Dune Complexes Along The Southeastern Shore Of Lake Michigan: Geomorphic History And Contemporary Processes

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Book Chapter

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GSA Field Guides: Insights into the Michigan Basin: Salt Deposits, Impact Structure, Youngest Basin Bedrock, Glacial Geomorphology, Dune Complexes, and Coastal Bluff Stability

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The Geological Society of America




This field guide explores the geomorphology, ecology, contemporary processes, sedimentary structures, and geomorphic history of the large freshwater dune systems on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan. Recent research studies on varying aspects of the dunes are highlighted at each stop. From north to south, these stops include P.J. Hoffmaster State Park near Muskegon, Michigan; Gilligan Lake and Green Mountain Beach southwest of Holland, Michigan; Saugatuck Dunes State Park and Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area, both near Saugatuck, Michigan; Warren Dunes State Park and Grand Mere State Park between the Indiana–Michigan border and Benton Harbor, Michigan; and Mount Baldy on the eastern edge of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana. All of the complexes described are low perched transgressive dune complexes that are migrating inland over former lake plains or baymouth bars. Moving from the lake inland, the typical dune complex in this area consists of incipient foredunes, an established foredune ridge, a parabolic dune complex, and a back-dune ridge complex. All stages of ecological succession—beginning with a pioneer community dominated by beach grasses and ending with a mesic forest dominated by oak, maple, and beech—are typically present in the larger dune complexes. Like coastal dunes everywhere, surface changes in Lake Michigan dunes are driven by spatial gradients in sand flux, which, in turn, are determined by a complex interaction among wind, vegetation patterns, and preexisting topography. The patterns of surface change are modified by seasonal effects, with the majority of sand transport being associated with strong storms in the autumn, winter, and early spring. Sand can be temporarily stored in niveolian deposits during the winter, leading to oversteepened slopes, which collapse during the spring thaw. A variety of sedimentary bed forms and structures can be viewed in dunes along the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan, including wind ripples, lag deposits, raindrop impressions, adhesion ripples, adhesion warts, eolian turrets, sand pedestals, surface patches of fine-grained dark sand, pinstripes, paleosols, cross-bedding, climbing ripple lamination, niveolian deposits, and avalanche lobes. Most of these features are best seen immediately after strong storms in the autumn and winter. Remnants of older dune surfaces are exposed in a few places in back-dune ridge complexes; however, the current dune complexes are largely a product of events that occurred during and after the rise in lake levels to the Nipissing peak (ca. 4.5 ka). Broad fields of relatively low dunes developed during the drop in lake levels following the Nipissing peak. Beginning with the rise to the Algoma high lake level (ca. 3.2 ka), the lakeward edges of these fields were episodically reworked, forming the large parabolic dune complexes. A period of widespread dune stability resulted in the development of the Holland Paleosol, a particularly well-developed paleosol with Spodosol characteristics. Widespread dune growth and migration resumed prior to European settlement of the area and continue today.