SANDS OF TIME
A PHOTO ESSAY
SANDS OF TIME IS A PHOTO ESSAY OF THE RISING WATER LEVELS OF LAKE MICHIGAN
The increase in water levels is causing drastic beach erosion, much like what we experienced in the mid-1980s and again in the mid-to-late 1990s. During these times homeowners built seawalls and jetties to keep their properties from being destroyed. After the water began to recede, the seawalls and jetties were buried under the beach sand. With the current rise in water levels the buried structures are reappearing. I am documenting this event with fine art.
There’s no telling when the waters will stop rising, but when the water finally recedes, the seawalls once again will be buried and forgotten until, in ten to fifteen years, Lake Michigan begins its cyclical rise.
Lake Michigan’s max depth is about 1,000 feet
The measurements at the left are feet above sea level and are measured by a series of gages used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environment and Climate Change Canada to compute lakewide average water levels. This is done by first computing daily averages at each gage and then computing a lakewide average using all the gages on the lake.
One inch of water equals 790 billion gallons
History of the water levels:
- 1918: 580.94
- 1929: 581.30
- 1943: 580.44
- 1952: 581.63
- 1974: 581.76
- 1986: 582.35 (all time high)
- 1997: 581.33
The levels remained below average for the longest time recorded between 1999 – 2014
- 2013: 576.02 (all time low)
- 2014: 579.20
- 2015: 579.82
- 2019: 581.9
- 2020: 582.18 (June and July)
- 2021: 580.77 (Aug)
- 2022: 582.18 (June / July)
Between 2013 and June 2020 the water had risen 6.16 feet
Between 2020 and 2022 the water has dropped 3.34 feet
A VIEW FROM ABOVE
Left: 2013 (all time low)
Right: 1986 (all time high)
Left: 2013 (all time low)
January 2013 Lake Michigan was at a record low.
This was the summer just before one of the hardest winters in decades.
BEACH IN 2013 (LEFT) SAME BEACH SECTION IN LATE 2014 (RIGHT)
2014 NOV 2014: 579.20′
THE WINTER OF 2013/14 = A RECORD REBOUND IN LAKE MICHIGAN’S WATER LEVELS
INCREASE OF OVER 3′ OF WATER LEVEL FROM THE LOW IN 2013
The winter of 2013/14 brought with it very severe weather, 93% ice coverage, and prolonged days of very cold temperatures. These conditions kept water in Lake Michigan from evaporating, contributing to the drastic rebound of the lake’s levels.
BEACH IN LATE 2013 (LEFT) SAME BEACH SECTION IN EARLY 2014 (RIGHT)
2015 JULY 2015: 579.82′
WATER LEVELS CONTINUED TO RISE, AND BEACHES CONTINUED TO DISAPPEAR
INCREASE OF ALMOST 4′ OF WATER LEVEL FROM THE LOW IN 2013
The following winter produced similar weather patterns, and continued the rising water levels due to ice coverage and prolonged cold spells.
BEACH IN LATE 2015 (LEFT) SAME BEACH SECTION IN EARLY 2016 (RIGHT)
It’s impossible to get into the same positions to get the same image, due to erosion and water.
2016 APRIL 2016: 579.92′
Because the previous winter was an El Niño year, the lake’s ice coverage was less than 30% which should have allowed a considerable amount of water to evaporate, but the opposite seems to have happened. As of this writing Lake Michigan’s water level is higher today than it was in December of 2015.
BEACH IN AUG 2014 (LEFT) SAME BEACH SECTION IN AUG 2016 (RIGHT)
2017 JULY 2017: 580.76′
LAKE LEVELS INCREASED FROM APRIL BY ALMOST ONE FOOT. HISTORICALLY THE LAKE’S LEVEL PEAKS IN JULY, BUT IN 2013 IT PEAKED IN NOVEMBER. STAY TUNED TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS THIS YEAR.
PRE-DUNE IN 2014 (LEFT) SAME SECTION IN AUGUST 2017 (RIGHT)
2018 JULY 2018: 580.64′
JETTIES AUGUST 2014 (LEFT) SAME SECTION IN JULY 2018 (RIGHT)
2019 JULY 2019: 581.92′
JETTIE SECTION JULY 2014 (LEFT) SAME SECTION IN JULY 2019 (RIGHT)
2020 JUNE AND JULY 2020: 582.18
BEACH SECTION APRIL 2014 (LEFT) SAME SECTION IN APRIL 2020 (RIGHT)
SOME MONTHLY RECORDS WERE BROKE, BUT NOT THE ALL TIME HIGH
There were a few months which broke all time highs for individual months, but the all time high still remains on October 1986.
10.1986: 582.35′ (all time high)
2021 AUG 2021: 580.77
BEACH SECTION SEPT 2014 (LEFT) SAME SECTION IN NOV 2021 (RIGHT)
AS OF MARCH 2021 LAKE MICHIGAN’S WATER LEVEL IS ABOUT 11″ LOWER THAN THE SAME TIME THE PREVIOUS YEAR
The image on the left you can already see erosion happening, and the image on the right shows how the pre-dune is completely gone.
Remains of the foundation
Here you can see the remains of a house foundation. I was speaking to the owner who explained how these remains are actually from where the house once stood, and was the third location that they’ve moved the house to.
He went on to tell me how they had to move the house four different times, about 90 feet each time in order to keep the house from falling into the lake.
Uncovering the past
In 2018 remains of a shipwreck were revealed thanks to high water and erosion, then as the water levels continued to rise, the shipwreck was again covered by water. As the water levels receded in 2021 the shipwreck was again once again revealed, and almost the whole ship was visible.
According to records there was a storm in early October 1882 and reports that the Contest came up onto the beach trying to get into the White Lake channel. The ship is located at the base of the White Lake Lighthouse in Whitehall, Michigan.
2022 FEB 2022: 579.13
BEACH SECTION JULY 2019 (LEFT) SAME SECTION IN APRIL 2022 (RIGHT)
AS OF MARCH 2022 LAKE MICHIGAN’S WATER LEVEL IS ABOUT 3 FEET LOWER THAN the high point of 2020
With the water continuing to recede, and the sands along the shoreline returning, it won’t take long for these seawalls and jetties to disappear until the next time Lake Michigan begins to rise.
HIGH WATER MARKS FOR EACH YEAR IS IN RED