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Changes in beach gravel lithology caused by anthropogenic activities along the southern coast of Lake Michigan, USA
Environmental Earth Science (2014)
  • Zoran Kilibarda
  • Nolan Graves
  • Melissa Dorton
  • Richard Dorton

The southern coast of Lake Michigan is the most urbanized and most densely populated area in the Great Lakes region. Development of steel mills, harbors, and municipalities in NW Indiana and in NE Illinois in the last century and a half altered the nearshore environment so much that native beach gravel (>8 mm) now exist only in the exhumed paleo-beach remnants from the Nipissing Phase (~4,500 years ago) of Lake Michigan. Native gravel, collected from paleo-beach remnants at Mount Baldy Dune and Beach House Blowout, contain predominantly beach shingle, very platy siltstones (71–78 %), with secondary crystalline pebbles (18 %) in the east, and carbonate pebbles (12 %) in the west. A large amount of anthropogenic fill (steel industry waste, waste from power generating plants, construction debris, railroad, and road fill) has been added since the late 1800s to fill Lake Michigan and expand industrial land. Four areas of major coastal structures—Michigan City Pier and Breakwater, Burns Harbor Pier and Breakwater, Gary Works Pier, and Indiana Harbor Peninsula—altered the natural littoral drift and created four independent sectors on Indiana’s coast—Northeastern, Eastern, Central, and Western—between which no natural transfers of coarse sediments occur. Downdrift from the coastal structures, severe beach erosion has prompted extensive beach nourishment with non-native sandy gravel. Four distinct populations of modern beach gravel now exist along Indiana’s coast of Lake Michigan: (1) native gravel with diluted beach nourishment influence, (2) native gravel with a minor industrial influence, (3) compact gravel of nourished origin, and (4) anthropogenic gravel of industrial origin. Native gravel with diluted nourishment influence is found in the western, downdrift areas of the Northeastern (from Long Beach to Washington Park Beach) and Eastern Sectors (from eastern Indiana Dunes State Park to western Dune Acres) and contains up to 40 % compact carbonate and crystalline pebbles in addition to native beach shingle. Native gravel with minor industrial influence is found in the Central Sector of Indiana’s coast (from central Ogden Dunes to Marquette Beach) and contains predominantly beach shingle, platy clastic lithology, but also up to 30 % of chert and other pebbles released by industry. Compact gravel of nourished origin contains 60–90 % of carbonate and crystalline pebbles, and is found in the eastern, updrift areas of the Northeastern (Michiana Beach and Duneland Beach) and Eastern Sectors (from Crescent Beach to the western Beverly Shores). Anthropogenic gravel of industrial origin contains 70–90 % compact chert and slag and is found in every beach of the Western Sector and in the westernmost beach of the Central Sector. Streams draining into southern Lake Michigan generally contain little coarse sediment except in their channels near the roads and railroads, where angular to subangular anthropogenic pebbles predominate (70–90 %). However, streams have very little influence on gravel lithology along the coast because they seldom discharge anthropogenic gravel into Lake Michigan. Recent changes in gravel lithology along the southern Lake Michigan coast may affect changes in nearshore benthic flora and fauna as well as algal and bacterial blooms during warm summer months.

  • Lake Michigan Gravel Beach nourishment Beach shingle Anthropogenic gravel
Publication Date
Citation Information
Zoran Kilibarda, Nolan Graves, Melissa Dorton and Richard Dorton. "Changes in beach gravel lithology caused by anthropogenic activities along the southern coast of Lake Michigan, USA" Environmental Earth Science Vol. 71 (2014)
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