the world. To study the problem further, he mounted a scientific expedition to explore Lake Superior's northern shore along with his students and Ojibwa Indian guides. There he found boulders transported by the glacier and this supported his theory that the Great Lakes were carved out by glaciers and not caused by floods as people believed in the past.

In the Aftermath of the Last Glacier

Pure water does not occur in nature since water is a solvent. A solvent dissolves other substances. Rainwater dissolves some of the gases it passes through as it falls.

As water runs over rocks it picks up minerals such as iron or lime. Nourished by these minerals in the water, the first life to grow in fresh glacial melt water were phytoplankton: and then simple animals, protozoa or zooplankton that feed upon phytoplankton. Plankton such as desmids died and settled to the bottom to form a layer of muck.

Insects such as caddis flies that feed upon small organisms followed, then trout, herring, and white fish had something to feed upon. These multiplied in the fresh water seas: the Great Lakes are geologically young, many ecological niches were available.

Every species lives in a niche where it makes its living and helps to check and balance populations of other species. The amount of space and food determines the carrying capacity of the environment: in other words, how many algae or fish or eagles can live in a certain place.

Paleo Indians as well as their descendants the native American tribes, prized the Lake Trout and Whitefish they caught in nets and with hooks.

When Europeans explorers first came to the Great Lakes shores, 350 years ago, they found their waters produced fish they had never seen before in great quantities; most were ten pounds or over. The highest numbers of large fish were the primitive sturgeon 200-300 pounds.

There were five endemic species (fish found only in the Great Lakes). These fish had evolved over thousands of years since the glaciers' retreat and they belonged to the whitefish family, the salmon family as well as the Blue Pike and the Michigan Grayling Trout.

Oligotrophic , Mesotrophic and Eutrophic Lakes

Lake Superior's waters are the deepest, coldest and clearest of the Great Lakes. It is classified as an oligotrophic lake which means "little food" .

Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are also oligotrophic in most of their area except for embayments or areas with man made pollution. These three lakes are called the Upper Great Lakes and are younger than the lower Great Lakes since the glaciers melted back north over thousands and thousands of years therefore the northernmost lakes were the last to be free of ice.

The numbers of living things that can live in each lake and each bay within a lake can be measured by the amount of plankton its waters produce each year. The largest volume are phytoplanktors, the producers. More organisms can live in shallow sunlit water than in very deep parts of lakes. A bay of a large lake can be much more productive than out in the deep open waters.

Lake Erie is classified as eutrophic. Its waters are highly productive since it is a shallow lake surrounded by many wetlands. Eutrophic means "well fed." The plankton in eutrophic lakes constantly sinks to the bottom in a process called sedimentation.

Lake Ontario is classified as mesotrophic meaning in between oligotrophic and eutrophic, but 350 years ago, Lake Ontario was oligotrophic.

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Interviews & Essays

Interview by LISA Lisa:Could you tell a little about yourself? Where you grew up, how you started writing? Barbara:I was born in New York City, spent some growing up years in Columbia, Missouri, then my family moved to East Lansing, Michigan when I was 10. After high school I graduated from Michigan State University with a major in English. I always liked to write. I became an English major after taking a poetry class at Michigan State from the Poet Laureate of Canada, A.J.M. Smith. I have taken many post graduate courses in outdoor education, art, photography, and I have studied writing with Wm. Stafford, Robert Bly, Nancy Willard, N. Scott Momaday and many other notable writers. Lisa:Why did you write The Dynamic Great Lakes? Barbara:I could not find an up to date book on the five Great Lakes and their connecting waters, dunes, wetlands and other features. I could not find any book for the general public about the interconnected Great Lakes. So I wrote one. Lisa:Who were your mentors? Barbara:My first mentor was my father, E. P. Reineke, a research scientist at M.S.U. in the physiology dept. He did some important original research there. I learned to love and appreciate nature from him. My husband, Norm Spring has been a long time outdoorsman and conservationist. I have learned a great deal about nature and the democratic process from him. Lisa:What are some books that have changed your life? Barbara:Silent Spring by Rachel Carson opened my eyes to what we are doing to the environment. After reading the book and recommending it to my husband, we both became activists on behalf of the environment before the first Earth Day in 1970. I also loved A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. I required my students to read it when I taught writing classes at Grand Valley State University. Lisa:Who do you think would enjoy reading this book? Barbara:I wrote The Dynamic Great Lakes for a general audience. I spoke to school children this week. I opened my talk with a space photo of Planet Earth and explained that the water they saw was 98% salt water-only about 2% is freshwater. "Dang!" said a kid in surprise. The audience for my book is really adults, but school age kids will find it interesting, too. It is an up to date reference to the five Great Lakes and their connecting waters: their fishes, dunes, wetlands, seasonal changes and changes caused by people. The Dynamic Great Lakes will be an eye-opener for anyone. Lisa:Why is the Dynamic Great Lakes an important book? Barbara:The Great Lakes are important but often misunderstood. They are about 20% of all the fresh surface water on this planet. People need to understand their dynamics in order to make sound decisions about them. Recently a grassroots movement in Michigan blocked oil companies from further oil exploration under Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The risk of polluting the lakes with oil and noxious gases was intolerable. There will be more schemes that threaten the health of the Great Lakes. Armed with knowledge, people will demand the right thing of their government. They will also be careful of what they do in their personal decisions. The lakes' water is low this year, but it will rise again. People who know this is a natural cycle will not build too close to the water. Lisa:Why is this book a good choice for Earth Day? Barbara:The book encourages people to think globally and act locally. Everything is connected to everything else. This means that what we burn, what we release in the water and land and what we eat are all connected. We often forget that we are part of the whole and flowing web of life. Our actions will affect us now and in the future. Lisa:How is your book different from other books about the Great Lakes? Barbara:I limited my topic to changes in the Great Lakes, both through natural forces and through changes caused by people. There have been a great many changes and I believe people will be interested in learning about the Pacific salmon planted in the lakes to feed on the pesky alewives that invaded them through the canals around Niagara Falls. They will be interested in other exotic species such as the zebra mussels and how they got into all five Great Lakes. Lisa:How did you research the book? Barbara:I began with observations. We live within view of Lake Michigan. I can observe the change of seasons and what kinds of fish are being caught. I have also observed all the other lakes and their connecting waters. I then set out to find out authoritative information about the lakes by interviewing experts. The book is interdisciplinary. I interviewed a geologist, fish biologists, and naturalists. I asked them for good sources in print. I went out on Grand Valley State University's research vessel, Angus to see what research was being done. I enjoyed working on the Dynamic Great Lakes because there was always something new. Lisa:What else have you written? Barbara:As a journalist, I have written articles for the Grand Rapids Press, a major newspaper in West Michigan. These articles were about travels, profiles of interesting people, and outdoor subjects. I also have had articles published in Michigan Out of Doors magazine, Michigan Natural Resources magazine, Muskegon Magazine, Field & Stream and many others. My poetry has been published in Sky, Art/Life, The Grand Valley Review, and several other little magazines. I keep working on my poems and hope to have a chap book published someday. I may even do a second edition of The Dynamic Great Lakes in a couple of years. These lakes are fascinating. They really are astonishing.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2002

    Beautifully Written

    I have a great interest in saving our environment. The only way to do this is through knowledge. I am thankful that there are authors that share their love for the natural beauty this country has. This book is a masterpiece, filled with fascinating information and references. Barbara Spring has done an outstanding job of bringing her knowledge to others. I have been watching the return of the bald eagles to New England. What a wonderous sight to see them soaring overhead after an absence of many years. This was made possible by active ecologists and hard working nature enthusiasts. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about saving the Great Lakes. I feel that it shoud be a required read for all science classes.

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