Seneca Lake NAM-16

Riparian Nation(s) USA
Surface Area 175 km2 Mean Depth 88.6 m Volume 15.5 km3
Shoreline Catchment Area 1831 km2 Residence Time 18.1 yr
Frozen Period Mixing Type Monomictic Morphogenesis/Dam
Related Info/Site


Seneca Lake is one of a group of long and narrow lakes located in western New York State known as the Finger Lakes. The basins of these north-south oriented lakes were formed by the advance of ice masses during the Ice Ages, and further sculpted by glacial meltwater during the interglacial and postglacial periods. Seneca Lake is 56.6 km long, has a mean width of 3.10 km, and a mean depth of 88.6 m. Seneca Lake is by far the deepest of the Finger Lakes (198.4 m); with the lake floor extending more than 60 meters below sea level. As a result, Seneca Lake's volume is by far the greatest (15.539 km3); and retention time longest (18.1 yr) of the Finger Lakes.

Although the Finger Lakes region is now well-known for its many vineyards and orchards, it had been densely forested up until the early 1800's when large areas were cleared for agriculture by white settlers. The forests are now in the process of expanding as marginal farmland is abandoned and gradually invaded by trees.

Of Seneca Lake's 1,180 km2 drainage basin, approximately 40% is forested, 40% is actively farmed, and 3% is residential. Approximately 70,000 people were residing in the drainage basin in 1970.

The climate of the Finger Lakes region is characterized by cold, snowy winters and warm, dry summers; and occasionally the lake freezes over in January or February. However, because the water in the lake acts as a heat-regulator, and because the land surrounding the lake is steeply sloped, Seneca Lake actually has a considerable effect on the local climate. These factors interact to moderate the seasonal temperature extremes and variability within the lake valley. Consequently, the slopes surrounding the lake are ideally suited for growing fruit (1).

Photo of Seneca Lake
Photo: C. Rossano