Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
Lakes around the world have been the lifeblood of civilization by providing food, transportation, irrigation and defense. They’ve also inspired the age-old custom of skipping rocks in a movie to illustrate thoughtfulness. Lakes are truly amazing. Though geologists may not agree on how to rank the lakes–whether according to surface area, volume or depth–when have geologists ever agreed on anything? They are a contentious lot, to say the least.
5 Lake Baykal
Lake Baykal — or Baikal, depending on your choice of vowel–is next largest. This Russian lake also holds the distinction of being the deepest lake in the world. It used to have a trophy like Tanganyika, but the pressure at 5,369 feet deep crushed the trophy into a tiny ball. Tiny shrimp eat up algae, and bedrock foundations filter out sediment, making Baykal one of the cleanest lakes in the world with visibility down hundreds of feet.
4 Lake Tanganyika
In addition to having a large surface area, Lake Tanganyika is the longest lake in the world. Somewhere, in the depths of the African lake, it has the trophy for longest-lake displayed, and it constantly reminds itself that the other lakes are just jealous. Or not. To the southwest of Lake Victoria in Africa, Tanganyika has an incredibly diverse bio-system with 600 species that only exist on its shores. If anything, that’s worth a trophy, too.
3 Lake Victoria
Next in surface area is Africa’s Lake Victoria, which is the famous source of the Nile River that was sought by European explorers during the 19th century. It was one of the last places where white Europeans could go and claim to be the first person there, even though there’d been native peoples there the entire time. Quite a stupendous accomplishment. Today the lake serves as a vital waterway for Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
2 Great Lakes
By surface area, Michigan-Huron and Superior are behind the Caspian Sea. Those pesky geologists aren’t quite sure how to classify the Great Lakes. Superior is, well, superior in size, but that tiny channel between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron isn’t a river or a canal–it actually connects the two lakes. So, if you side with the Sharks-geologist gang, you consider Michigan-Huron the next largest lake, but if you’re with the Jets-geologist gang, you think it’s Superior. Great.
1 Caspian Sea
The largest lake by surface area is the Caspian Sea on the southern border of Russia. It’s a salt lake, though, so some consider it to be a landlocked sea instead of a true freshwater lake, but those people are just jealous. If you’re a fan of sturgeon–and who isn’t–then the Caspian Sea is your favorite lake in the world, with approximately 90 percent of the world’s sturgeon population swimming its salty depths.