The Differences between a Pond and a Lake

Lake and pond are terms that have no strictly defined separation. There is no universal guideline that delineates when a pond becomes a lake. There are some generally held ideas about how they differ, but it is important to realize that there are exceptions to all of these concepts and what is referred to as a lake in one area would be classified as a pond in another. Technically, there are no water quality differences between lakes and ponds.

The most commonly used separator is size. Lakes are often, though not always, bigger than ponds. In regions with a lot of wetlands, a body of water may have to be bigger to be described as a lake than it would in an area with little water. Some areas are also historically referred to as lakes or ponds even if they go against the common descriptors. In recent years, there has also been a tendency to change a name from pond to lake in an effort to make an area more attractive to real estate purchasers.

Depth is another generally used differentiator. Many would consider a lake a body of water with enough depth to separate into two to three different layers of temperature due to depth. Ponds are usually considered to have a uniform temperature throughout the water. Because depth and temperature can have a strong effect on the species found in the water, ecologists often describe lakes and ponds by their depth. An example of this would be a “shallow lake” or a “deep pond.”

Ponds are often described as having sunlight reach the bottom of the water body. This in turn tends to lead to more plant life, sometimes covering the entire surface of the water. Water referred to as a lake often has plant life only at the edges. This also relates to the temperature and depth aspects discussed earlier.

Although both lakes and ponds generally have small currents at the most, ponds are more frequently associated with still water with only one source stream. Currents are more frequently linked to lakes and multiple feeder streams.

What is a lake in one area can be termed a pond in another. There is no hard and fast definition that separates the two types of water bodies. Although size, water depth and amount of plant life are often used to separate the two, it is important to recognize that regional differences and historical names may mean that the normal parameters are not in use for a particular body of water.