We Michiganders know you can visit the same beach two days in a row and never get the same view twice! Between the ever-changing water levels and erosion from wind and the elements, our beaches are constantly changing.

While it's not uncommon for the features of our beaches to change, in recent years researchers have noticed Michigan's sand dunes are increasingly covered by vegetation such as plants and trees. Here's why that might night be a good thing for Michigan's sand dunes.

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Michigan is home to a large collection of "living" sand dunes, which means they're constantly moving and eroding. True, the dunes need vegetation to keep them from blowing away completely, but what's the cause of this new vegetation and should we be concerned?

Sands of Time

Two dune researchers, Kevin McKeehan and Alan Arbogast, are trying to get at the "root" of the cause of all this vegetation. Through their "Sands of Time" study they claim to have some theories, but have been left with more questions than answers!

Using repeat photography, a process in which you essentially compare past and present photos side-by-side, McKeehan and Arbogast are noticing extreme changes along Michigan's east and west coast sand dunes.

Of the images they compared, some as recent as 13 years ago all the way up to 100 years ago, all had the same thing in common: less sand and more vegetation.

TSM/Mark frankhouse
TSM/Mark frankhouse

But Why The Change?

Some speculate increased rainfall in recent years has created the perfect environment for vegetation to take hold and grow in the sand. Others say increased carbon dioxide in the air offers more nutrients for plants to flourish.

Perhaps it's a sign of more invasive plant species? There has also been a measurable decrease in wind which could mean the dunes are moving less. McKeehan told Detroit's Fox 2,

there are potential culprits, but no smoking gun.

via Google Maps
via Google Maps

Will The Dunes Go Away For Good?

Thanks to carbon dating, McKeehan and Arbogast have narrowed down the creation of Michigan's sand dunes to about 5,000 years ago. Through this process, they were able to determine that the dunes grew in stages.

Says Arbogast,

Not all of this grew at once. It grew, then stopped, then grew, then stopped again...long enough for a forest to live there, then it grew again.

Could this mean we're witnessing the dunes' next life cycle right before our very eyes?

It's a good reminder to not take all the things, big and small, that make Pure Michigan so special for granted. And that includes the fact that we have, "the largest dune system in the world associated with a freshwater lake."

If you'd like to see for yourself just how much Michigan's sand dunes have changed over time, check out McKeehan and Arbogast's "Sands of Time" project here.

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