Mapping Movement of Coastal Sand Dunes on Lake Michigan Using GigaPan Photo Technology

Student Author(s)

Scott Cathey

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Brian Bodenbender

Document Type


Event Date



Dunes along Lake Michigan are one of the most dynamic environments on our planet. This means that they are one of the most exciting areas to do research in. These dunes have been monitored and mapped in the past, but the process of mapping and tracking their motion is both time inefficient, and destructive to the environment itself. Like in our project, most people track the motion of the sand dunes by placing pins out in the sand, and measuring the height of the sand in relation to the pin, which shows how the sand has shifted in that area. However, this needs to be done by hand for each pin, which can take hours. Also, when walking into the dunes to measure these pins, the footprints can damage both the measurements and the stability of the environment itself. In order to remedy these problems, we decided to try to use photo technology to eliminate this physical measurement step. The key to being able to do this was the GigaPan panoramic system. This system takes a panorama of the sample area consisting of hundreds of pictures, which are then stitched together, creating one panorama. Since the panorama is hundreds of individual photographs, we are able to zoom in to the resolution of the original photos and measure each pin individually on the screen in pixels. After measuring in pixels, we are able to convert this measurement to centimeters, giving us an accurate measurement of the pins. We were not able to use this system in any situations where the sand shifted drastically, like after a storm, but we were able to generate some positive results in terms of proof of concept. We were able to measure many of the pins, and most of these measurements were accurate to within a fraction of a centimeter.

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