Tracing the Sand Dunes: Using a Combination of Panoramic Photography and Dune Pins to Track Changes in Michigan's Sand Dunes Over Time

Student Author(s)

Elle Banaszak
Matthew Selesko

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Brian Bodenbender

Document Type


Event Date



Sand dunes are an iconic part of Michigan’s shoreline. Unfortunately, the sand dunes are disappearing at an alarming rate. This research was part of a continuing project to track changes in sand distribution in the dunes and identify natural and anthropogenic factors affecting the height and shape of the dunes. Through a combination of panoramic photography, GigaPan technology, and “dune pins,” we were able to record the movement of sand over an extended period of time. Using measurements collected from two dune sites in Holland and Saugatuck over the course of 8 weeks, we compiled a large and consistent database tracing the amount of sand recorded at each dune pin, which we in turn analyzed for common patterns of sand movement. GigaPan is a mechanical tripod mount and software combination that creates high resolution photos. Accurate measurements of multiple dune pins can be taken from a single panoramic photo. A single panorama is often composed of over 300 photographs that become a highly interactive data collection tool. These high-resolution panoramas allowed us to take digital measurements that were accurate to approximately 0.1 inches without disrupting the delicate dune ecosystem. In addition, the panoramas provide a visual record of the environmental conditions the day measurements were taken. Our research also entailed creating a workshop for high school teachers that educated them on ways to incorporate GigaPan and sand dune research into their curriculum. Through a combination of GigaPan and methodical data gathering this project found that based on the movement of wind across the sand dunes, loss of vegetation was the most significant direct factor on sand dune movement.


This research was supported by Michigan Space Grant Consortium Pre-College Education and Teacher Training program grants to Brian Bodenbender; the Hope College Biology Department; and the Hope College Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, including the Nicholas Ver Hey ’75 Geology Summer Research Fund.

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