NOAA-Funded Helicopter Tool Tracks Shifting Sands

The Takeaway: New technology approach, funded through a coastal management grant, provides information helpful for addressing an annual $3 million problem associated with sand movement and resulting dredging needs.

A helicopter equipped with an electromagnetic surveying device addresses a $3 million annual problem in Illinois that causes sand on Lake Michigan beaches to shrink dramatically while other coastal and marine areas are choked with sand.

The device is giving researchers a three-dimensional model of sand distribution useful for predicting and pinpointing the issue, potentially saving the state millions in dredging and other costs. The equipment, imported from Denmark, gives researchers a truer picture of sand locations, thickness, and travel patterns.

The past two centuries of piers, harbors, and jetties have disrupted Lake Michigan’s natural southward movement of sand, leading to commercial boating problems and shorelines vulnerable to violent waves, beach erosion, and clogged harbors. Fixes such as dredging and importing sand are expensive and often short-lived.

This project was flown by the Illinois State Geological Survey and funded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program through a grant by NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management. (2017)

More Information: Helicopter Sand Survey

Partners: Illinois Coastal Management Program, Illinois State Geological Survey, NOAA Office for Coastal Management