Month: September 2019

Superior Places: Pictured Rocks

Sea caves large and small dot the coastline at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. (Credit: Infosuperior)

It’s a place of stunning views, awesome colour and jaw-dropping scenery. It’s right here on Lake Superior, but the vast majority of people living around the lake have probably never heard of it. 

Pictured Rocks Map and Guide Side One

Pictured Rocks Map and Guid Side Two

Colourful Cliffs, Sand Dunes

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is just east of the town of Munising, Michigan towards the eastern end of Lake Superior. Two things make this place stand out – miles of sandstone cliffs laced with every colour under the sun and sand dunes, the largest anywhere around Lake Superior. This National Lakeshore is 42 mi. / 67 km in length. The cliffs comprise 15 mi. / 24 km of the lakeshore’s western shoreline while the dunes cover 5 mi. / 8 km of shoreline at the Lakeshore’s eastern end.

Colourful sandstone formations cover 15 km./ 24 km. Of Lake Superior shoreline at At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. (Credit: Infosuperior)

Iron, Manganese and Limonite Provide Colour

The geology of the Pictured Rocks area dates back hundreds of millions of years. In these earlier geologic times, sediments were deposited in the shallow seas and near-shore deltas covering what is now northern Michigan. Elsewhere, these deposits were buried under a layer of glacial drift but at their interface with present day Lake Superior, they became exposed and eroded, resulting in the sandstone cliffs which run for miles along the Lakeshore. Water and associated mineral content draining through the rocks, over time, has streaked the cliffs with colour. Iron has provided the red, manganese the black and white, limonite the yellow and brown, and copper the pink and green. These colourful cliffs comprise about 15 continuous miles of the western portion of the Lakeshore.

Lake Superior’s Largest Sand Dunes

The eastern end of the Lakeshore should not be forgotten as it, too, is fascinating. Grand Sable Dunes is a vast area of dunes – Lake Superior’s largest such area – that was formed as prevailing northerly winds washed sand ashore and upslope over a glacial moraine. The dunes cover some five miles of shoreline and are actually perched atop the Grand Sable Banks which rise at an angle of about 35 degrees to some 300’ above Lake Superior. These dunes dwarf other large dune areas around Superior like Neys Provincial Park and the western side of Pic River mouth in Canada, all of which are fascinating, with fragile and unique ecosystems. 

Pictured Rocks Lakeshore is home to Lake Superior’s largest sand dunes. (Public domain. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Flikr)

Easy Access

Many locations around Lake Superior are beautiful, say the Slate Islands, Pukaskwa National Park or the Black Bay Peninsula on the Canadian side. For the most part, they are also extremely remote and only accessible to experienced travellers of Superior’s waters and wilderness hikers. Pictured Rocks is different.

Anyone who enjoys the beauty of the outdoors can easily visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Cruise boats of about 70’ in length and holding about 100 passengers leave the Munising City Dock several times daily. Take your choice of departure times. Tours are 2 to 3 hours in duration. Further information is available at picturedrocks.com [Suggestion – in mid-summer, evening sunlight hits the rocks from a lower angle, providing spectacular viewing – this is the light photographers seek].

Concession boat tour along Pictured Rocks NL Cliffs. (Public domain. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Flikr)

Cruises are excellent value. A coastline cruise may seem expensive but remember that other beautiful areas of the lake may be accessible only by expensive sailboat, motorboat or even kayak. Cruising Pictured Rocks is a deal in comparison to buying, equipping and maintaining a boat. At time of writing, prices range from $38 to $45 depending on the cruise taken. Prices for children are $10 for ages 6 to 12 and $1 for anyone under the age of 6.

Kayaking is a great way for the more adventurous types to observe the stunning cliffs at Pictured Rocks Lakeshore. (Public domain. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Flikr)

Book in advance. Demand for the cruises is very high and the vessels are often full. Cruise vessels are comfortable, seaworthy, very well built and in excellent condition. Commentary provided by the captains on each vessel is informative and entertaining, outlining area history, the science behind the coloured cliffs and information about points of interest like lighthouses and shipwrecks passed during the tour.

For those of a more adventurous nature, multiple kayak tour operators offer close-up views of Pictured Rocks. The tours are set up so that one needn’t be an expert to participate. Some operators bring participants to the most scenic portion of the Lakeshore by larger boat, prior to launching from a very stable kayak launch platform on the stern of the vessel.

An even cheaper alternative is to hike the coastline. A well maintained and marked trail runs the length of the National Lakeshore, allowing visits to the dunes and pictured rocks, including locations like “Miners Castle,” “Chapel Point,” “Grand Portal Point” and “Twelve Mile Beach.”

Chapel Rock, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. (Credit: Infosuperior)

The Most Beautiful Area on Lake Superior

If you would like to visit one of the most beautiful areas of Lake Superior, visit Pictured Rocks, the first National Lakeshore established in the U.S. (1966).

As noted at the outset of this article, views of the multi-coloured cliffs are absolutely stunning [Infosuperior staff have travelled to all corners of Lake Superior by sailboat, canoe, kayak, rowboat, motorboat, car, bicycle and on foot. Pictured Rocks is arguably the most beautiful area ever visited.]  

Infosuperior endeavours to bring Lake Superior to a couple of thousand subscribers each month. Pictured Rocks Cruises brings up to several hundred people to the lake, each day, from May through mid-October.


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Climate Change Symposium – Sept 23 at Lakehead University

Lakehead University will be hosting a Climate Change Symposium (Climate Con 2019) on September 23rd, 2019.

Take action with a network of researchers, community workers, academics, and government agencies. Learn about and discuss the latest research on climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.

The event begins at 8:30am in the ATAC building (Room 1003). Lunch, starting at 12pm, and the second half of the event will take place at The Study Coffeehouse.


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[Webinars] Get Informed on Crude Oil Transport in The Great Lakes

Opposition to crude oil transport in the Great Lakes was enhanced by recently released footage of damage to Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. (Screenshot of video posted to youtube by Senator Gary Peters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S50WOb58G4s)

Since crude oil transport in the Great Lakes has been making headlines, you may be looking to become more informed on the subject. The Great Lakes Sea Grant Crude Oil Transport Network began making this information available through a series of webinars in 2016. They can still be accessed online at the bottom of the following webpage: Great Lakes Sea Grant Crude Oil Transport Network Webinars.

This summer, a new webinar was conducted each month, with the final one coming Sept 11:

June 26, 2019: Guy Meadows, Director of the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Tech, presented on Collaborative efforts to model potential oil spills in the Great Lakes, particularly in the Straits of Mackinac where currents are notoriously complex and unpredictable.

July 23, 2019: Steven Keck, Chief of Emergency Management and Force Readiness for the Sector Sault St. Marie Coast Guard, discussed Oil spill response excercises and planning. Each time they conduct a spill test, a great deal of information is gathered that can make response teams more effective in the event of a real catastrophe.

August 19, 2019: Bill Hazel, Vice President of Marine Services, Marine Pollution Control in Detroit, Michigan presented on Oil spill response capability for heavy oil products.

The next webinar will be held on September 11, 2019. Lt. Michael Doig, NOAA Scientific Support Coordinator, U.S. Coast Guard Great Lakes District, will discuss NOAA scientific support for oil spillsRegister HERE

The Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council is also conducting a pipeline-related webinar on September 16 called “Pipeline Permitting in Michigan: How To Effectively Participate in the Decision-making Process” : Register HERE


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IAGLR Great Lakes Revival Report Inspires Hope

The International Association of the Great Lakes released the Great Lakes Revival report on August 13, 2019. It documents 10 Area of Concern case studies where clean-up and collaboration has lead to community revitalization.

In the current climate crisis, it is nice to come upon a positive story once in a while. The Great Lakes Revival report tells several such stories. It details some of the most important actions that citizens around the Great Lakes have committed to and delineates why funding for these efforts is so essential. Developed in response to the “Restoring the Great Lakes Areas of Concern” symposium at the 2017 International Association for Great Lakes Research conference, the report presents 10 unique case studies where contaminated waterways were, or are being, cleaned-up thereby reconnecting communities with their waterways: Buffalo River (NY), Collingwood Harbour (ON), Cleveland Flats and the Cuyahoga River (OH), Detroit River (MI), Hamilton Harbour (ON), Muskegon Lake (MI), River Raisin (Monroe, MI), Severn Sound (ON), St. Louis River (Duluth, MN and WI), and Toronto Harbour (ON).


Read the full report: Great Lakes Revival


Industry Boom to Bust


Each of these 10 AOC regions experienced substantial prosperity during the industrial revolution in the 1800s and into the early 1900s. Cities like Buffalo, Collingwood, and Duluth were critical port cities for transporting grain, lumber and iron. There was also substantial ship building industries in Collingwood and Duluth. In the 1880s, Cleveland was the centre of American petroleum production, being home to 90% of US refineries and pipelines. Cleveland also had active paint production, ironworks and steel mill industries by this time. Hamilton, Ontario was the centre of Canadian Industry in the mid-1800s. The lumber industry on the shores of Muskegon Lake made many people into millionaires in the late 1800s.


In 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire due to extensive pollution. The event spurred major environmental protection efforts and was influential in creating the Clean Water Act and the US-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. (Open Access)

Unfortunately, there were not significant protections in place for the waters that surrounded, and were essential to, these industries. The consequences of industrial and municipal development was obvious by the 1960s. The Buffalo River and Cuyahoga River each caught fire in 1968 and 1969 respectively, though the Cuyahoga had done so many times before. These major events helped to garner awareness and by 1970, public opinion had shifted towards greater care for the environment. The same year, the first Earth Day was held. The public outcry associated with the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire was influential in the passing of the Clean Water Act and the signing of the US-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, both in 1972. Further protections for wildlife were ensured in 1973 when the Endangered Species Act was passed.

Nearly a decade later, the industrial recession led to the closure of many industries. In 1980, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and Superfund was passed to help fund the associated clean-up required. In 1985, progress had begun on identifying the 42 most contaminated regions in the Great Lakes watershed, now known as Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs). A 43rd AOC was added in 1987. Communities from each of the 10 AOCs covered in the Great Lakes Revival report began by committing to initiating Remedial Action Plans (RAPs).

Remedial Action Planning Takes Off


Most RAP processes were conducted in three steps. Step 1 generally entails identifying the nature and causes of contamination. The Buffalo River RAP, St. Louis River RAP, Toronto and Region RAP, and Cuyahoga RAP all completed the first step of their RAP processes by 1990. Collingwood Harbour became the first AOC to be delisted in 1993. RAP initiatives were reenergized in the 2000s with the passing of the Great Lakes Legacy Act and Superfund in 2002 and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2010. By this time, many RAP processes had reached step 2: determine what actions can and should be taken to remediate, with consideration for who the responsible parties are. 


From one of the country’s most contaminated rivers to a great place for a waterfront stroll. This is Gabriel Richard Park, located at the eastern end of the Detroit River Walk. (Credit: Detroit RiverFront Conservancy)

Remediation results are now starting to show. In 2003, Severn Sound became the second AOC to be delisted. Four of the original eleven beneficial uses at Toronto Harbour have been deemed no longer impaired. The aesthetics and public access uses of the Cuyahoga River were deemed no longer impaired in 2017. Fish and falcons have returned to the Cuyahoga, Detroit and Buffalo rivers, along with a variety of other creatures. Buffalo River and Muskegon Lake are aiming for delisting in 2020, while the St. Louis River is expecting to be delisted by 2025.

Benefits Inspire Forward Thinking


Citizens, stakeholders, farmers and multiple levels of government in both the US and Canada worked together to make big changes. These case studies show that when people come together to better the environment, major improvements can be made without damaging the economy of these regions. In fact, remediation leads to economic improvements.

In Muskegon Lake, restoration of habitat and wetlands was shown to create a 6-to-1 return on investment over a 20 year period. Millions of dollars in economic benefits were found in economic impact studies for Hamilton Harbour, Monroe and Severn Sound. These benefits are thanks to diversifying economies that were once completely reliant on industry, encouraging waterside businesses and improving ecosystems, which in turn improves human health. Chapter 12 of the Great Lakes Revival document includes table summaries of RAP institutional structures, contaminated sediment remediation costs, habitat restoration, and economic benefits at each of the 10 AOCs discussed in the document.


The Buffalo River waterfront is now a hub of activity where previously unused remnants of industry were all to be seen. Remediation of the river has encouraged reconnection with the waterway. (Credit: Joe Cascio)

Remediation has created communities that are forward thinking and focused on incorporating the maintenance of healthy waterways into industry development. For example, a 2002 shoreline development plan in Collingwood included the creation of enhanced fish habitat. In Muskegon, partnerships and plans are ensuring continued stewardship from 2018 through 2025. The Ecosystem Action Plan will continue the work initiated by the RAP on Muskegon Lake. In Severn Sound, which has already been delisted as an AOC, agreements and financing for long-term implementation and emerging environmental and sustainability challenges have been arranged.

News Release on IAGLR website: http://iaglr.org/releases/great-lakes-cleanup-leads-to-community-and-economic-revitalization/


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Buffalo Reef Stamp Sands: Movement and Composition Characterized in July 2019 Study

This NOAA 2010 LiDAR of Grand (Big) Traverse Bay, shows many significant underwater structures including the stamp sand “trough” (5) and stamp sands moving into the north and western cobble fields of Buffalo Reef (3 & 4). (Source: Kerfoot et al., 2019)

The study titled Lidar (light detection and ranging) and benthic invertebrate investigations: Migrating tailings threaten Buffalo Reef in Lake Superior, by W. Charles Kerfoot, Martin M. Hobmeier, Robert Regis, Varsha K. Raman, Colin N. Brooks, Robert Shuchman, Mike Sayers, Foad Yousef, and Molly Reif, was published by the Journal of Great Lakes Research and made available online August 8, 2019.


LiDAR from 2008 to 2016 shows places of erosion (red) and deposition (blue). The Underwater stamps sand bars are clearly moving south towards Buffalo Reef. (Source: Kerfoot et al., 2019)

This study involved LiDAR over-flight investigations from 2008 to 2016, arial photographs, and detailed sediment sampling of Big Traverse Bay. Researchers used images over multiple years to characterize the erosion and deposition of stamp sands both on and off-shore. Sediment samples were used to quantify the percentage of stamp sands in sand mixtures around Buffalo Reef and copper concentrations were estimated based on those stamp sand. The study also looked at what impact these concentrations of stamp sands have on lake bottom organisms.


These four LiDAR images from 2008, 2011, 2010 and 2013 show the stamp sands moving into and filling up the trough just north of Buffalo Reef. (Source: Kerfoot et al., 2019)

The study shows that stamp sands are moving in on the Northern portion of the Buffalo Reef. The impact on lake bottom organisms that live on the Buffalo Reef cobbles is significant:

Above 26% stamp sand, almost all taxa showed severe density depression. Above 75% stamp sand concentrations […], there simply were no observed organisms, a virtual desert

– Kerfoot et al., 2019

Buffalo Reef cobbles are home to diatoms and bacteria that live on the rocks as a film (a,b). These communities are killed off when stamp sands move in, as they have begun to do in the northern cobble field of Buffalo Reef (c). (Source: Kerfoot et el., 2019)

The underwater “trough” north of Buffalo Reef, which once acted as a sink, has now transitioned into a source of stamp sands. Stamp sands have accumulated to the point of overflowing from the middle section of the trough. The study also shows that the main shoreline source of stamp sands is transitioning from the original Gay pile to the stamp sand beach just south of it. The stamp sand beach is wider and higher than the original white beach margin and is spilling over the Traverse River seawall, as evidenced by trace amounts of stamp sands in the white sand beach just south of the Traverse River (12.3 – 16.9%).


The Original tailings pile off of Gay Michigan is undergoing active erosion on Lake Superior’s shoreline (a). The stamp sand beach south of the original pile has flowed over the Traverse River seawall and is discolouring the water (b). (Source: Kerfoot et al., 2019)

Cleanup efforts are considered a high priority with multiple millions of dollars in funding already allocated to dredging efforts that began this summer. Plans to dredge the “trough” and the Traverse River should provide several years time to plan long-term mitigation before Buffalo Reef is engulfed in Stamp Sands.


Citation

W.C. Kerfoot, M.M. Hobmeier, R. Regis, et al., Lidar (light detection and ranging) and benthic invertebrate investigations: Migrating tailings threaten Buffalo Reef in Lake Superior, Journal of Great Lakes Research, Available online August 8, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jglr.2019.07.009


In the News

APNews – EPA contributes $3.7 mill to Stamp Sands cleanup

Previous Infosuperior articles on Buffalo Reef

Feb. 2019: Comments Sought on Potential Long-term Solutions for Encroaching Stamp Sands at Buffalo Reef

Oct. 2018: Dredging Contract Awarded to Protect Buffalo Reef

Apr. 2018: Saving Buffalo Reef


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