Fact Check

Canada Has More Lakes Than All Other Countries Combined?

The five Great Lakes, which straddle the U.S-Canada border, contain 18% of the world's fresh lake water alone.

Published Aug. 19, 2023

Moraine Lake in Alberta, Canada. (James Wheeler, Pixabay)
Moraine Lake in Alberta, Canada. (Image Via James Wheeler, Pixabay)
Claim:
Canada has more lakes than all other countries combined.
Context

While Canada is not home to "more lakes than the rest of the world combined" like some social media posts claim, it has more lakes than any other individual country.

Canada may span "from sea to sea" as its motto suggests, but also confined within the northern nation's vast boundaries is a seemingly boundless number of bodies of fresh water.

With thousands of lakes, at least 563 of which measure larger than roughly 38-square miles, Canada has more lake area than any other country in the world, according to the country's government and the scientific database Hydrolakes. In fact, the five Great Lakes, which straddle the U.S-Canada border, contain 18% of the world's fresh lake water alone.

However, despite that fact, the country is not home to "more lakes than the rest of the world combined," as some social media posts and articles have claimed:

(Snopes screengrab compilation)

While all lake totals by country are estimations, Hydrolakes reported Canada has 863,550 lakes measuring over 24 acres, while the rest of the world has at least triple that amount (anywhere between 3.4 and 117 million lakes, or possibly more, depending on the size of freshwater body measured). Considering that data, it was false to claim that Canada has more lakes than all other countries combined.

What scientifically constitutes a lake, and not a pond or something else, can vary. According to Canada's government, a lake is defined as "a sizable water body surrounded by land and fed by rivers, springs, or local precipitation."

Because there are varying ways to define lakes and how big they are, the process of determining a region's total and how much water they hold is "one of the most fundamental questions in limnology (the study of freshwater)," wrote researchers in a 2016 issue of the American Geophysical Union's Geophysical Research Letters.

There are ranging estimates for the world's total number of lakes.

For example, in 2014, researchers at the Uppsala Universitet in Sweden determined there were approximately 117 million lakes larger than a half-acre covering almost 4% of the world's surface. Meanwhile, a count almost a decade earlier that included much smaller bodies of freshwater totaled way more.

Additionally, scientists have found that the number of lakes is increasing globally. In 2022, scientists at the University of Copenhagen (who mapped roughly 3.4 million lakes globally based on their specific measurements) found that, between 1984 and 2019, "the number of lakes on our planet has increased substantially in recent decades." That increase in global lake surface grew by over 17,000 square miles — or slightly larger than the size of Denmark. Melting glaciers or thawing permafrost in northern latitudes primarily caused the increase, according to the study.

So, while Canada hosts the most lakes of any country, it certainly isn't home to more lakes than every other country combined.

Sources

Biology, Department of. Earth's Many New Lakes. 29 Nov. 2022, https://www1.bio.ku.dk/english/news/news/earths-many-new-lakes/.

Cael, B. B., et al. "The Volume and Mean Depth of Earth's Lakes." Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 44, no. 1, Jan. 2017, pp. 209–18. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1002/2016GL071378.

"Earth's Many New Lakes." ScienceDaily, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/11/221128101212.htm. Accessed 14 Aug. 2023.

Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=212044245136501&set=a.103709455969981. Accessed 14 Aug. 2023.

Leggett, Colin. Canada's Lakes Outnumber The Rest of The World & There Are Some Straight Up Magical Ones - Narcity. https://www.narcity.com/canadas-lakes-outnumber-the-rest-of-the-world-there-are-some-straight-up-magical-ones. Accessed 14 Aug. 2023.

Pi, Xuehui, et al. "Mapping Global Lake Dynamics Reveals the Emerging Roles of Small Lakes." Nature Communications, vol. 13, no. 1, Oct. 2022, p. 5777. www.nature.com, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-33239-3.

The World's Lakes Have Finally Been Counted - Uppsala University. https://www.uu.se/en/news/archive/2014-09-03-the-worlds-lakes-have-finally-been-counted. Accessed 14 Aug. 2023.

"TIL Canada Has More Lakes than the Rest of the World Combined." R/Todayilearned, 8 July 2012, www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/w7mit/til_canada_has_more_lakes_than_the_rest_of_the/.

Madison Dapcevich is a freelance contributor for Snopes.