The Sands of Time

We're tracking how Michigan's coastal dunes have changed over time

To most Americans, a sand dune conjures up an image of an exotic place somewhere far, far away. But Michiganders don't have to travel far, with the world's largest body of freshwater coastal dunes in their backyard. 

These unique Michigan landmarks began forming around 5,000 years ago and have evolved in complex ways since that time. While scientists generally understand the overall chronology of dune formation, there is a continued need to better understand how the dunes have changed in the historic period.

Our most recent project, Learning to Live in Dynamic Dunes, built an archive of historic coastal sand dune photographs at many points along Lake Michigan. This database is allowing researchers to better understand and predict the morphology, movement, and characteristics of dunes. This information is crucial for long-term preservation, conservation, and management activities within coastal areas.

For this project, Michigan State University Professor Alan Arbogast and his research assistant Kevin McKeehan, collected a cache of over 200 historical photos from various state and private archives along with contributions from citizen scientists in the general public. A subset of these historical photos was then paired with exact modern replicates to create the Michigan Coastal Dunes Repeat Photography Map.

Curious about the process used to create the map?   

Learn more about repeat photography

Taken in Van Buren State Park in 1997.  Same site taken from the same place in 2014.


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