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The Laurentian Great Lakes were formed nearly 20,000 years ago when the earth's climate warmed and the last glacial continental ice sheet retreated. The glacier, up to 2 miles thick, was so heavy and powerful it gouged out the earth's surface to create the lake basins. Meltwater from the retreating glacier filled the newly created basins. Approximately 3,500-4,000 years ago, the Great Lakes attained their modern levels and area.
Above three images from "Living
with the Lakes."
Published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Great Lakes Commission, 1999.