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Great Lakes Ports & Shipping

3 | Cargoes: Iron ore and more

You'll be surprised to learn how much of the stuff you use every day was actually transported on the Great Lakes before it made its way to you! The steel in your family's car, the coal that produces the electricity that lights your home, the stone in the foundation for your driveway, the salt that de-ices your roads in winter, the wheat in your bread, the heating oil that warms your home...all of these products and more criss-cross the Great Lakes in ships.

Since 1959, more than 2 billion metric tons of cargo estimated at $300 billion have moved to and from Canada, the United States and more than 50 other nations, making the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system an important part of the economy of North America. More than 60 percent of seaway traffic travels to and from overseas ports, especially in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Iron ore, coal, grain and steel make up about 80 percent of all cargoes shipped each year.

Major cargoes
  • Iron ore and other mine products:Click to see larger image. Mine products make up more than 40 percent of annual cargo. Products include iron ore, coal, coke, salt and stone. Coal is one of the fastest growing commodities on the Great Lakes. Alot of coal is shipped from U.S. Lake Erie ports to steel mills and electricity generating stations in Ontario. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the shipment of low-sulfur western coal from the Superior Midwest Energy Terminal at Superior, Wis. Built in 1976, this facility is the world's fastest loading facility for coal. Several 1,000-foot "super-carriers" handle the bulk of these shipments, which total 13-14 million tons per year!
  • Iron and steel products: Products include steel slabs, scrap iron, bars, rods, and manufactured iron and steel. These commodities carry the highest value of goods shipped on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system and their handling is the most labor-intensive.Click to see larger image.
  • Agricultural Products: Agricultural products represent about 40 percent of all trade. Grains shipped both by the United States and Canada are primarily for export. Cargoes include wheat, corn, soybeans, barley, oats and flaxseed.
  • Other processed and manufactured products: In addition to iron and steel products, the Great Lakes are a cost-competitive route for a number of other processed cargoes. Each year more than 10 percent of cargoes consist of fuel oil, petroleum products, chemicals, and forest and animal products.

Graphics: Iron ore docks at Marquette, Mich., on Lake Superior; deck view of grain loading onto an American straight decker

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