LAKE ERIE, the most southerly of the Great Lakes of North America, between 41° 23' and 42° 53' N., and 78° 51' and 83° 28' W., bounded W. by the state of Michigan, S. and S.E. by Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and N. by the province of Ontario. It is nearly elliptical, the major axis, 250 m. long, lying east and west; its greatest breadth is 60 m.; its area about 10,000 sq. m.; and the total area of its basin 34,412 sq. m. Its elevation above mean sea-level is 573 ft.; and its surface is nearly 9 ft. below that of Lake Huron, which discharges into it through St Clair river, Lake St Clair and Detroit river, and is 327 ft. above that of Lake Ontario, this great difference being absorbed by the rapids and falls in the Niagara river, which joins the two lakes. Lake Erie is very shallow, and may be divided into three basins, the western extending to Point Pelee and including all the islands, containing about 1200 sq. m., with a comparatively flat bottom at 5 to 6 fathoms; the main basin, between Point Pelee and the narrows at Long Point, containing about 6700 sq. m., and having a marked shelving bottom deepening gradually to 14 fathoms; and the portion east of the narrows, containing about 2100 sq. m., having a depression 30 fathoms deep just east from Long Point, with an extensive flat of 11 fathoms depth between it and the main basin. The Canadian shore is low and flat throughout, the United States shore is low but bordered by an elevated plateau through which the rivers have cut deep channels. The lake basin is relatively so small that the rivers are without importance; Grand river, on the north shore, is the largest tributary. The flat alluvial soil bordering on the lake is very fertile, and the climate is well adapted for fruit cultivation. Large quantities of peaches, grapes and small fruits are grown; the islands in the west end have a climate much warmer and more equable than the adjoining mainland, and are practically covered with vineyards. The low clayey or sandy shores are subject to erosion by waves. In severe storms the water near shore is filled with sand, which is deposited where the currents are checked around the ends of jetties in such a way as to form bars out into the lake across improved channels. This shoaling has rendered continuous dredging necessary at every harbour on the lake west of Erie, Pa. In consequence of the shallowness of the lake its waters are easily disturbed, making navigation very rough and dangerous, and causing large fluctuations of surface. Strong winds are frequent, as nearly every cyclonic depression traversing North America, either from the westward or the Gulf of Mexico, passes near enough to Lake Erie to be felt. Westerly gales are more frequent, and have more effect on the water surface than easterly ones, lowering the water as much as 7 to 8 ft. at the west end and raising it 5 to 8 ft. at the east end. The worst storms occur in autumn, when the immense quantity of shipping on the lake makes them specially destructive. There are no tides, and usually only a slight current towards the outlet, though powerful currents are temporarily produced by the rapid return of waters after a storm, and during the height of a westerly gale there is invariably a reflex current into the west end of the lake. There is an annual fluctuation in the level of the lake, varying from a minimum of 9 in. to a maximum of 2 ft., the normal low level occurring in February and the high level in midsummer. Standard high water (of 1838) is 575.11 ft. above mean sea-level, and the lowest record was 570.8 in November 1895. The harbours and exits of the lake freeze over, but the body of the lake never freezes completely.
Ice-breaking car ferries run across the lake all winter. General navigation opens as a rule in the middle of April and closes in the middle of December. The volume of traffic is immense, because practically all freight from the more westerly lakes finds terminal harbours in Lake Erie. Official statistics of commerce passing through the Detroit river into the lake during the season of 1906 show that 35,128 vessels, having a net register of 50,673,897 tons, carried 63,805,571 (short) tons of freight, valued at $662,971,053. The 1175 vessels engaged in this business were valued at $106,223,000. Over 90% of the whole traffic is in United States ships to United States ports. Fine passenger steamers run nightly between Buffalo and Cleveland and Detroit, and there are many shorter passenger routes.
The large traffic on Lake Erie has brought into existence a number of important harbours on the south shore, nearly all artificially made and deepened, with entrances between two breakwaters running into the lake at right angles to the coast line. The principal of these are Toledo, Sandusky, Huron, Vermilion, Lorain, Cleveland, Fairport, Ashtabula, Conneaut, Erie (a natural harbour), Dunkirk and Buffalo, Rondeau, Port Stanley, Port Burwell, Port Dover, Port Maitland and Port Colborne. The Miami and Erie canal, leading from Maumee river to Cincinnati, 244 m., with a branch to Port Jefferson, 14 m., with locks 90 by 15 by 4 ft., connects with Lake Erie through Toledo. The Erie canal leading from Buffalo to the Hudson river at Troy, and connecting with Lake Ontario at Oswego, had a capacity for boats 98 ft. long, 17 ft. 10 in. beam, with 6 ft. draught, until in 1907 the State of New York undertook its deepening to accommodate boats of 1000 tons capacity. Buffalo from its position at the eastern limit of deep draught lake navigation is a city of first rate commercial importance. Its harbour is formed by an artificial breakwater, built parallel with the shore about half a mile distant from it. It receives practically all the Lake Erie grain shipments besides large quantities of iron ore, lumber and copper, and is a large shipping port for coal, principally anthracite. It has over 600 m. of railway tracks to accommodate lake freights. The Welland canal, 26 m. long, connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, with locks 270 by 45 by 14 ft., leaves Lake Erie at Port Colborne, where the Canadian government have constructed an artificial harbour and elevators for transhipment of grain from upper lake freighters to lighters of canal capacity.
Fishing operations are carried on extensively in Lake Erie, the fish being taken with gill nets, seines and pound nets. Each state touching the lake has its own fishery regulations, which differ amongst themselves as well as from those of the Dominion. Both nations maintain a Fishery Protection Service, and the fisheries are replenished from artificial hatcheries. The most numerous and valuable fish are the lesser white fish (Coregonus artedi, Le Sueur), pickerel (Stizostedion vitreum, Walb.), pike (Lucius lucius, L.), and white fish (Coregonus clupeiformis, Mitchill), in the order named. The fish caught are estimated to be worth annually $1,000,000. They are collected in fishing tugs and distributed by rail throughout the United States and Canada.
Bibliography. - Bulletin No. 17, Survey of Northern and North-western Lakes, U.S. Lake Survey Office, War Dept. (Detroit, 1907); U.S. Hydrographic Office, Publication No. 108D, Sailing Directions for Lake Erie, etc. (Washington, 1902); Sailing Directions for the Canadian Shore of Lake Erie, Department of Marine and Fisheries (Ottawa, 1897); J.O. Curwood, The Great Lakes (New York, 1909); E. Channing and M.F. Lansing, The Great Lakes (New York, 1909).
(W. P. A.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)