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world’s largest lakes

Lake BaikalThere are more than 304 million lakes on Earth. These water bodies, composed of slowly moving or standing water, are found in inland basins that balance water inputs (from precipitation, inflowing streams, and groundwater percolation) with outputs (outflowing streams, evaporation, withdrawals for irrigation, and so on). Many of the world’s largest lakes could be called inland seas, in that they have enormous surface areas, are landlocked, and link to the ocean through rivers or other narrow channels.

Eurasia hosts the world’s largest inland body of water, the Caspian Sea (whose surface area sprawls some 386,000 square km [roughly 150,000 square miles]). North America contains five of the top 10 largest lakes, three of which are part of the Great Lakes. Up until the second half of the 20th century, Eurasia also possessed the world’s fourth largest lake, the Aral Sea (which covered 68,000 square km [26,300 square miles] of Central Asia as late as 1960). By the second decade of the 21st century, however, the Aral Sea had been reduced to a handful of remnant pools, its inflowing streams having been redirected for agriculture; the Aral Sea’s demise is possibly the starkest example of how human activity can change Earth’s surface irrevocably within just a few generations.

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During the late 1960s, new lakes were discovered far beneath the ice in Antarctica using radio-echo sounding, and some of these subglacial lakes are so massive that they even rival the size of the largest surface lakes. The largest subglacial body of liquid water, Lake Vostok, ranks 16th in size overall. Listed below are the 10 largest lakes in the world by area followed by the next 10 largest lakes.

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The 10 largest lakes

The next 10 largest lakes

  • Lake Erie (Canada and United States): 25,667 square km (9,910 square miles)
  • Lake Winnipeg (Canada): 24,387 square km (9,416 square miles)
  • Lake Ontario (Canada and United States): 19,011 square km (7,340 square miles)
  • Lake Ladoga (Russia): 17,600 square km (6,700 square miles)
  • Lake Balkhash (Kazakhstan): 15,500 square km (6,000 square miles)
  • Lake Vostok (Antarctica): 12,000 square km (4,633 square miles)
  • Lake Onega (Russia): 9,720 square km (3,753 square miles)
  • Lake Titicaca (Peru and Bolivia): 8,300 square km (3,200 square miles)
  • Lake Nicaragua (Nicaragua): 8,157 square km (3,149 square miles)
  • Lake Athabasca (Canada): 7,936 square km (3,064 square miles)
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