AskDefine | Define lake

Dictionary Definition



1 a body of (usually fresh) water surrounded by land
2 a purplish red pigment prepared from lac or cochineal
3 any of numerous bright translucent organic pigments

User Contributed Dictionary



Etymology 1

From lake < lack < lacus < .


  1. Large, landlocked, naturally occurring stretch of water.
  2. (In the plural) an area characterised by its many lakes; e.g., the English Lake District is often shortened to The Lakes.
  3. A large amount of liquid: a wine lake.
body of water

Etymology 2

From lác, .


  1. An offering, sacrifice, gift.
  2. obsolete dialectal Play, sport, fun, glee.
Derived terms


  1. To present an offering.
  2. In the context of "mainly|dialectal": To leap, jump, exert oneself, play.

Etymology 3

From lachen


  1. Fine linen.

Etymology 4

From laque < لاک < |lakh < |laksha, referring to the number of insects that gather on the trees and make the resin seep out.


  1. In dyeing and painting, an often fugitive crimson or vermillion pigment derived from an organic colorant (cochineal or madder, for example) and an inorganic, generally metallic mordant.
Derived terms
coloring agent
  • Arabic: ( l-lák)
  • Finnish: lakka
  • French: laque
  • German: Farbstoff
  • Greek: ­­­­­λάκη (láki)
  • Hebrew: לכה (lakah)
  • Hungarian: lakk
  • Italian: lacca
  • Japanese: ニス (nísu), (うるし, urushí)
  • Korean: 래커 (raekeo)
  • Norwegian: fargestoff
  • Polish: lakier
  • Portuguese: laca
  • Russian: лак (lak)
  • Spanish: laca
  • Thai: (khràng)


  1. To make lake-red.




  1. To pickle.

Extensive Definition

A lake (from Latin lacus) is an inland body of water, not part of the ocean, that is larger and deeper than a pond. Globally, lakes are greatly outnumbered by ponds: of an estimated 304 million standing water bodies worldwide, 91% are or less in area (see definition of ponds) . Small lakes are also much more numerous than big lakes: in terms of area, one third of the world's standing water is represented by lakes and ponds of or less. However, large lakes contribute disproportionately to the area of standing water with 122 large lakes of or more representing about 29% of the total global area of standing inland water.
Until recently, there has been considerable uncertainty about defining the difference between lakes and ponds. For example, limnologists have defined lakes as waterbodies which are simply a larger version of a pond, or which have wave action on the shoreline, or where wind induced turbulance plays a major role in mixing the water column. None of these definitions completely excludes ponds and all are difficult to measure. For this reason there has been increasing use made of simple size-based definitions to separate ponds and lakes. In the United Kingdom, for example, the charity Pond Conservation - which works to protect all types of freshwater ecosystem - has defined lakes as waterbodies of or more in area . Elsewhere, other workers have treated lakes as waterbodies of and above, or and above (see definitions of pond). Charles Elton, one of the founders of ecology, regarded lakes as waterbodies of or more, a value somewhat larger than modern studies would suggest appropriate .
The vast majority of lakes on Earth are fresh water, and most lie in the Northern Hemisphere at higher latitudes. In ecology the environment of a lake is referred to as lacustrine. Large lakes are occasionally referred to as "inland seas", and small seas are occasionally referred to as lakes. Smaller lakes tend to put the word "lake" after the name, as in Green Lake, while larger lakes often invert the word order, as in Lake Ontario, at least in North America. In some places, the word "lake" does not correctly appear in the name at all (e.g., Windermere in Cumbria).
Over 60% of the world's lakes are in Canada; this is because of the deranged drainage system that dominates the country. The license plate of the Canadian province of Manitoba used to claim "100,000 lakes" as one-upmanship on Minnesota, whose license plates boast of it being the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Finland is known as The Land of the Thousand Lakes (actually there are 187,888 lakes in Finland, of which 60,000 are large), and the U.S. state of Minnesota is known as The Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.
Only one lake in the English Lake District is actually called a lake; other than Bassenthwaite Lake, the others are all "meres" or "waters". Only six bodies of water in Scotland are known as lakes (the others are lochs): the Lake of Menteith, the Lake of the Hirsel, Pressmennan Lake, Cally Lake near Gatehouse of Fleet, the saltwater Manxman's Lake at Kirkcudbright Bay, and The Lake at Fochabers. Of these only the Lake of Menteith and Cally Lake are natural bodies of fresh water.
Most lakes have a natural outflow in the form of a river or stream, but some do not and lose water solely by evaporation or underground seepage or both. They are termed endorheic lakes (see below).
The term "lake" is also used to describe a feature such as Lake Eyre, which is a dry basin most of the time but may become filled under seasonal conditions of heavy rainfall.
Many lakes are artificial and are constructed for hydro-electric power generation, recreational purposes, industrial use, agricultural use, or domestic water supply.
Evidence of extraterrestrial lakes exists; "definitive evidence of lakes filled with methane" was announced by NASA as returned by the Cassini Probe observing the moon Titan, which orbits the planet Saturn.

Origin of natural lakes

There are a number of natural processes that can form lakes. A recent tectonic uplift of a mountain range can create bowl-shaped depressions that accumulate water and form lakes. The advance and retreat of glaciers can scrape depressions in the surface where water accumulates; such lakes are common in Scandinavia, Patagonia, Siberia, and Canada. The most notables examples are probably the Great Lakes of North America.
Lakes can also form by means of landslides or by glacial blockages. An example of the latter occurred during the last ice age in the U.S. state of Washington, when a huge lake formed behind a glacial flow; when the ice retreated, the result was an immense flood that created the Dry Falls at Sun Lakes, Washington. Salt lakes (also called saline lakes) can form where there is no natural outlet or where the water evaporates rapidly and the drainage surface of the water table has a higher-than-normal salt content. Examples of salt lakes include Great Salt Lake, the Caspian Sea, the Aral Sea, and the Dead Sea.
Small, crescent-shaped lakes called oxbow lakes can form in river valleys as a result of meandering. The slow-moving river forms a sinuous shape as the outer side of bends are eroded away more rapidly than the inner side. Eventually a horseshoe bend is formed and the river cuts through the narrow neck. This new passage then forms the main passage for the river and the ends of the bend become silted up, thus forming a bow-shaped lake.
Crater lakes are formed in volcanic calderas which fill up with precipitation more rapidly than they empty via evaporation. An example is Crater Lake in Oregon, are located within the calderas of Mount Mazama. The caldera was created in a massive volcanic eruption that led to the subsidence of Mount Mazama around 4860 BC.
Some lakes, such as Lake Jackson in Florida, USA, come into existence as a result of sinkhole activity.
Lake Vostok is a subglacial lake in Antarctica, possibly the largest in the world. The pressure from the ice atop it and its internal chemical composition mean that if the lake were drilled into a fissure could result that would spray somewhat like a geyser.
Most lakes are geologically young and shrinking since the natural results of erosion will tend to wear away the sides and fill the basin. Exceptions are those such as Lake Baikal and Lake Tanganyika that lie along continental rift zones and are created by the crust's subsidence as two plates are pulled apart. These lakes are the oldest and deepest in the world. Lake Baikal, which is 25-30 million years old, is deepening at a faster rate than it is being filled by erosion and may be destined over millions of years to become attached to the global ocean. The Red Sea, for example, is thought to have originated as a rift valley lake.

Types of lakes

  • Periglacial: Part of the lake's margin is formed by an ice sheet, ice cap, or glacier, the ice having obstructed the natural drainage of the land.
  • Subglacial: A lake which is permanently covered by ice. They can occur under glaciers, ice caps, or ice sheets. There are many such lakes, but Lake Vostok in Antarctica is by far the largest. They are kept liquid because the overlying ice acts as a thermal insulator retaining energy introduced to its underside by friction, by water percolating through crevasses, by the pressure from the mass of the ice sheet above, or by geothermal heating below.
  • Glacial lake: a lake with origins in a melted glacier.
  • Artificial: A lake created by flooding land behind a dam, called an impoundment or reservoir; by deliberate human excavation; or by the flooding of an excavation incident to a mineral-extraction operation such as an open pit mine or quarry. Some of the world's largest lakes are reservoirs.
  • Endorheic, also called terminal or closed: A lake which has no significant outflow, either through rivers or underground diffusion. Any water within an endorheic basin leaves the system only through evaporation or seepage. These lakes, such as Lake Eyre in central Australia or the Aral Sea in central Asia, are most common in desert locations.
  • Meromictic: A lake which has layers of water which do not intermix. The deepest layer of water in such a lake does not contain any dissolved oxygen. The layers of sediment at the bottom of a meromictic lake remain relatively undisturbed because there are no living organisms to stir them up.
  • Fjord lake: A lake in a glacially eroded valley that has been eroded below sea level.
  • Oxbow: A lake which is formed when a wide meander from a stream or a river is cut off to form a lake. They are called "oxbow" lakes due to the distinctive curved shape that results from this process.
  • Rift lake: A lake which forms as a result of subsidence along a geological fault in the Earth's tectonic plates. Examples include the Rift Valley lakes of eastern Africa and Lake Baikal in Siberia.
  • Underground: A lake which is formed under the surface of the Earth's crust. Such a lake may be associated with caves, aquifers, or springs.
  • Crater: A lake which forms in a volcanic caldera or crater after the volcano has been inactive for some time. Water in this type of lake may be fresh or highly acidic and may contain various dissolved minerals. Some also have geothermal activity, especially if the volcano is merely dormant rather than extinct.
  • Lava: A pool of molten lava contained in a volcanic crater or other depression. Lava lakes that have partly or completely solidified are also referred to as lava lakes.
  • Former: A lake which is no longer in existence. Such lakes include prehistoric lakes and lakes which have permanently dried up through evaporation or human intervention. Owens Lake in California, USA, is an example of a former lake. Former lakes are a common feature of the Basin and Range area of southwestern North America.
  • Shrunken: Closely related to former lakes, a shrunken lake is one which has drastically decreased in size over geological time. Lake Agassiz, which once covered much of central North America, is a good example of a shrunken lake. Two notable remnants of this lake are Lake Winnipeg and Lake Winnipegosis.
  • Eolic: A lake which forms in a depression created by the activity of the winds.


Lakes have numerous features in addition to lake type, such as drainage basin (also known as catchment area), inflow and outflow, nutrient content, dissolved oxygen, pollutants, pH, and sedimentation.
Changes in the level of a lake are controlled by the difference between the input and output compared to the total volume of the lake. Significant input sources are precipitation onto the lake, runoff carried by streams and channels from the lake's catchment area, groundwater channels and aquifers, and artificial sources from outside the catchment area. Output sources are evaporation from the lake, surface and groundwater flows, and any extraction of lake water by humans. As climate conditions and human water requirements vary, these will create fluctuations in the lake level.
Lakes can be also categorized on the basis of their richness in nutrients, which typically affects plant growth. Nutrient-poor lakes are said to be oligotrophic and are generally clear, having a low concentration of plant life. Mesotrophic lakes have good clarity and an average level of nutrients. Eutrophic lakes are enriched with nutrients, resulting in good plant growth and possible algal blooms. Hypertrophic lakes are bodies of water that have been excessively enriched with nutrients. These lakes typically have poor clarity and are subject to devastating algal blooms. Lakes typically reach this condition due to human activities, such as heavy use of fertilizers in the lake catchment area. Such lakes are of little use to humans and have a poor ecosystem due to decreased dissolved oxygen.
Due to the unusual relationship between water's temperature and its density, lakes form layers called thermoclines, layers of drastically varying temperature relative to depth. Fresh water is most dense at about 4 degrees Celsius (39.2 °F) at sea level. When the temperature of the water at the surface of a lake reaches the same temperature as deeper water, as it does during the cooler months in temperate climates, the water in the lake can mix, bringing oxygen-starved water up from the depths and bringing oxygen down to decomposing sediments. Deep temperate lakes can maintain a reservoir of cold water year-round, which allows some cities to tap that reservoir for deep lake water cooling.
Since the surface water of deep tropical lakes never reaches the temperature of maximum density, there is no process that makes the water mix. The deeper layer becomes oxygen starved and can become saturated with carbon dioxide, or other gases such as sulfur dioxide if there is even a trace of volcanic activity. Exceptional events, such as earthquakes or landslides, can cause mixing, which rapidly brings up the deep layers and can release a vast cloud of toxic gases which lay trapped in solution in the colder water at the bottom of the lake. This is called a limnic eruption. An example of such a release is the disaster at Lake Nyos in Cameroon. The amount of gas that can be dissolved in water is directly related to pressure. As the previously deep water surfaces, the pressure drops, and a vast amount of gas comes out of solution. Under these circumstances even carbon dioxide is toxic because it is heavier than air and displaces it, so it may flow down a river valley to human settlements and cause mass asphyxiation.
The material at the bottom of a lake, or lake bed, may be composed of a wide variety of inorganics, such as silt or sand, and organic material, such as decaying plant or animal matter. The composition of the lake bed has a significant impact on the flora and fauna found within the lake's environs by contributing to the amounts and the types of nutrients available.


main article Limnology Limnology is the study of inland bodies of water and related ecosystems. Limnology divides lakes into three zones: the littoral zone, a sloped area close to land; the photic or open-water zone, where sunlight is abundant; and the deep-water profundal or benthic zone, where little sunlight can reach. The depth to which light can reach in lakes depends on turbidity, determined by the density and size of suspended particles. A particle is in suspension if its weight is less than the random turbidity forces acting upon it. These particles can be sedimentary or biological in origin and are responsible for the color of the water. Decaying plant matter, for instance, may be responsible for a yellow or brown color, while algae may cause greenish water. In very shallow water bodies, iron oxides make water reddish brown. Biological particles include algae and detritus. Bottom-dwelling detritivorous fish can be responsible for turbid waters, because they stir the mud in search of food. Piscivorous fish contribute to turbidity by eating plant-eating (planktonivorous) fish, thus increasing the amount of algae (see aquatic trophic cascade). The light depth or transparency is measured by using a Secchi disk, a 20-centimeter (8 in) disk with alternating white and black quadrants. The depth at which the disk is no longer visible is the Secchi depth, a measure of transparency. The Secchi disk is commonly used to test for eutrophication. For a detailed look at these processes, see lentic system ecology.
A lake moderates the surrounding region's temperature and climate because water has a very high specific heat capacity (4,186 J·kg−1·K−1). In the daytime, a lake can cool the land beside it with local winds, resulting in a sea breeze; in the night, it can warm it with a land breeze.

How lakes disappear

A lake may be infilled with deposited sediment and gradually become a wetland such as a swamp or marsh. Large water plants, typically reeds, accelerate this closing process significantly because they partially decompose to form peat soils that fill the shallows. Conversely, peat soils in a marsh can naturally burn and reverse this process to recreate a shallow lake. Turbid lakes and lakes with many plant-eating fish tend to disappear more slowly. A "disappearing" lake (barely noticeable on a human timescale) typically has extensive plant mats at the water's edge. These become a new habitat for other plants, like peat moss when conditions are right, and animals, many of which are very rare. Gradually the lake closes, and young peat may form, forming a fen. In lowland river valleys, where a river can meander, the presence of peat is explained by the infilling of historical oxbow lakes. In the very last stages of succession, trees can grow in, eventually turning the wetland into a forest.
Some lakes can disappear seasonally. These are called intermittent lakes and are typically found in karstic terrain. A prime example of an intermittent lake is Lake Cerknica in Slovenia.
Sometimes a lake will disappear quickly. On 3 June, 2005, in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, Russia, a lake called Lake Beloye vanished in a matter of minutes. News sources reported that government officials theorized that this strange phenomenon may have been caused by a shift in the soil underneath the lake that allowed its water to drain through channels leading to the Oka River.
The presence of ground permafrost is important to the persistence of some lakes. According to research published in the journal Science ("Disappearing Arctic Lakes," June 2005), thawing permafrost may explain the shrinking or disappearance of hundreds of large Arctic lakes across western Siberia. The idea here is that rising air and soil temperatures thaw permafrost, allowing the lakes to drain away into the ground.
Neusiedler See, located in Austria and Hungary, has dried up many times over the millennia. As of 2005, it is again rapidly losing water, giving rise to the fear that it will be completely dry by 2010.
Some lakes disappear because of human development factors. The shrinking Aral Sea is described as being "murdered" by the diversion for irrigation of the rivers feeding it.
see also Prairie Lake

Extraterrestrial lakes

At present the surface of the planet Mars is too cold and has too little atmospheric pressure to permit the pooling of liquid water on the surface. Geologic evidence appears to confirm, however, that ancient lakes once formed on the surface. It is also possible that volcanic activity on Mars will occasionally melt subsurface ice creating large lakes. Under current conditions this water would quickly freeze and evaporate unless insulated in some manner, such as by a coating of volcanic ash.
Jupiter's small moon Io is volcanically active due to tidal stresses, and as a result sulfur deposits have accumulated on the surface. Some photographs taken during the Galileo mission appear to show lakes of liquid sulfur on the surface.
There are dark basaltic plains on the Moon, similar to lunar maria but smaller, that are called lacus (singular lacus, Latin for "lake") because they were thought by early astronomers to be lakes of water.
Photographs taken by the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft on July 24, 2006, give strong evidence for the existence of methane or ethene lakes on Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

Notable lakes

  • The largest lake in the world by surface area is the Caspian Sea. With a surface area of 394,299 km² (152,240 mi²), it has a surface area greater than the next six largest lakes combined.
  • The deepest lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia, with a bottom at 1,637 m (5,371 ft). Its mean depth is also the highest in the world (749 m) It is the world's largest freshwater lake by volume (23,000 km³), and the second longest (about 630 km from tip to tip).
  • The longest freshwater lake is Lake Tanganyika, with a length of about 660 km (measured along the lake's center line). It is also the second deepest in the world (1,470 m) after lake Baikal.
  • The world's oldest lake is Lake Baikal, followed by Lake Tanganyika (Tanzania).
  • The world's highest lake is an unnamed pool on Ojos del Salado at . The Lhagba Pool in Tibet at comes second.
  • The world's highest commercially navigable lake is Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia at . It is also the largest freshwater (and second largest overall) lake in South America.
  • The world's lowest lake is the Dead Sea, bordering Israel, Jordan at 418 m (1,371 ft) below sea level. It is also one of the lakes with highest salt concentration.
  • Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake by surface area (82,414 km²). It is also the third largest by water volume. However, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan form a single hydrological system with surface area 117,350 km², sometimes designated Lake Michigan-Huron. All these are part of the Great Lakes of North America.
  • Lake Huron has the longest lake coastline in the world: about 2980 km, excluding the coastline of its many inner islands.
  • The largest island in a freshwater lake is Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron, with a surface area of 2,766 km². Lake Manitou, located on Manitoulin Island, is the largest lake on an island in a freshwater lake.
  • The largest lake located on an island is Nettilling Lake on Baffin Island.
  • The largest lake in the world that drains naturally in two directions is Wollaston Lake.
  • Lake Toba on the island of Sumatra is located in what is probably the largest resurgent caldera on Earth.
  • The largest lake located completely within the boundaries of a single city is Lake Wanapitei in the city of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Before the current city boundaries came into effect in 2001, this status was held by Lake Ramsey, also in Sudbury.
  • Lake Enriquillo in Dominican Republic is the only saltwater lake in the world inhabited by crocodiles.
  • Lake of the Ozarks is one of the United States largest man made lakes, created by the Bagnell Dam

Largest by continent

The largest lakes (surface area) by continent are:
Note: Lake Maracaibo is considered by far the largest lake in South America. It, however, lies at sea level with a relatively wide opening to sea, so it is better described as a bay.
lake in Arabic: بحيرة
lake in Official Aramaic (700-300 BCE): ܝܡܬܐ
lake in Asturian: Llagu
lake in Aymara: Quta
lake in Azerbaijani: گول
lake in Bengali: হ্রদ
lake in Bashkir: Күл
lake in Belarusian: Возера
lake in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Возера
lake in Central Bicolano: Danaw
lake in Breton: Lenn (dour)
lake in Bulgarian: Езеро
lake in Catalan: Llac
lake in Chuvash: Кӳлĕ
lake in Czech: Jezero
lake in Welsh: Llyn
lake in Danish: Sø
lake in German: See
lake in Estonian: Järv
lake in Modern Greek (1453-): Λίμνη
lake in Emiliano-Romagnolo: Lèg
lake in Erzya: Эрьке
lake in Spanish: Lago
lake in Esperanto: Lago
lake in Basque: Laku
lake in Persian: دریاچه
lake in French: Lac
lake in Western Frisian: Mar
lake in Friulian: Lâc
lake in Galician: Lago
lake in Korean: 호수
lake in Hindi: झील
lake in Croatian: Jezero
lake in Ido: Lago
lake in Indonesian: Danau
lake in Icelandic: Stöðuvatn
lake in Italian: Lago
lake in Hebrew: אגם
lake in Kannada: ಸರೋವರ
lake in Georgian: ტბა
lake in Swahili (macrolanguage): Ziwa
lake in Latin: Lacus
lake in Latvian: Ezers
lake in Luxembourgish: Séi
lake in Lithuanian: Ežeras
lake in Lojban: lalxu
lake in Hungarian: Tó
lake in Macedonian: Езеро
lake in Malayalam: തടാകം
lake in Dutch: Meer (water)
lake in Cree: Sákahikan
lake in Japanese: 湖
lake in Norwegian: Innsjø
lake in Norwegian Nynorsk: Innsjø
lake in Polish: Jezioro
lake in Portuguese: Lago
lake in Romanian: Lac
lake in Quechua: Qucha
lake in Russian: Озеро
lake in Albanian: Liqeni
lake in Sicilian: Lacu (bacinu)
lake in Simple English: Lake
lake in Slovenian: Jezero
lake in Serbian: Језеро
lake in Serbo-Croatian: Jezero
lake in Sundanese: Situ
lake in Finnish: Järvi
lake in Swedish: Insjö
lake in Tamil: ஏரி
lake in Telugu: సరస్సు
lake in Thai: ทะเลสาบ
lake in Vietnamese: Hồ
lake in Tajik: Кӯл
lake in Turkish: Göl
lake in Ukrainian: Озеро
lake in Venetian: Łago
lake in Yiddish: אזערע
lake in Contenese: 湖
lake in Samogitian: Ežers
lake in Chinese: 湖泊
lake in Slovak: Jazero
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