Celebrate the Great Lakes on Earth Day!

Map of the Great Lakes
File:Great Lakes bathymetry map.png, opens a new window by Darekk2 using the Great Lakes Bathymetry and GLOBE tiles / CC BY-SA 4.0
Darekk2 using the Great Lakes Bathymetry and GLOBE tiles, Wikimedia Commons

Earth Day on April 22 is a time to celebrate nature! Lake Michigan is Chicago's very own natural wonder and along with the other Great Lakes ranks among the largest lakes in the world. 

In The Death and Life of the Great Lakes Milwaukee journalist Dan Egan writes that the Great Lakes are actually more like a huge river flowing west to east through the continent, from Lake Superior down through Lakes Michigan and Huron (which are actually one giant lake), then into Lake Erie, which drops down into Lake Ontario at Niagara Falls, then out to the Atlantic Ocean.

Egan explains that initially the Great Lakes were a closed ecosystem but canals allowed invasive species to get in. Aquatic animals like alewives, sea lamprey, and zebra and quagga mussels spread, killing off native species, and destroying a natural balance that had lasted thousands of years.

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is available in other formats.

The U.S. states and Canadian province surrounding the Great Lakes have fought long and hard to keep the water of the lakes in their watershed. Environmental journalist Peter Annin tells the stories of various diversions of Great Lakes water, both threatened and executed, and the political struggles that went into resolving them. In 2008, two years after The Great Lakes Water Wars was published, the Great Lakes Compact was passed. It gave the Great Lakes states legal standing to manage their water and prevent other regions from taking it.

The Great Lakes intertwines natural history with human history. It describes the formation of the lakes and the surrounding forests and ecology, the plants and animals, and the humans who settled around them. Canadian author Wayne Grady peppers the book with gorgeous color photographs and fascinating facts such as that Lake Huron's Georgian Bay has 30,000 islands and it would take 300 years for a single drop of water to move from Lake Superior all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

In 2005, Chicago writer Ted McClelland set out to discover the culture of the Great Lakes. He reasoned that since America's South is said to have its own culture, then surely the North has one too. He drove his car clockwise around all five Great Lakes to discover that culture, a voyage of 9600 miles. The Third Coast is a humorous account of the people he met and local histories he uncovered along the way. As a lifelong member of what McClelland calls the "Freshwater Nation", those who live around the Great Lakes, I recognized my own background in these places.

The Living Great Lakes is nature writer Jerry Dennis’ ode to the Great Lakes. It ranges from geological origins of the lakes, formed by glaciers during the last ice age, through their ecology, the human histories on the lakes, and to the author’s childhood and later sailing journeys on them. This beautiful book is written with the love that a lifetime on the lakes can inspire.