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!

Underground Lakes Across the World

Photo courtesy of Hoang Trung/Shutterstock via Fodor’s Travel

As lake homeowners, we may have one idea in our heads of what a lake looks like. A visible body of water, surrounded by greenery or mountains, with an abundance of wildlife and fish. However, for some lakes, there’s more than what meets the eye. In fact, there are plenty of underground lakes across the globe. Although they’re hidden, these lakes are stunning, full of natural history, and frankly, are great travel destinations. Check out some of the most fascinating underground lakes across the world!

Lake Vostok

Location: Antarctica

Lake Vostok, a subglacial lake at the heart of Antarctica, is probably one of the most enigmatic lakes in the world. Sitting beneath the ice, stretching 3,281 feet deep, this lake has captured the attention of scientists who believe that its frigid climate may have implications for life on other planets. The lake’s existence was first posted by a Russian geographer who noticed its seismic soundings during the Soviet Antarctic Expeditions in the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s. From there, the Russian research site, Vostok Station was founded. Today, researchers continue to explore this underground lake’s unparalleled features.

Dragon’s Breath Cave

Location: Namibia

Many of the world’s largest underground lakes are subglacial. But not all of them. Dragon’s Breath Cave, found in the Otjozondjupa region of Namibia, is actually the largest non-subglacial lake in the world, thought to be at least 430 feet deep. Divers have not been able to chart its depths further, due to its underground location. Sitting 330 feet below the earth’s surface, it wasn’t discovered until 1986. The group of explorers felt a breeze coming from the cave, and knew they needed to explore. The humid air earned its name — Dragon’s Breath.

Craighead Cavern

Photo courtesy of Traquo

Location: U.S.A.

Some underground lakes might be closer to home than we think. In particular, Craighead Caverns is the second-largest underground lake in the world. It’s also the largest underground lake in the U.S.! Also known as the “Lost Sea”, it has been designated as a Registered Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior. Located between Sweetwater and Madisonville, Tennessee, you can actually take boating adventures through the caverns. Also known as the “Lost Sea” this spot is a wonderful tourist destination for anyone in the southeast.

Lake Martel

Photo courtesy of Barcelo Experiences

Location: Spain

More than 80 feet beneath the surface of Majorca, an island near Spain, lies Lake Martel (in Spanish, Cuevas del Drach). It sits at the bottom of the Caves of Drach, part of a group of four caves that lie beneath this island. Since Lake Martel’s discovery in the 1880’s, the caves have been a popular tourist destination where people from across the world can enjoy guided boat tours. Some tours even end with a live concert! An unconventional, yet thrilling way to enjoy live music on the lake.

Son Doong Cave

Image courtesy of Ryan Deboodt / Oxalis Adventure Tours via Lonely Planet

Location: Vietnam

Translated in English to “mountain river cave,” Son Doong Cave just so happens to be the world’s largest cave. Located at the border of Laos and Vietnam, it is the largest known cave passage, measured by volume. The passage is over 3 miles long and 660 feet high, allowing lush vegetation such as moss to develop along the passage walls. This cave isn’t new either — it developed somewhere between two and five million years ago when limestone was eroded by river water underneath a mountain. Within its walls is also a rushing river which is connected to another cave, Hang Thung. 

These fascinating lakes are only a handful of the underground lakes that exist across the world. With travel restrictions lifting soon, don’t hesitate to make these underground lakes next on your travel list!