Ground Penetrating Radar Investigation:

Huron Mountains, Upper Michigan


Preliminary Results of a Ground Penetrating Radar Survey on an Aeolian Dune:
Implications of Climate Change for Northeast Michigan, USA

Arnevik, Arik, University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Department of Geography and Anthropology
105 Garfield Ave., Eau Claire, WI 54702

Jol, Harry, University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Department of Geography and Anthropology
105 Garfield Ave., Eau Claire, WI 54702

Loope, Walt, United States Geological Survey
United States Geological Survey, Great Lakes Science Center
P.O. Box 40, N8391 Sand Point Road, Munising, MI 49862

Loope, Henry, University of Wisconsin- Madison
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Geography
550 N. Park St., 160 Science Hall, Madison, WI 53706

Loope, Laura, National Parks Service
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
N8391 Sand Point Road, Munising, MI 49862

Jol, Connor, Roosevelt Elementary
3010 8th St., Eau Claire, WI 54703

   Ground penetrating radar (GPR) was used in the investigation of an interior (non-coastal) aeolian (wind-blown) sand dune. The purpose of the research is to regionally expand upon previous results which investigated Holocene climate change in eastern Northern Michigan that began in 2005 led by the United States Geological Survey. The study area lies in the Huron Mountains, located in the eastern region of Northern Michigan about 60 km northwest of Marquette. The specific study location is approximately 2-3 km southwest of Ives Lake. Four GPR transects were run in a grid across the dune. The pulseEKKO 100 and 1000 GPR systems using antennae frequencies of 100, 200, and 450 MHz were used to investigate the dune’s subsurface layering. Laser leveling was used throughout the length of each GPR transect in order to topographically correct the profiles for elevation change.

Through the preliminary interpretation of the processed GPR reflection profiles of the subsurface stratigraphy the feature can be more thoroughly interpreted as an aeolian dune. With the stratigraphy revealed by GPR and previous research suggesting the dune to be Holocene (ca. 10,000 to 8,000 years old) in age along with the inherent criteria necessary for dune formation (wind, sand, and low amounts of vegetation cover) one can hypothesize that climate change, significant enough to alter the landscape from being conducive to dune formation to being fully forested, affected this area of Northern Michigan during the Holocene.  



Climate change is an important issue facing the world today. It’s not a new phenomenon though; fluctuating climate change has affected the world throughout history (Lawrimore, 2003).  The conducted research is in support of a larger project led by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) which began in 2005 to investigate Holocene climate change in Upper Michigan through optical stimulated luminescence (OSL) age dating of interior (non-coastal) aeolian (wind-blown) sand dunes. A sand dune is “mound, hill or ridge of windblown sand, either bare or variously covered by vegetation, capable of movement from place to place through the development of a slipface, but always retaining its own characteristic shape for an extended period of time” (David, 1977). The presence and activity of non-coastal sand dunes in Upper Michigan is tied strongly to climate and vegetation cover (ground cover).  Necessary conditions for dune formation include low vegetation (ground) cover percentage (<30%), sufficient winds to transport sand, and an abundant supply of sand to be reworked into dunes (Wasson and Nanninga, 1986). The last time period of widespread dune activity in eastern Upper Michigan was 8 to 10 ka (thousand years ago) based on 65 OSL dating ages from samples over a 12,000 km ² area (Loope et al., 2012).

The specific goal of this research is to establish, using ground penetrating radar (GPR), that two landforms selected through interpretation of area maps can be identified as aeolian sand dunes. Through the identification of these formations as sand dunes along with applying the conditions necessary for dune formation, it is possible to expand the spatial extent of dry climate in the Great Lakes region during the early Holocene (8 to 10 ka).

Study Area

The study site is about 60 km northwest of Marquette and about 2-3 km southwest of Ives Lake.  The Huron Mountains offer a natural laboratory that has seen little influence by humans since the last glaciation, thus leaving the landscape relatively unchanged offering a better opportunity for the research of natural processes.





Lawrimore, J., 2003, The earth’s climate in historical perspective; a climate of continuing change: WMO Bulletin, 52(3), p. 249-251

Loope, W.L., Loope, H.M., Goble, R.J., Fisher, T.G., Lytle, D.E., Legg, R.J., Wysocki,
D.A., Hanson, P.R., and Young, A.R., 2012, Drought drove forestdecline and dune building in eastern Upper Michigan, USA as the upper Great Lakes became closed basins: Geology, 40(4), p. 315-318

Wasson, R.J., and Nanninga, P.M., 1986, Estimating wind transport of sand on vegetated surfaces: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, v. 11, p. 505–514