Lakes and Ponds: Where are they commonly found?

This is an interactive map of lakes from the continental United States. It shows the locations of water bodies named Lake, Pond, Water, Reservoir, Lagoon, Pool, and Waterhole. For names and types hover over the map. Zoom out to see Alaska and Hawaii. Zoom in to see all wetlands in detail.
Lake Pond Water Reservoir Lagoon Pool Waterhole


This map was created after creating the map Wetlands of the US. The data provided the names of different waterbodies. I decided lakes was an appropriate followup. It shows the locations of all features classified as Lake but differentiated by their name. The names included were those classified as synonyms of lake.


USGS points out that "a lake is where surface-water runoff and maybe some groundwater seepage have accumulated in a low spot, relative to the surrounding countryside. The water that forms lakes is not trapped, but the water entering a lake comes in faster than it can escape, either via outflow in a river, seepage into the ground, or by evaporation. And if humans live nearby, then water levels can be affected by water withdrawals for human needs".

The water in lakes comes from rain, snow, melting ice, streams, and groundwater seepage. Most lakes contain freshwater. National Geographic explains that "all lakes are either open or closed. If water leaves a lake by a river or other outlet, it is said to be open. All freshwater lakes are open. If water only leaves a lake by evaporation, the lake is closed. Closed lakes usually become saline, or salty. This is because as the water evaporates, it leaves behind solids—mostly salts. The Great Salt Lake, in the U.S. state of Utah, is the largest saline lake in North America. Its water is saltier than the ocean. Surrounding the Great Salt Lake are salt flats, areas where the lake has evaporated, leaving only stretches of white salt."

Most lakes can be found in the Northern Hemisphere, where large areas were covered by huge ice formations. Gigantic sheets of ice and snow are created in climates where snow falls but does not melt forming Glaciers. The glaciers covered an area from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains in ice that was more than a mile high. As a glacier moves back and forth across the land, scraping off the tops of hills and bluffs and taking rocks with it, Glacial lakes are formed. Most of this glacial movement occured 10,000 to 12,0000 years ago.

"Lakes can form when underground deposits of soluble rocks are dissolved by water running through the area, making a depression in the ground. Rock formations made of sodium chloride (salt), or calcium carbonate (limestone), are most likely to be dissolved by acidic waters. Once the groundwater has dissolved the rocks below the surface, the top of the land caves in, usually forming a round-shaped lake, called a solution lake. Typically, the depressions are deep enough to extend below the groundwater table and are permanently filled with water. Solution lakes are common in Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and particularly in Florida." source North American Lake Management Society.

There is a slight difference between a lake and a Pond. This is not a regulatory difference but generally lakes are larger and deeper than ponds. From a Limnological perspective the difference is more precise. "Area, depth or both were an essential part of most definitions. Some used thermal stratification: a lake is a body of water that is deep enough to thermally stratify into two or three layers during the summer in temperate regions such as New Hampshire. Others used plant growth: a pond is shallow enough that sunlight can penetrate to the bottom and support rooted plant growth across its entire width" souorce New Hampshire Dept. of Environmental Services.

A reservoir is a manmade lake that is created when a dam is built on a river. River water backs up behind the dam creating a reservoir USGS.

A lagoon is a shallow body of water protected from a larger body of water (usually the ocean) by sandbars, barrier islands, or coral reefs. Lagoons are often called estuaries, sounds, bays, or even lakes. Lagoons sheltered by sandbars or barrier islands are called coastal lagoons. Coastal lagoons form along coastal plains—flat or gently sloping landscapes. They form in areas with small tidal ranges.

According to the Cary institute "Pools are typically created by the vertical force of water falling down over logs or boulders. The movement of the water carves a deeper indentation in the stream bed."

Finally and to my surprise the definition of waterhole by the Cambridge dictionary is: "a small pool of water in a dry area where animals go to drink".

This map as other name maps shows that some similar geographic features are the result of the people living in those areas. But the names of this map in particular, seem to be the result of differentiating water features according to their characteristics. After all these names are not random but reflect the area where they are located.


The data was downloaded from the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), maintained by USGS. Data cleaning was done with R Project for Statistical Computing. At first I used only the data classified as Lakes. The Shapefiles for this map were downloaded from Natural Earth. The code was obtained and altered from Chris Williams’s Block.

If you liked this map and would like to check more features go to Hills and Summits, Wetlands of the US. If you would like to see a map of elevation go to US Contours. For a little fun on name maps check Spooky Place Names

Made by Luz K. Molina with D3.js.

map wetlands icluding swamps, marshes and bayous of USA