$65,000 grant awarded to Zoran Kilibarda, Ph.D., to study dunes and beaches along the entire coastline of Indiana

Since moving to Northwest Indiana more than 10 years ago, Indiana University Northwest Associate Professor of Geosciences, Zoran Kilibarda, Ph.D., has enjoyed hiking at Dunes State Park and Mt. Baldy.

But, he began to notice that every time he would go hiking things seemed slightly different than the last time he had hit the trails.

“I would think, ‘Well, there’s something different this time,’” Kilibarda said.  “But you are never sure until you have evidence of it.”

Evidence of movement and shifting patterns of sand at Mt. Baldy, is specifically what Kilibarda was referring to, and based on field measurements since May 2007, he was right – the Indiana Dunes are alive.

Kilibarda was so inspired by his prior research of Mt. Baldy that, about a year ago, he applied for another grant focused on this project. His grant was awarded in Fall 2010 by the Lake Michigan Coastal Program (LMCP), which is under jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources and funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Kilibarda’s grant is three-fold. He, along with three student assistants, will continue to monitor the movement of Mt. Baldy, while also sampling the Indiana Lake Michigan shoreline looking for ancient soil, and investigating the severely eroding beaches along Indiana’s coastline. He is working with IU Northwest geosciences students Ryan Ventureli and Nolan Graves, as well as with alumna Diane Taylor, who is now doing graduate work at Villanova.

“This is a great experience for the three students who are helping me,” Kilibarda said. “Since October, we have been working full force and the students are assisting in the research. This is a great partnership because I’m working with bright students who like research and enjoy going out with me to collect samples and sand.”

The group is working to sample the entire shoreline, both sand dunes and beaches. In the process, they are looking for paleosols, which are known as ancient soils that are no longer at the surface but have been buried by sand.

Kilibarda explained that the many paleosols found in the Dunes are good indicators of climate.

“When you have paleosols present, it tells you that during that particular time, the Dune was stable, so there would have been grasses and trees growing there,” he added. “But then something happened, like a drought, or something caused that paleosol to be buried.”

The team of students, led by Kilibarda, are collecting samples of sand located both below and above the paleosols to determine the age of the sand. Once they know the age, they will have a better idea of when the Dunes began to ‘deactivate,’ or lose vegetation.

Knowing this information, Kilibarda said, is extremely important because it allows the group of researchers to learn about the climate and understand if the deactivation of the Dunes was natural or caused by human activity.

“By knowing the past, we can possibly predict the future,” he said.

The other issue the group is researching is focused on beach erosion, which, as Kilibarda explained continues to be a growing problem along Indiana’s coastline.

One of the locations where there is much evidence of the beach eroding is at Mt. Baldy and Ogden Dunes, just west of Burns Harbor. Instead of having a single coastline, Kilibarda said, Indiana now has five different segments of coast that are all independent.

“As people moved into Northwest Indiana, they started building different things along coasts – piers or barriers to protect their property – but those things affected natural movement of the water,” Kilibarda said. “Previously, sand or gravel from St. Joseph, Michigan, would have naturally moved and eventually ended up in Gary. But now, there’s no longer movement or current because the structures that people put in place are blocking the movement and trapping the sediments, resulting in five different cells.”

Kilibarda explained that in the early 1970s people started to recognize this beach erosion, so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began transporting sand to these eroded areas. Despite more than one million tons of sand being brought in to nourish and protect the beaches, he said, erosion and migration of the large dune continues.

Kilibarda’s student researchers are also helping him to continue his research of the movement of Mt. Baldy. Previous and current research indicates that the sands of Mt. Baldy are shifting toward the parking lot at a significant rate. Kilibarda believes that, based on their current rate, the parking lot will be covered within five years.

His first time researching Mt. Baldy was in 2006, and because of the rapid movement of the sand, the team is now using markers on trees to create checkpoints for future measurements.

“Since we have been studying Mt. Baldy, we have seen yearly sand accretion rates from 3 meters, to as much as nearly 6 meters,” Kilibarda said.

Kilibarda’s research is funded until December 2011, and he is hopeful his team will be able to find some explanations for these ecological mysteries plaguing Indiana’s coastline.

“These dunes are precious,” Kilibarda said. “They are for everyone to enjoy.”

In May 2011, Kilibarda and his student researcher Michael Menchaca will also complete a two year study of Mt. Baldy dune funded by Flora Richardson Foundation.

IU Northwest is the only university in Northwest Indiana that offers a four-year geosciences degree.

To learn more about the IU Northwest Department of Geosciences, visit http://www.iun.edu/~geos/.

For additional details on the Lake Michigan Coastal Program, go to http://www.in.gov/dnr/lakemich/6039.htm.

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