Geomorphological History of Massive Parabolic Dunes, Van Buren State Park, Van Buren County, Michigan

By Oort, Martin Van; Arbogast, Alan et al. | Michigan Academician, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Geomorphological History of Massive Parabolic Dunes, Van Buren State Park, Van Buren County, Michigan


Oort, Martin Van, Arbogast, Alan, Hansen, Edward C., Hansen, Ben, Michigan Academician


MARTIN VAN OORT [1]

ALAN ARBOGAST [2]

EDWARD C. HANSEN [1]

EDWARD C. HANSEN [1]

ABSTRACT

Lakeshore erosion along eastern Lake Michigan has exposed a series of buried soils in the massive (up to 45 m high) parabolic dunes at Van Buren State Park, Michigan. For this study, soils were mapped and described along a 300 member stretch of the lake shore. The basal soil in the northern part of the study area is a peat layer that gives way southward to a Spodosol. Radiocarbon dates indicate that peat accumulation began in a wetland at 6170-5750 cal. yr B.P. (2[sigma]) and ended with a influx of windblown sand at 5470-4880 cal. yr B.P. The Spodosol was buried at 5890-5618 cal. yr B.P. A series of buried soils with weakly developed A/C horizonation make up the lower Entisol sequence. These indicate brief intervals of stability during a period of episodic dune growth that ended at 2 150-1970 cal. yr B.P. The lower Entisol sequence is capped by an Inceptisol with an A/[B.sub.s]/C horizonation that represents an extended period of dune stability. This Inceptisol was buried by a remobilization of the dune some time after 500 cal. yr B.P. The upper Entisol sequence indicates that this latter period of dune mobility was episodic until today. The history of the coastal dunes at Van Buren is very similar to the histories of coastal dunes southwest of Holland, Michigan, and at Mt. Baldy in the Indiana National Lakeshore. This suggests that there is a broad regional framework for the history of coastal dunes along the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan.

INTRODUCTION

The sand dunes along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan (Figure 1) maybe the largest complex of freshwater dunes in the world (Peterson and Dersch 1981). These dunes contain a number of unique ecological communities and are widely recognized as one of the major aesthetic and recreational natural resources of Michigan and northern Indiana. Scientific studies in this complex were critical in the development of the theory of ecological succession (Cowles 1899) and contributed to our understanding of the role of lake level and vegetation in the development of dunes (Olson 1958a,b). The sand that makes up the dunes is also a major economic mineral resource of the state of Michigan (Apres, Lewis, Norris and May, Inc. and Chapman 1978). As a result of their many, often conflicting, uses, a great deal of effort has gone into the management and preservation of these dunes by both governmental regulations established by the Sand Dune Protection and Management Act (Act No. 222 of 1976), and the Michigan Resources and En vironmental Protection Act (Act No. 451, Part 637 Sand Dune Mining), and private organizations, such as Preserve the Dunes Inc., Save the Dunes Council, and the Lake Michigan Federation.

Despite the importance of the well-developed dune fields that exist along the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan, very little was known about their geologic history until recently. These dune fields contain massive (local relief of up to 60 meters) parabolic dunes (the barrier dunes of Buckler 1979) that may be separated from the lake by low foredunes. It is generally recognized that the foredunes are relatively young and develop during periods of low lake levels. Subsequently, the foredunes erode during periods of high lake levels (Scott 1942; Olson 1958a,b). Compared to the foredunes the massive parabolic dunes are quasi-permanent features that more or less reached their present form before the historical period. It is generally assumed that the massive parabolic dunes developed during the high lake levels of the Nipissing period roughly 5000 years ago (Dorr and Eschman 1970). However, radiocarbon dates from basal paleosols in four localities between Manistee and Grand Haven (Figure 1) indicate that, in al l but one case, dune formation began after the Nipissing high stand (Arbogast and Loope 1999).

Very little is known about the period in which the massive parabolic dunes grew to their present size, although the older literature often implies that dune growth was rapid and that the dunes remained essentially unchanged for thousands of years (Dorr and Eschman 1970). …

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