By surface area, Lake Huron is the second-largest of the Great Lakes, with a surface area of 23,007 square miles (59,590 km2) — of which 9,103 square miles (23,580 km2) lies in Michigan; and 13,904 square miles (36,010 km2) lies in Ontario — making it the third-largest fresh water lake on Earth (and the fourth-largest lake, if the Caspian Sea is counted as a lake). By volume however, Lake Huron is only the third largest of the Great Lakes, being surpassed by Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. When measured at the low water datum, the lake contains a volume of 850 cubic miles (3,500 km3) and a shoreline length (including islands) of 3,827 mi (6,159 km).
The surface of Lake Huron is 577 feet (176 m) above sea level. The lake's average depth is 32 fathoms 3 feet (195 ft (59 m)), while the maximum depth is 125 fathoms (750 ft (230 m)). It has a length of 206 statute miles (332 km; 179 nmi) and a greatest breadth of 183 statute miles (295 km; 159 nmi).
Cities with over 10,000 people on Lake Huron include Sarnia, the largest city on Lake Huron, and Saugeen Shores in Canada and Bay City, Port Huron, and Alpena in the United States.
A large bay that protrudes northeast from Lake Huron into Ontario, Canada, is called Georgian Bay. A notable feature of the lake is Manitoulin Island, which separates the North Channel and Georgian Bay from Lake Huron's main body of water. It is the world's largest freshwater island. Major centres on Georgian Bay include Owen Sound, Wasaga Beach, Midland, Penetanguishene, Port Severn and Parry Sound.
A smaller bay that protrudes southwest from Lake Huron into Michigan is called Saginaw Bay.
Historic High Water The lake fluctuates from month to month with the highest lake levels in October and November. The normal high-water mark is 2.00 feet (0.61 m) above datum (577.5 ft or 176.0 m). In the summer of 1986, Lakes Michigan and Huron reached their highest level at 5.92 feet (1.80 m) above datum. The high-water records began in February 1986 and lasted through the year, ending with January 1987. Water levels ranged from 3.67 to 5.92 feet (1.12–1.80 m) above Chart Datum.
Historic Low Water Lake levels tend to be the lowest in winter. The normal low-water mark is 1.00 foot (30 cm) below datum (577.5 ft or 176.0 m). In the winter of 1964, Lakes Michigan and Huron reached their lowest level at 1.38 feet (42 cm) below datum. As with the high-water records, monthly low-water records were set each month from February 1964 through January 1965. During this twelve-month period, water levels ranged from 1.38 to 0.71 feet (42–22 cm) below Chart Datum.
The Great Lakes Circle Tour is a designated scenic road system connecting all the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.
Lake Huron has the largest shore line length of any of the Great Lakes, counting its 30,000 islands.
Lake Huron is separated from Lake Michigan, which lies at the same level, by the 5-mile-wide (8.0 km), 20-fathom-deep (120 ft; 37 m) Straits of Mackinac, making them hydrologically the same body of water (sometimes called Lake Michigan-Huron and sometimes described as two 'lobes of the same lake'). Aggregated, Lake Huron-Michigan, at 45,300 square miles (117,000 km2), "is technically the world's largest freshwater lake." When counted separately, Lake Superior is 8,700 square miles (23,000 km2) larger than Huron and higher. Lake Superior drains into the St. Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie which then flows southward into Lake Huron. The water then flows south to the St. Clair River, at Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario.
The Great Lakes Waterway continues thence to Lake St. Clair; the Detroit River and Detroit, Michigan; into Lake Erie and thence – via Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River – to the Atlantic Ocean.
Like the other Great Lakes, it was formed by melting ice as the continental glaciers retreated toward the end of the last ice age. Before this, Lake Huron was a low-lying depression through which flowed the now-buried Laurentian and Huronian Rivers; the lake bed was criss-crossed by a large network of tributaries to these ancient waterways, with many of the old channels still evident on bathymetric maps.
The Alpena-Amberley Ridge is ancient ridge beneath the surface of Lake Huron, running roughly between Alpena, Michigan and Point Clark, Ontario. About 9,000 years ago, when water levels in Lake Huron were about 100 m (330 ft) below today's levels, the ridge was exposed and the land bridge was used as a migration route for large herds of caribou. Since 2008, archaeologists have discovered at least 60 stone constructions along the submerged ridge that are thought to have been used as hunting blinds by Paleo-Indians.
The extent of development among Eastern Woodlands Native American societies on the eve of European contact is indicated by the archaeological evidence of a town on or near Lake Huron that contained more than one hundred large structures housing a total population of between 4000 and 6000. The French, the first European visitors to the region, often referred to Lake Huron as La Mer Douce, "the fresh-water sea". In 1656, a map by French cartographer Nicolas Sanson refers to the lake as Karegnondi, a Wendat word which has been variously translated as "Freshwater Sea", "Lake of the Hurons", or simply "lake". The lake was generally labeled "Lac des Hurons" (Lake of the Huron) on most early European maps.
On November 9, 1913, a great storm in Lake Huron sank ten ships and more than twenty were driven ashore. The storm, which raged for 16 hours, killed 235 seamen.
Matoa had passed between Port Huron, Michigan, and Sarnia, Ontario, just after midnight. On November 9, just after six in the morning, Senator pushed upstream. Less than an hour later, Manola passed through. Captain Frederick W. Light of Manola reported that both the Canadian and the American weather stations had storm flag signals flying from their weather towers. Following behind at 7:00 a.m. that Sunday, Regina steamed out of Sarnia into the northwest gale. The warnings now had been up for four hours. Manola passed Regina off Port Sanilac, 22 statute miles (19 nmi; 35 km) up the lake. Captain Light determined that if it continued to deteriorate, he would seek shelter at Harbor Beach, Michigan, another 30 statute miles (26 nmi; 48 km) up the lake. There, he could seek shelter behind the breakwater. Before he reached Harbor Beach, the winds turned to the northeast and the lake began to rise. It would be noon before he reached Harbor Beach and ran for shelter. The waves were so violent that Manola touched bottom entering the harbor. With help from a tugboat, Manola tied up to the break wall with eight lines. It was about 3:00 p.m. when Manola was secured and the crew prepared to drop anchor. As they worked, the cables began to snap from wind pressure against the hull. To keep from being pushed aground, they kept their bow into the wind with the engines running half to full in turns, yet the ship still drifted 800 feet (240 m) before its movement was arrested. Waves breaking over the ship damaged several windows and the crew reported seeing portions of the concrete break wall peeling off as the waves struck it.
Meanwhile, fifty miles farther up the lake, Matoa and Captain Hugh McLeod had to ride out the storm without a safe harbor. Matoa would be found stranded on the Port Austin reef when the winds subsided. It was noon on Monday before the winds let up and not until 11:00 p.m. that night before Captain Light determined it to be safe to continue his journey.
On October 26, 2010, the Karegnondi Water Authority was formed to build and manage a pipeline from the Lake to Flint.
More than a thousand wrecks have been recorded in Lake Huron. These purportedly include the first European vessel to sail the Great Lakes, Le Griffon, built in 1679 on the eastern shore of Lake Erie, near Buffalo, New York. Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle navigated across Lake Erie, up the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River out into Lake Huron. Passing the Straits of Mackinac, La Salle and Le Griffon made landfall on Washington Island, off the tip of the Door Peninsula on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. Here, La Salle filled Le Griffon with pelts and in late November 1679 sent Le Griffon back to the site of modern-day Buffalo, never to be seen again.
Two wrecks have been identified as Le Griffon, although neither has gained final verification as the actual wreck. Blown by a fierce storm after leaving, Le Griffon ran aground before the storm. The people of Manitoulin Island say that the wreck in Mississagi Straits at the western tip of the island is that of Le Griffon. Meanwhile, others near Tobermory, say that the wreck on Russell Island, 150 miles (240 km) farther east in Georgian Bay is that of Le Griffon.
The 448-square-mile (1,160 km2) Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve is home to 116 historically significant shipwrecks. It is the 13th National Marine Sanctuary designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, established in 2000. Glass-bottom boat tours depart from Alpena, Michigan, providing tourists with views of some of the famous shipwrecks in Thunder Bay.
Within the waters of Saginaw Bay are 185 of 1,000+ wrecks. Matoa, a propeller freighter weighing 2,311 gross tons, was built in Cleveland in 1890, and was wrecked in 1913 on Port Austin Reef.
Georgian Bay, the largest bay on Lake Huron, contains 212 of the 1,000 sunken vessels in the lake.
Manola, a propeller freighter of 2,325 gross tons, was built in 1890 by the Globe Shipping Company of Cleveland, Ohio. It was operated by the Minnesota Steamship Company (Cleveland) from 1890 to 1901, and by the Pittsburgh Steamship Company from 1901 to 1918. On January 25, 1918, Manola was sold to the U.S. Shipping Board. It was sold again in 1920 to the Canada Steamship Lines, Ltd., and renamed Mapledawn. The vessel became stranded on November 20, 1924, on Christian Island in Georgian Bay. Headed for Port McNichol, Ontario, it was declared a total loss after two weeks. Salvagers were able to recover approximately 75,000 bushels of barley for delivery to Midland, Ontario.
Lake Huron has a lake retention time of 22 years.
Like all of the Great Lakes, the ecology of Lake Huron has undergone drastic changes in the last century. The lake originally supported a native deepwater fish community dominated by lake trout, which fed on a number of deepwater ciscos as well as sculpins and other native fishes. Several invasive species, including sea lamprey, alewife and rainbow smelt, became abundant in the lake by the 1930s. The major native top predator, lake trout, were virtually extirpated from the lake by 1950 due to a combination of overfishing and the effects of sea lamprey. Several species of deepwater ciscos were also extirpated from the lake by the 1960s; the only remaining native deepwater cisco is the bloater. Nonnative Pacific salmon have been stocked in the lake since the 1960s, and lake trout have also been stocked in an attempt to rehabilitate the species, although little natural reproduction of stocked trout has been observed.
Lake Huron has suffered recently due the introduction of a variety of new invasive species, including zebra and quagga mussels, the spiny water flea, and round gobies. The deepwater demersal fish community of the lake was in a state of collapse by 2006, and a number of drastic changes have been observed in the zooplankton community of the lake. Chinook salmon catches have also been greatly reduced in recent years, and lake whitefish have become less abundant and are in poor condition. These recent changes may be attributable to the new exotic species.