These Are the Top 25 Largest Lakes in the World, Side by Side

There are roughly 100 million lakes in the world that are larger than one hectare (2.47 acres). Really large lakes, which are on par with entire countries in terms of size, are not very common. This infographic by the Visual Capitalist uses the Great Lakes region as a basis for visually comparing the largest 25 lakes located in different parts of the globe. (Read more about them below)

The ranking of the world’s largest lakes is far from static, as human activity can turn a massive body of water into a desert within a single generation, as the sad example of the Aral Sea demonstrates. Once the fourth largest lake in the world, by today most of the Aral has turned into a new desert called the Aralkum and has completely lost the status of a stable super-complex natural system. In its present form, it hasn’t even made it into to Top 25. (You can read the sad story of the Aral Sea here)

The largest lake in the world by a long shot is the Caspian Sea. The name of this massive body of water hints at a past when it was contiguous with the ocean around 11 million years ago. It is nearly the same size as Japan and borders five countries: Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran. An estimated 48 billion barrels of oil lie beneath the surface of the basin.

Situated along the Canada–U.S. border, the five Great Lakes form one of the largest collections of fresh water on Earth. This interconnected system of lakes represents around 20% of the world’s fresh water.

The Great lakes as seen from space. Image credit: NASA

Interestingly, there is a single lake that holds as much fresh water as all the Great Lakes combined – Lake Baikal. It has a maximum depth of 5,371ft (1,637m), while the largest of the Great Lakes (Lake Superior) is “only” 25% as deep, with a maximum depth of 1,333ft (406m). Lake Baikal is also unique in other ways, as it is the world’s oldest and coldest lake, and around 80% of its animal species are endemic (not found anywhere else).

Here’s a full list of the top 25 lakes in the world by area:

 NameCountries with shorelineAreaLengthMaximum depthWater volumeThumbnail (same scale for all lakes) Notes
1Caspian Sea Kazakhstan
371,000 km2 (143,000 sq mi)1,199 km (745 mi)1,025 m (3,363 ft)78,200 km3 (18,800 cu mi)Despite its name, it is often regarded as the world’s largest lake, though it contains an oceanic basin (contiguous with the world ocean until 11 million years ago) rather than being entirely over continental crust.
2Superior Canada
 United States
82,100 km2 (31,700 sq mi)616 km (383 mi)406.3 m (1,333 ft)12,100 km3 (2,900 cu mi)Largest of the Great Lakes by volume, having more water than the other four combined. The largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area.
3Victoria Uganda
68,870 km2 (26,590 sq mi)322 km (200 mi)84 m (276 ft)2,750 km3 (660 cu mi)The largest lake by area in Africa.
4Huron Canada
 United States
59,600 km2 (23,000 sq mi)332 km (206 mi)229 m (751 ft)3,540 km3 (850 cu mi)Contains Manitoulin Island, the world’s largest lake island.
5Michigan United States58,000 km2 (22,000 sq mi)494 km (307 mi)281 m (922 ft)4,900 km3 (1,200 cu mi)The largest lake (by area) that is located entirely in one country.
6Tanganyika Burundi
 Democratic Republic of the Congo
32,600 km2 (12,600 sq mi)676 km (420 mi)1,470 m (4,820 ft)18,900 km3 (4,500 cu mi)Longest freshwater lake in the world and third-largest by volume.
7Baikal Russia31,500 km2 (12,200 sq mi)636 km (395 mi)1,637 m (5,371 ft)23,600 km3 (5,700 cu mi)Deepest lake in the world and largest volume freshwater lake in the world.
8Great Bear Lake Canada31,000 km2 (12,000 sq mi)373 km (232 mi)446 m (1,463 ft)2,236 km3 (536 cu mi)Largest lake entirely within Canada, and the largest lake situated within the Arctic Circle (albeit only partially)
9Malawi Malawi
29,500 km2 (11,400 sq mi)579 km (360 mi)706 m (2,316 ft)8,400 km3 (2,000 cu mi)Has more species of fish than any other lake in the world.
10Great Slave Lake Canada27,000 km2 (10,000 sq mi)480 km (300 mi)614 m (2,014 ft)1,560 km3 (370 cu mi)Deepest lake in North America
11Erie Canada
 United States
25,700 km2 (9,900 sq mi)388 km (241 mi)64 m (210 ft)489 km3 (117 cu mi)
12Winnipeg Canada24,514 km2 (9,465 sq mi)425 km (264 mi)36 m (118 ft)283 km3 (68 cu mi)
13Ontario Canada
 United States
18,960 km2 (7,320 sq mi)311 km (193 mi)244 m (801 ft)1,639 km3 (393 cu mi)
14Ladoga Russia18,130 km2 (7,000 sq mi)219 km (136 mi)230 m (750 ft)908 km3 (218 cu mi)Largest lake in Europe.
15Balkhash Kazakhstan16,400 km2 (6,300 sq mi)605 km (376 mi)26 m (85 ft)106 km3 (25 cu mi)
16Bangweulu Zambia15,100 km2 (5,800 sq mi)75 km (47 mi)4 m (13 ft)
17Vostok Antarctica12,500 km2 (4,800 sq mi)250 km (160 mi)900–1,000 m (3,000–3,300 ft)5,400 ± 1,600 km3 (1,300 ± 380 cu mi)Largest lake in Antarctica
18Onega Russia9,700 km2 (3,700 sq mi)245 km (152 mi)127 m (417 ft)285 km3 (68 cu mi)Second-largest lake in Europe.
19Titicaca Bolivia
8,372 km2 (3,232 sq mi)177 km (110 mi)281 m (922 ft)893 km3 (214 cu mi)Highest navigable lake in the world and largest lake in South America.
20Nicaragua Nicaragua8,264 km2 (3,191 sq mi)177 km (110 mi)26 m (85 ft)108 km3 (26 cu mi)
21Athabasca Canada7,850 km2 (3,030 sq mi)335 km (208 mi)243 m (797 ft)204 km3 (49 cu mi)
22Taymyr Russia6,990 km2 (2,700 sq mi)250 km (160 mi)26 m (85 ft)12.8 km3 (3.1 cu mi)Largest lake entirely within the Arctic Circle.
23Turkana Ethiopia
6,405 km2 (2,473 sq mi)248 km (154 mi)109 m (358 ft)204 km3 (49 cu mi)Largest permanent desert lake and the world’s largest alkaline lake.
24Reindeer Lake Canada6,330 km2 (2,440 sq mi)245 km (152 mi)337 m (1,106 ft)95.25 km3 (22.85 cu mi)
25Issyk-Kul Kyrgyzstan6,200 km2 (2,400 sq mi)182 km (113 mi)668 m (2,192 ft)1,738 km3 (417 cu mi)
Source: Wikipedia

Lake Chad in Saharan Africa, Lake Urmia in Iran, and many other lakes around the world are face similar challenges as the Aral Sea, shrinking dramatically in recent decades. How we work to reverse damage and avoid further activities endangering the world’s ecosystems will have a big influence on how the top 25 list of lakes may look in future years.


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