General Question

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Do the Great Lakes have ocean-like tides?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (34070points) September 3rd, 2019

And do you know any interesting facts about the Great Lakes and their ecosystems?

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32 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

the mediterranean sea has tides of only a few centimetres, and that one is connected to the atlantic, so I doubt it.

ragingloli's avatar

and really, how would it even?
Tides are caused by the gravitational force of the moon pulling water from around the world oceans towards it, which obviously would not work with a lake that small.

seawulf575's avatar

Not really. They have waves, but not really tides. I used to live very near Lake Erie and when I was in the Navy, I also spent time near Lake Michigan.

MrGrimm888's avatar

They have weather patterns, similar to oceans. But I’ve never heard of an actual tidal cycle.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@ragingloli You don’t understand their size:

The Great Lakes are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total area, and second-largest by total volume, containing 21% of the world’s surface fresh water by volume.[2][3][4] The total surface is 94,250 square miles (244,106 km2), and the total volume (measured at the low water datum) is 5,439 cubic miles (22,671 km3),[5] slightly less than the volume of Lake Baikal (5,666 cu mi or 23,615 km3, 22–23% of the world’s surface fresh water).

Source is Wikipedia.

Caravanfan's avatar

@ragingloli knows exactly what the Great Lakes are and how big they are.
No, they do not have tides.

wiscoblond's avatar

They do have dangerous currents and take several lives each year.

Never underestimate the power of the Great Lakes.

LuckyGuy's avatar

they rise and fall but hnot due to the Moon’s pull. The levels change due to weather patterns and the water saturation of the ground.
Wind does whip them up though and you can have huge waves crashing against piers and shorelines.

When Lake Ontario’s level reaches 249 ft there is flooding in Montreal and the road near my home has water flowing across it. Exciting! (We are high enough so we are not bothered.)

Brian1946's avatar

Anyone here who has swam in a Great Lake?

wiscoblond's avatar

^I’ve gone knee deep in Superior and Michigan. I didn’t have my bathing suit otherwise I would have swam.

wiscoblond's avatar

Too late to edit. Our youngest son swam in Lake Michigan. He had a blast.

Zissou's avatar

No tides to speak of. They have seiches.

Brian1946's avatar


Nothing beats salt-free & SHARK-FREE swimming! ;-)

Caravanfan's avatar

@Brian1946 “Anyone here who has swam in a Great Lake?”

Many times, even once when there was ice in the water. I have also kayaked in them.

seawulf575's avatar

@Brian1946 Yes, I swam in both Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. Michigan was cold, though, so I didn’t stay in very long. However I remember when I was very young, mom would take us to the beach (Lake Erie) and let us swim, but would tell us to get out if she saw an oil slick coming in. It is much better these days.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Technically the lakes have tides because of their mass, but they are tiny and wind and waves have a much greater effect.

I’ve been swimming at Lake Michigan beaches since I was a small child. I live a few miles away now. When I’m commuting or doing errands on my bike I’ll divert to the lake front path if I have time.

One year a friend and I swam (or submerged at least) in the lake every month for a year. In the winter that meant running across the snow, making a quick dip, and retreating to the getaway car. There may have been alcohol involved.

JLeslie's avatar

The Great Lakes do get waves. Mostly, they are fairly calm waves, but it can get turbulent during bad weather. Not the same as the literal meaning of tide I guess. Although, maybe so. I do think there are some tidal shifts. I need to google.

The shoreline does change. I remember visiting a friend who has a cottage on Lake Huron and almost her entire “beach” behind her house was gone, because the water had come so close to the house. It was t so much tidal, but like the lake was very full the days I was there.

The sand by her house is filled with beautiful smoothed over lake stones by her house. Stones you can fit in your hand that are smoothed over, fairly flat, and oval-ish shaped mostly by her house.

If you have been to the Gulf beaches on the west coast of Florida its a lot like the Great Lakes on most days. One noticeable difference is the saltiness of the ocean compared to the fresh lake water. People not used to the ocean usually notice the difference when they accidentally swallow some water.

A lot of people have a hard time imagining how large the Great Lakes are. I was staying in Elkhart Lake, WI and told a couple of friends with me (from Memphis) that I wanted to go to Lake Michigan, and asked if they wanted to come. Elkhart Lake itself has a nice moderately sized lake, but it’s a typical interior lake in a small town.

Lake Michigan was about 30 minutes away. As we neared the lake we crossed over a small waterway, maybe 25 ft wide, and one of them asked if that’s the lake. This is an American who is a smart women. 5 minutes later we were at Lake Michigan, at a beach, and it was blue like the Caribbean, and large like the ocean, unable to see any land on the other side. She had no concept that it would be that way.

I remember the first time I went to the Great Lakes, it made quite an impression on me. I too hadn’t really understood the vastness, even though I was familiar with the geography. I was a teenager at the time.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Used to swim in lake Erie when I was a kid. I don’t remember any tides.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@JLeslie Waves are not remotely the same thing as tides.

JLeslie's avatar

^^You asked for other information about the Lakes so I went on a tangent from the tide discussion. My link to NOAA speaks specifically to tides.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@JLeslie You wrote, “The Great Lakes do get waves. Mostly, they are fairly calm waves, but it can get turbulent during bad weather. Not the same as the literal meaning of tide I guess.” You are conflating 2 disparate terms.

JLeslie's avatar

Ok. Not the same as tides, I wasn’t sure how literal you were being. Some people conflate the terms. They talk about the waves coming in and the tide coming in.

Anyway, there is a tidal shift of centimeters. Basically, nothing. So, the Lakes are considered not to be tidal. I talked about the shore line changing, I said it’s not tidal, but that the Lakes can be more full of water bringing the water up closer to the things along the shore like houses, and other structures. Again, not tidal, more to do with rainfall, glaciers melting, etc.

Brian1946's avatar


“Many times, even once when there was ice in the water. I have also kayaked in them.”

Which ones?

Brian1946's avatar


“I’ve been swimming at Lake Michigan beaches since I was a small child.”

Were some of these beaches north of Chi-town?

Were any of them in Wisconsin?

Brian1946's avatar

What color is or colors are the water(s) near the beaches? I love swimming in opalescently green water.

wiscoblond's avatar

@Brian1946 Here are some pics I took of Lake Michigan just north of Milwaukee in May.

I can dig up some of Lake Superior that I have.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

@Brian1946 I had a grandmother in Racine, Wisconsin, so I was at the beach there often as a kid. What I most remember were the alewives; dead fish carpeting the sand. The smell was awful. Salmon were introduced about that time, and they eat alewives. So the mass die-offs aren’t a thing any more.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

@Brian1946 The water is blue now, because invasive mussels filter it so well. It’s become a problem because the the murky stuff is the bottom of the food chain. So fewer little fish, thus fewer medium fish thus fewer big fish.

In some places the water is clear turquoise. It looks Caribbean.

dabbler's avatar

If the tides are routinely five centimeters maximum height mentioned on the NOAA article cited above, they must be routinely overwhelmed by wave actions from all the sources folks have already observed. But there are tides, and they are little compared to ocean tides.

Sagacious's avatar

Yes. I’ve played in the waves of Lake Michigan. Officially the GLs are nontidal, but a windy day can certainly blow up some surf.

Caravanfan's avatar

@Brian1946 Sorry I just saw the tag. Superior. A cousin has a cabin up there.

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