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inland body of standing water occupying a hollow in the earth's surface. The study of lakes and other freshwater basins is known as limnology. Lakes are of particular importance since they act as catchment basins for close to 40% of the landscape, supply drinking water, generate electricity, are used to irrigate fields, and serve as recreational areas.

The Environment of Lakes

The primary source of lake water is precipitation that may enter the depression directly, as runoff from surrounding higher ground, or through underground springs. Unique flora and fauna live around a lake and vary depending on the size and shape of the lake and the surrounding rocks and soil. Flora and fauna in the lake are usually found in three zones: the littoral zone closest to the shallow water shore; the limnetic, in the open, well-lit water away from most vegetation; and the lower profundal zones areas of low oxygen and light.

Ponds are generally small, shallow lakes; the criterion for differentiating between ponds and lakes is usually temperature. Ponds have a more consistent temperature throughout; while lakes, because they are deeper, have a stratified temperature structure that depends on the season.

Global Distribution of Lakes

Lakes are not evenly distributed on the earth's surface; most are located in high latitudes and mountainous regions. Canada alone contains nearly 50% of the world's lakes. Although lakes are usually thought to be freshwater bodies, many lakes, especially in arid regions, become quite salty because a high rate of evaporation concentrates inflowing salts. The Caspian Sea, Dead Sea, and Great Salt Lake are among the greatest of the world's salt lakes. The Great Lakes of the United States and Canada is the world's largest system of freshwater lakes. Lake Superior alone is the world's largest freshwater lake with an area of 31,820 sq mi (82,414 sq km), although there is a larger volume of freshwater in Lake Baykal. The Caspian Sea is the largest lake in the world, with an area of c.144,000 sq mi (372,960 sq km). Lake Titicaca in the Andes Mts. of South America is the world's highest large lake at 12,500 ft (3,800 m) above sea level; the Dead Sea is the lowest at c.1,400 ft (425 m) below sea level.

Formation and Fate of Lakes

Many lakes were formed as a result of glacial action during the PleistocenePleistocene epoch
, 6th epoch of the Cenozoic era of geologic time (see Geologic Timescale, table). According to a classification that considered its deposits to have been formed by the biblical great flood, the epoch was originally called the Quaternary.
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 ice sheets. In some areas, as exemplified by the Great Lakes, basins were carved into bedrock by the erosive action of the advancing ice mass. Lake basins are also formed by glacial morainemoraine
, a formation composed of unsorted and unbedded rock and soil debris called till, which was deposited by a glacier. The till that falls on the sides of a valley glacier from the bounding cliffs makes up lateral moraines, running parallel to the valley sides.
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 deposits that dam preexisting stream valleys. Lakes also form in calderas, created by the collapse of volcanic craters. Where extensive limestone deposits underlie a region, groundwater can dissolve great volumes of the limestone, forming caves that often contain underground lakes and eventually, if the roofs collapse, leave deep lake basins. Tectonic activity in the earth's crust forms lake basins in many ways, such as fault-generating rift valleysrift valley,
elongated depression, trough, or graben in the earth's crust, bounded on both sides by normal faults and occurring on the continents or under the oceans. The central flat block forming the trough slips downward relative to the crustal blocks on either side.
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 as those found in E Africa, that often fill with water. Oxbow lakes form in abandoned stream channels in floodplains of meandering rivers. Deposition of sediment along a shoreline can cut off bays, forming coastal lagoons. Humans often form lakes by building dams across river valleys for flood control, hydroelectric generation, or recreational purposes.

Lakes are transient features on the earth's surface and generally disappear in a relatively short period of geologic time by a combination of processes (e.g., erosion of an outlet or climatic changes that bring drier conditions). In a process called eutrophication, a lake gradually fills with organic and inorganic sediment, becoming a swamp or bog, and eventually a meadow. Human activity has greatly increased the rates of eutrophication; urban and suburban land construction activities result in increased discharge of soil debris into streams draining into lakes, filling them.


in dyeing, an insoluble pigmentpigment,
substance that imparts color to other materials. In paint, the pigment is a powdered substance which, when mixed in the liquid vehicle, imparts color to a painted surface.
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 formed by the reaction between an organic dye and a mordantmordant
[Fr.,=biting], substance used in dyeing to fix certain dyes (mordant dyes) in cloth. Either the mordant (if it is colloidal) or a colloid produced by the mordant adheres to the fiber, attracting and fixing the colloidal mordant dye (see colloid); the insoluble, colored
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. The color of a lake depends upon the mordant as well as the dye used. Generally, lakes are not as colorfast as many inorganic dyes, but their colors are more brilliant.

What does it mean when you dream about a lake?

A lake can represent our subconscious or our inner feelings. A dream about a lake might also be alluding to the familiar idiom “go jump in a lake.”


An inland body of water, small to moderately large, with its surface water exposed to the atmosphere.
Any of a large group of dyes that have been combined with or adsorbed by salts of calcium, barium, chromium, aluminum, phosphotungstic acid, or phosphomolybdic acid; used for textile dyeing. Also known as color lake.


Any of a number of bright pigments which are prepared from animal, vegetable, or coal-tar coloring matter, or formed synthetically; used in paints.


an expanse of water entirely surrounded by land and unconnected to the sea except by rivers or streams


All bodies of water generally represent our emotions and our unconscious. Old dream interpretation books say that lakes are associated with romantic feelings. If the lake is calm, your love life is probably in such good shape that you feel safe. Stormy water means to strap yourself in and get ready for a bumpy ride. If you see a monster in the water, your unconscious may be suggesting that you have competition (or some unseen issue or problem). For a more serious and contemplative definition of this dream symbol, please see:Water, Ocean
References in classic literature ?
Captain Bonneville doubts this report, or that the men accomplished the circumnavigation, because, he says, the lake receives several large streams from the mountains which bound it to the east.
A mile away, a grove-plumed promontory juts far into the lake and glasses its palace in the blue depths; in midstream a boat is cutting the shining surface and leaving a long track behind, like a ray of light; the mountains beyond are veiled in a dreamy purple haze; far in the opposite direction a tumbled mass of domes and verdant slopes and valleys bars the lake, and here indeed does distance lend enchantment to the view--for on this broad canvas, sun and clouds and the richest of atmospheres have blended a thousand tints together, and over its surface the filmy lights and shadows drift, hour after hour, and glorify it with a beauty that seems reflected out of Heaven itself.
To behold the Northwest Company in all its state and grandeur, however, it was necessary to witness an annual gathering at the great interior place of conference established at Fort William, near what is called the Grand Portage, on Lake Superior.
But Daylight persuaded him in grim ways to stay by the outfit, and they pulled on across Deep Lake and Long Lake and dropped down to the level-going of Lake Linderman.
There Burton, who was completely worn out, lay ill for several months, during which time Speke made a push to the northward of more than three hundred miles, going as far as Lake Okeracua, which he came in sight of on the 3d of August; but he could descry only the opening of it at latitude two degrees thirty minutes.
When they arrived there they went at once to the Lake, and this time the lions did not stir, nor did the springs flow, and neither did the Lake speak.
Quite different from Lake Asphaltite, whose depression is twelve hundred feet below the sea, it contains considerable salt, and one quarter of the weight of its water is solid matter, its specific weight being 1,170, and, after being distilled, 1,000.
It was over two miles, but we did not pause until the harbor was in view, and still we could not see the lake because of the sandstone cliffs which intervened.
Looking back at the events of the night, I can recall but one consideration that stayed my feet on the fatal path which led back to the lake.
We never returned to that tree, for the shore of the stream that drained Far Lake was packed thick with salmon that had come up from the sea to spawn.
The tenants of the lake were far-famed for both their quantities and their quality, and the ice had hardly disappeared before numberless little boats were launched from the shores, and the lines of the fishermen were dropped into the inmost recesses of its deepest caverns, tempting the unwary animals with every variety of bait that the ingenuity or the art of man had invented.
asked the scout; "the lake is as smooth as if the winds had never blown, and I can see along its sheet for miles; there is not so much as the black head of a loon dotting the water.