Lake Ontario - the O in HOMES
The acronym HOMES helps us remember the names of the five Great Lakes. This article focuses on the O in HOMES—Lake Ontario.
Lake Ontario is the 14th largest lake in the world. It is the smallest of the Great Lakes if measured by surface area (7,340 square miles), but is larger than Lake Erie in volume at 393 cubic miles. It ranks fourth among the Great Lakes in maximum depth (802 feet), but is second only to Lake Superior in average depth (283 feet). Its shoreline is 712 miles in length, sits at an elevation of 243 feet above sea level, and has a water retention/replacement time of six years.
Most water entering Lake Ontario comes from Lake Erie after having gone over Niagara Falls, which is located between the two lakes. These falls are one of North America’s most famous geographic features, with a normal flow over the falls of 100,000 cubic feet per second. The state of New York and the Canadian province of Ontario surround the lake, and it is the only Great Lake that does not touch Michigan, the Great Lakes state. It is also the only Great Lake with a direct connection to the sea, thanks to the St. Lawrence River, which flows from Lake Ontario to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, one of the largest estuaries in the world. This connection to the ocean allows “salties” – ocean-going ships from around the world loaded with raw materials and finished goods – to move as far inland as Duluth, Minnesota and Chicago, Illinois.
The Lake Ontario basin’s land area is largely rural, and nearly half of its land area is forested. Agriculture is dominant in the U.S. portion. By contrast, Ontario’s largest city, Toronto, and some other large urban and industrialized areas are located on the Canadian shoreline. Lake Ontario is bounded by the powerful Niagara Falls on the west and the picturesque Thousand Islands on the east. Northern hardwoods such as maple and beech, and conifers such as red and white pines dominate the majority of the basin. The basin’s forests are home to more than 3,500 species of plants and animals, including the bald eagle, great blue heron, beaver, coyote, porcupine and flying squirrel. Coastal sand dunes are another important feature, and more than 44,000 acres of coastal wetlands line Lake Ontario’s shores. Wetlands are important to the lake ecosystem because they help to replenish and purify groundwater, prevent flooding, and support a wide diversity of plant and animal life. Lake Ontario wetlands are home to 17 rare species of plants and 90 species of fish.
MSU Extension and Michigan Sea Grant do not often work directly on Lake Ontario. Through collaborations, however, with other state Extension programs and regional groups (such as the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network, the Great Lakes Observing System, COSEE Great Lakes, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative), opportunities to include residents of Lake Ontario’s basin as participants in the Great Lakes Literacy Initiative have been developed.
This article was adapted from MSU Extension Bulletin E-1870 (October 2000) – Lake Ontario Basin.