The World’s Smallest and Largest Underground Lakes

Photo courtesy of John Karakatsanis Travelgrove

Did you know that 71% of the earth’s surface is made up of water? Mostly referring to the oceanic waters of the world, this statistic reminds us how integral that water is to life on earth. However, not all water is surface-based. In fact, there are multiple bodies of water that exist beneath the surface of the earth. From subglacial lakes to cave lakes, hundreds of intriguing bodies of water lie tucked away in the most unexpected spots on earth. Today, in honor of all the lakes we can’t see, we’re covering the smallest and largest underground lakes!

The Largest Subglacial Lake

Image courtesy of Live Science

Given the expansiveness of Antarctic lakes, it’s no surprise that the largest underground lake in the world is subglacial. As opposed to typical underground lakes, a subglacial lake simply refers to one that is covered by a layer of ice. In the case of Lake Vostok, this layer happens to be 2.5 miles. Because of this lake’s hidden nature, its existence was unknown until the 1990s when a Russian pilot and geographer noticed a unique oblong shape from the air.

Today, the lake is part of Vostok Station, a Russian research hub in central Antarctica. Although scientists disagree about whether the lake existed before or after the East Antarctic Ice Sheet was formed, they do agree on one thing — the lake’s ecosystem is fascinating. With a temperature of -89 degrees Fahrenheit, the presence of life in earth’s coldest temperatures has implications for the possibility of life on other planets.

The Largest Non-Subglacial Underground Lake

Photo courtesy of Gondwana Collection

The country of Namibia is famous for a lot of natural wonders — the treacherous skeleton coast, the world’s highest sand dunes, and most of the endangered black rhino population. Beyond these wonders, the country is also home to the largest non-subglacial underground lake. Located in the Otjozondjupa Region in Namibia, Dragon’s Breath Cave was discovered in 1986 and named for the moist air that can be seen from the cave’s entrance, resembling dragon’s breath. At least 16 invertebrate species live in these zero-sunlight conditions, as well as a few other species such as golden catfish, the most isolated fish in the world.

The Smallest Underground Lake

Photo courtesy of Awe-inspiring places

In a small island in the southwest Pacific, the Moqua Well sits on the island of Nauru. In this tropical location, a limestone plateau formed low cliffs, which later produced caves. Inside, Moqua Well is a 16 foot deep freshwater lake. During World War II, this lake was a primary source of freshwater for the people living on Nauru island. Its integral nature during the war earned its name “well” instead of “lake.” After the war, it was primarily a destination for partiers to drink. However, after an inebriated man fatally fell into the well, the lake is now closed access.

The Smallest and Clearest Underground Lake

Photo courtesy of PandoTrip

Although it is larger than Moqua Well, Melissani Lake is another one of the world’s smallest underground lakes. It also happens to be a fascinating tourist attraction. Close to the mainland of Greece, it’s located in Melissani Cave on the Greek island of Kefalonia. According to Greek mythology, Melissani was the cave of the nymphs, female deities who are usually personifications of nature. Tourists have remarked on the clarity of the water, which can make boats look as though they’re floating on air. While its length is only 3 miles long, it’s beauty is breathtaking and certainly worth a visit for any travelers to Eastern Europe. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some of these underground lakes across the world!

5 of the World’s Largest Man-Made Lakes

5 of the largest man made lakes

When dams are built, they create man-made lakes or reservoirs.

These dams and resulting lakes are important to society as they provide areas with water for drinking, farming irrigation, hydroelectric power generation, and flood management.

While none of the world’s five largest reservoirs are located in the United States, it is interesting to take note just how big these completely man-made bodies of water are.

For comparison purposes, the following list contains the square mileage of several of the lakes in the footprint:

Smith Lake, AL: 33 square miles
Lake Lanier, GA: 59 square miles
Lake Murray, SC: 77 square miles
Tellico Lake, TN: 24 square miles
Lake Hartwell,GA/SC: 87 square miles
Kerr Lake NC/VA: 78 square miles
Lake Marion SC173 square miles

Guri Reservoir

guri reservoir with rushing water

The Guri Dam is located in the Bolivar State in Venezuela. Built on the Caroni River, the dam was opened in 1978.

The Guri Reservoir has a surface area of more than 1,640 square miles.

This dam has a power station that includes 21 turbines with the capacity of producing 10,235 megawatts of energy. It has an annual generation of approximately 47,000 gigawatts.

Lake Nasser 

serene lake nasser during the day

Lake Nasser is a reservoir located in the south of Egypt. The lake is approximately 341 miles long and 22 miles wide at its widest part.

This man-made lake has a surface area of 2,030 square miles. The deepest part of this lake measures 600 feet.

The majority of the lake lies in Egypt, but a section of the reservoir is also located in Sudan. The Sudanese refer to the body of water as Lake Nubia.

Bratsk Reservoir

The Bratsk Reservoir was constructed in Russia, on the Angara River, in 1967. This enormous body of water covers more than 2,110 square miles and is named after the nearby city of Bratsk.

the bratsk reservoir in russia located on the angara river

Lake Kariba

lake kariba, Zimbabwe sunset

Lake Kariba is the world’s largest man-made lake by volume, but not by surface area.

The reservoir covers 2,150 square miles and is approximately 140 miles long by 20 miles wide.

Lake Kariba is located between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Studies have shown that the massive amount of water even caused seismic activity in the area, resulting in several earthquakes!

Lake Volta

lake volta located in ghana during the day

Lake Volta is located in Ghana and was built in 1965.

This enormous body of water covers a whopping 3,275 square miles and is bigger than the land area of Rhode Island and Delaware combined!

Lake Marion, one of the largest lakes in the South, could fit into the same area almost 20 times over!

There are, of course, bigger lakes by volume, as well as much larger naturally occurring lakes, but when it comes to man-made lakes and areas that they cover, these five take the top spots!

You might also enjoy: Top 5 American Lakes with the Highest Elevation

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