The five largest freshwater lakes in the world are found in Africa and North America. In descending order of size, they are:
Lake Superior: It is the largest of the Great Lakes of North America, as well as the largest freshwater lake in the world, covering 31,660 square miles. It was formed from glacial movements, just as all the Great Lakes. It straddles the boundary between Canada and the U.S. and connects to Lake Huron via the St. Mary’s River.
Lake Victoria: The largest of the African Great Lakes, Lake Victoria covers 26,641 sq. miles. It is bounded by three countries; Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. It is fed primarily by rainfall and receives water from numerous smaller rivers. It drains out into the River Nile in Tanzania.
Lake Huron: Another of the Great Lakes of North America, Lake Huron covers 22,780 sq. miles and straddles the state of Michigan, the USA on one side, and the province of Ontario, Canada on the other. Lake Huron boasts the largest freshwater lake island in the world – Manitoulin Island. Huron also has the longest shoreline of all the Great Lakes.
Lake Michigan: The only Great Lake entirely within the USA, Lake Michigan covers approximately 22,394 sq. miles. There is an interesting fact about Lakes Michigan and Huron; they are connected to each other by the Straits of Mackinac, and in pure hydrological terms, could qualify as a single lake. If Lake Michigan-Huron were considered a single lake, then it would be the largest freshwater lake in the world. Traditionally, however, they are considered separate.
Lake Tanganyika: Another major Great African Lake, Tanganyika covers 12,355 sq. miles and covers parts of Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It drains into the Congo River. Lake Tanganyika is an ancient lake, meaning it formed from tectonic movements between 2-10 million years ago. This is in contrast to the Great Lakes of North America, for example, which are much younger and formed out of glacial movements in the recent Ice Age.
Freshwater lakes are fed mainly by rain, snow, and glacier melt. Only 3% of the earth’s water is freshwater; the rest is all saline. In fact, the largest lake in the world is the Caspian Sea, which is considered to be a lake. Though fresh river water partly feeds it, it is too saline to be called a freshwater lake.
These figures are for the world’s largest lakes as defined by area, not by volume. If the volume is considered, then the list changes; the depth of lakes comes into play and changes the rankings. Lake Balkash in Central Asia, therefore, becomes the largest freshwater lake by volume, followed by Lake Tanganyika. Seen from this perspective, as a combination of area and volume, Lake Tanganyika is the most impressive of all the freshwater lakes in the world.
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