The Real Difference Between Lake and Ponds

The Real Difference Between Lake and Ponds

The Real Difference Between Lake and Ponds

I’ve read a lot nonsense about how there’s no clear distinction between lakes and ponds. WRONG! Here’s the simple distinction: it’’s a matter of depth, not surface area.

If it’s shallow enough that plants can grow across the entire water body — it’s a “pond.”

If the water gets deep enough to where plants can’t grow — it’s a lake. That’s it.

All lakes have areas deep enough that sunlight can’t penetrate to stimulate growth. This deeper area is called an “aphotic zone.”

In a pond, sunlight can reach the bottom and stimulate plant growth all across its surface. The area where sunlight can stimulate growth is called the “photic zone.”

The definition gets slightly fuzzy when water is unusually clear, (or unusually murky). I visited a lake infested with zebra muscles that had turned the water crystal clear. I could see weeds growing on the bottom 30-feet deep. Zebra muscles had turned that lake into a pond, (sort of). If the residents get rid of the zebra muscles, it will be a lake again.

Some small bodies of water are lakes  — and some very large water bodies are technically ponds. Sugarbush Lake, near my home in Michigan is just 30 acres, yet it’s 93-feet deep. It’s certainly a lake.

By contrast, Florida’s Lake Okeechobee is the second largest inland lake in the contiguous U.S., with a surface area of 730 square miles, but its deepest part is 12 feet — with an average depth is just 9 feet. Aquatic vegetation can grow anywhere on it, making Lake Okeechobee, (technically) a pond — though no one calls it Okeechobee Pond.

There are lots of other terms describing characteristics of lakes and ponds.

If you’d like to know more about them, this article  Michigan State University article is a good start, but uses “euphotic zone” instead of “photic zone” — and “limnetic zone” for the “aphotic zone.”

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