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What’s at the Bottom of Lake Superior?

The bottom of Lake Superior is like something out of a science fiction film. Lake Superior is the largest lake in the world and holds 10% of all Earth’s surface freshwater. It’s also the coldest Great Lake. Being so large and frigid, the bottom of this body of water holds many secrets.

Let’s dive into what’s really at the bottom of Lake Superior. 

About Lake Superior

Lake Superior is the largest and deepest of the Great Lakes, with a surface area of 31,700 square miles and a maximum depth of 1,332 feet. The lake is so large it takes about 200 years to replenish its water supply, and it holds 10% of the world’s surface freshwater. It is the northernmost of the five Great Lakes, bordered by Ontario, Canada, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. 

Pro Tip: While touring the Great Lakes, be sure to visit the Top 10 Beaches in Michigan.

With the surface temperature averaging around 63 degrees Fahrenheit and with over 1,800 miles of shoreline, it may seem like an inviting lake, especially for a swim. However, being almost a quarter-mile deep and exposed to harsh winters, the water gets cold quickly.

10 Awesome Facts About Lake Superior

How Cold Is the Bottom of Lake Superior? 

The water temperature at the bottom of Lake Superior averages 39 degrees Fahrenheit, which is too cold for most plants and animals to survive. However, a few species can withstand the chilly conditions. These include various types of bacteria, sponges, worms, and crayfish. Let’s learn more about what lives on the lake bottom.

What Lives on the Bottom of This Chilly Lake? 

Because of the cold temperatures, Lake Superior is a relatively infertile lake that is not very biodiverse compared to most other lakes. While most animal species can’t handle the cold temperatures at the bottom of Lake Superior, some thrive there. However, you wouldn’t see much at the bottom. The lake is so deep that sunlight barely penetrates, and most bottom-dwellers are dark-colored to blend in with their surroundings. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing down there.

Lake Superior
Lake Superior is a chilly 63 degrees Fahrenheit at the surface and 39 at the bottom (on average).

More than 200 species of fish live in the lake, including walleye, whitefish, and sturgeon. It also has several bottom-dwelling fish species, such as the invasive round goby. Additionally, the bottom of the lake is home to crayfish, shrimp, and other invertebrates.

Plants such as algae and seaweed also grow in the depths. The lake bottom is a diverse and productive ecosystem that supports a wide range of plant and animal life. But it holds much more than that. It contains hundreds of shipwrecks…and bodies.

Pro Tip: Find out why Lake Superior has recently been colder than normal.

How Many Bodies Are at the Bottom of Lake Superior? 

This question has long intrigued researchers and casual observers. Unfortunately, the answer is unclear, and the exact number will probably never be known. Still, we know Lake Superior has claimed an estimated 10,000 lives and more lives are lost each year to its depths. With few bodies ever being found, there could theoretically be thousands of bodies at the bottom of Lake Superior. 

Lake Superior wreckage
The bottom of Lake Superior is too remote to fully know what’s down there.

Does Lake Superior Give Up Her Dead? 

As legend has it, Lake Superior never gives up her dead. For centuries, people have wondered about the strange lights and noises that come from the lake’s depths. 

Some say that the lights are ghosts and that the noises are the sounds of their restless spirits. Others believe that the bottom of the lake is home to a different kind of creature altogether. Whatever the case, the lake is full of mystery and intrigue.

However, scientists have other reasons for Lake Superior never giving up her dead. Because of the cold water, bacteria don’t grow like they would in warmer waters. Bacteria cause a body to bloat and eventually float to the surface. 

The cold temperatures here help keep the bodies down in the depths. She does not give up her dead, but maybe she will eventually reveal the many other secrets that lie in her depths.

The Lake That Never Gives Up Her Dead

Pro Tip: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a gateway to Lake Superior’s splendor and mystery. Here’s what you need to know if you want to camp in this northerly region: The Complete Guide to Camping in the Upper Peninsula

How Many Ships Are at the Bottom of Lake Superior? 

Some sources say the bottom of Lake Superior has an estimated 550 shipwrecks, while other sources site only 350. Regardless, these wrecks remind us of the dangers of navigation on the Great Lakes.

One of the worst wrecks came from the Ophelia, a steamer that sank in 1854. The Ophelia carried 150 passengers and crew when she went down in a storm. Only two people survived. 

The Edmund Fitzgerald, another well-known shipwreck, sank in 1975 with all 29 crew members aboard. People believe that the ship took on water due to leaking hatches, and the huge waves eventually broke the ship in half.

There have been hundreds of shipwrecks in Lake Superior.

What About the Legend of the Underground Lake? 

Lake Superior has many secrets, including an underground lake. Sounds a bit mythical, right? Legend has it that the floor of Lake Superior has an opening into a subterranean cave. A French explorer who came across it in the 1600s initially called it the Lake of Hell. But the true meaning got lost in translation when English speakers misunderstood it to be Lake Inferior. 

Fast forward a few hundred years when in 1870, some city workers fixing a wall discovered it and wanted to plug the entrance to the cave. They thought it would have an impact on shipping and transportation. 

Lake Superior
The underground lake is technically groundwater.

While a myth, it has some truth to it. Rather than an underground lake, scientists would refer to this as groundwater. This hidden body of water under the Great Lake Basin contains as much water as all of Lake Huron. The groundwater provides a vital habitat for rivers and surrounding ecosystems that it drains into. It also helps to regulate the temperature of the water in Lake Superior. Unfortunately, this groundwater is becoming more and more polluted and is a source of much pollution entering the Great Lakes.

Is Lake Superior Worth Visiting? 

With Lake Superior containing as much water as all the Great Lakes combined and then some, this majestic expanse of water is most definitely worth a visit. Then, add in the mystique of shipwrecks, bodies, and unique plants and wildlife, and Lake Superior becomes a must-do experience. (Although we may be a little biased as the shores of Lake Superior have been our summer home for many years.)

We invite you to explore this vast lake and region again and again. After all, the bottom of Lake Superior is a mystery worth diving into.

Tom and Cait at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Want to explore Lake Superior up close? Beach camping is an excellent way to do it! Learn more here: 10 Great Places to Go Beach Camping in Michigan

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Saturday 14th of May 2022

This article seems to have a few random facts gleaned from wikepedia then a whole mess of contradictions that follow. Borderline incoherent structure.

Dana LaRose

Monday 2nd of May 2022

There is no marine life that deep in fresh water. And you're wrong about cold water being bad for dead human bodies, in fact it preserves them. Adiposere takes over.

Jim Roehl

Monday 25th of April 2022

Are the Mortons unable to use Google? The location of the "Fritz", as it's called, has been known for almost 50 years. Divers have been on it. The Anderson? Was following the Fritz when it went down, is still in service, and was the first laker to steam into Duluth this spring, 2022.

Aaron D LeRoy

Sunday 24th of April 2022

The author must be a kid as hard reading and contradiction of itself.

Betty Sentner

Friday 22nd of April 2022

Good to learn all that. Have more pictures of the bottom and ships down there would be really good. Have you had this all on a TV program? Thanks!B