Erosion Control

Monitoring Lake Michigan

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Two brand-new, custom-designed buoys have been placed in Lake Michigan that provide real-time data on air and water temperature, waves, water currents, and wind speed. Those who spend a lot of time on the lake are sure to find this information useful—whether they enjoy boating, surfing, fishing, or sunbathing. Besides recreational benefits, the data about lake conditions are also going to be helpful for scientists researching coastal erosion, according to the Chicago Tribune.

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The natural process of sand drifting on the shoreline of Lake Michigan has been disrupted by coastal development. The water levels of the lake are at their highest in nearly 30 years, eroding many of the beaches. One in particular, called “Grand Beach,” has suffered from so much erosion that it is often referred to as “Rock Beach” now. It’s estimated that about a foot of beach in Lake Michigan is lost every year, on average. Hannah Anderson, the mayor of Bridgman, MI, said that city officials had attempted to halt erosion by placing boulders on the beach, but “over time, they realized that putting the rubble in makes things worse” (Michigan Impact).  

Photo credit: IRENE MILES, ILLINOIS-INDIANA SEA GRANT

The two high-tech buoys that have been installed are located about a mile offshore and are administered by both the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Great Lakes Observing System. The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant hosts recent data and images on their website. Researchers from the Illinois State Geological Survey and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Coastal Management Program have been working on this project for years. Scientist and University of Illinois at Chicago professor Ethan Theuerkauf says, “We plan to use the buoy data to study the drivers of erosion along the Illinois shoreline. […] It is a bonus that so many boaters and swimmers can also use the information.”

While there are several buoys used for tracking conditions in the Great Lakes, these two are custom-built specifically for use on the Illinois shoreline. “These buoys are closer to shore than other buoys in Lake Michigan, which helps scientists better understand how waves and currents affect the shoreline, but also required us to use a different type of buoy,” explains Ed Verhamme, project engineer with environmental engineering and science firm LimnoTech Inc. and the architect of the new buoys.

To see the data from the buoys, visit the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant website. The readings are updated every 10 minutes. You can also follow them on Twitter @TwoYellowBuoys.

How useful do you think the data from these buoys will be for future erosion control efforts in the Great Lakes region? Will the benefits outweigh the costs of developing such a specialized monitoring device? EC_bug_web

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