Lake Michigan’s Ice Formations: Part 3

The following post is the third installment of an ongoing series here at the Backyard Geographer documenting seasonal ice formations on Lake Michigan.  For parts 1 and 2, see this post from early last year.


December 19, 2012, looking northwest along lakeshore, Wilmette, Illinois, Gillson Park

No shore ice this season by December 19.  Compare this to the hundreds of feet of shore ice on this date in 2010 (see photo in Part 2).


December 29, 2012, looking northwest along lakeshore, Wilmette, Illinois, Gillson Park

Chicago’s record-breaking, 290-day snow drought ended on December 20th but it wasn’t until December 25 that a lake effect event blanketed the lakefront in white. Note that there is still no ice on the lake.


January 2, 2013, looking northwest along lakeshore, Gillson Park, Wilmette, Illinois

Following the warmest year on record in Chicago, the first shore ice of the season has just formed after an extended period of night temperatures below freezing.  Note that the same narrow band of exposed shore sand shows in this picture as well as in the one above.


January 2, 2013, looking northwest along lakeshore, Gillson Park, Wilmette, Illinois

This photograph shows the interface where lake ice is freezing to the shore.  The shore ice so far this season is only tens of feet wide compared with hundreds of feet wide in past seasons at this time.


January 2, 2013, looking northeast toward Lake Michigan, Gillson Park, Wilmette, Illinois

Collections of ice volcanoes are forming in the narrow shelf of shore ice.


January 2, 2013, looking northeast toward Lake Michigan, Gillson Park, Wilmette, Illinois

Details of one ice volcano and slushy floating ice that help form the ice shelf along the shore are visible.

text and images by Steve Jansen

Hurricane Sandy: a critical look from a personal perspective

Picture 10

There’s my laundromat…

Hi, my name is Andrew Weatherhead.  I’m a Chicago native and a member of the Geographic Society of Chicago, though I’ve lived in New York City off and on since 2005.  I currently call the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn home, which — as you may or may not know — is a coastal enclave of some historic significance.  It was part of the original 17th century Dutch settlement known as New Amsterdam, it played a role in The Battle of Brooklyn during the Revolutionary War, and from the 1920’s to the 1960’s it was the busiest freight port in the world.  It was also one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy on October 29th.  Given my proximity to this extraordinary meteorological event, I thought I’d use the following blog post to give a personal account of my experience and try to answer some questions the storm has raised about the nature of extreme weather and the future of urban development in a changing global climate.

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Cool Summer Experience Becomes Real Life Experience

During the summer of 2012, the Geographic Society of Chicago (GSC) had the opportunity to work with Cool Summer Experience (CSE) students sponsored by the First Baptist Church in Waukegan.  Our goal was to involve students in identifying and solving a community problem using geospatial technology.  Their specific charge was to identify and map the locations of litter in a community park.

Over the course of three weeks, our team of geographers worked with 60 students in small groups.  They were first trained in using handheld Global Positioning Systems (GPS) units.  Then each group walked a different route through Bowen Park.  Along their routes, they collected litter, recorded the locations on their GPS units, and noted the number of items and the type of litter on spreadsheets.  Upon return, each team weighed their garbage bags and observed the relative volume of all the bags.   Students then uploaded their data to a computer and viewed their routes and the locations where garbage was found.

Students later met in a computer lab to work with the field data in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software.  Creating map layers of each team’s results, students manipulated these layers to draw conclusions about the distribution of garbage in the park in relation to the present locations of garbage cans.  Students wrote up their results, conclusions and recommendations for how trash could be handled better.  One student commented that, “Bowen Park didn’t need more garbage cans.  They just needed them in different places.”  Their articles were published in the Eco Times, the CSE newsletter, under the title 21st Century Technology Comes to CSE!

Several weeks later, Susie Schreiber of the Waukegan Harbor Citizens’ Advisory Group (CAG) and the Illinois Audubon Society contacted the GSC to accompany her and some of the CSE students on a boat expedition to map swallows’ nests in Waukegan Harbor.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is funding a project to dredge PCB-laden sediments from the harbor as part of its superfund cleanup program.  A set of boat docks lies over one of the most contaminated areas of sediment.  While contractors prepared to demolish the docks in order to get at the contaminated sediment below, a colony of nesting swallows was found that favors this location.  CAG and their numerous partners were requested to help.  A data collection expedition was rapidly assembled.  The Waukegan Harbor Jr. Fleet and a crew of 8th – 10th grade students provided a motorized raft.  Students from the CSE were enlisted to collect the GPS coordinates of the active nests.

active swallow’s nest, up close

None of us from the GSC could assist in this mapping effort on the scheduled date.  Instead, CSE students used their recent experience with GPS and GIS technology to collect data on their own.  Applying their newly-acquired GPS operating skills, 7th and 8th graders from CSE successfully recorded 63 nest locations.  The file was sent to the GSC and a map of the data was returned within hours.  The map was forwarded to USEPA, dredging contractors, USF&W, USGS and the IDNR.  Together with results from contractor studies, the dock demolition schedule was modified to allow the swallow chicks to fledge and leave the nest colony.

CSE students in the raft

The swallows were saved, the dock was demolished, sediment dredging began on schedule, and the power of geospatial technology to inspire elementary school students was demonstrated.

Stone Circles on Lake Michigan Shore

One of our Backyard Geographers came upon two mysterious, man-made stone circles while tramping a section of the Lake Michigan shoreline in Illinois.  There are two circles, each about 70 feet in diameter.  The one closest to the shore is made of black stones and the one further inland is comprised of white stones.  Each circle is comprised of 1- to 8-inch stones arranged carefully in a ring about 8 inches wide.  The stones seem to have been collected locally as evidenced by the nearby stash of buckets.  Plants have grown up through the stones indicating they have been here a while.

Who made the circles?  What do they symbolize?  Please contact us with your observations and speculations.

Black Stone Circle with Lake Michigan in the Background.

Our Backyard Geographer Recording GPS Track Around Black Stone Circle.

Our Backyard Geographer Recording Data – White Stone Circle detail in Foreground.

GPS track of Stone Circles – Each circle is approximately 70 feet in diameter and they are located in shallow swales between low dunes along the Lake Michigan shore.