Geologists focus on area contamination, environment, and energy issues

April 23, 2001

Information for science, environment, and water resources writers and editors

I. Introduction
II. Presentation Highlights
III. Complimentary Media Registration and Other Information


The future of our society and environment hinges in part on the availability of adequate water and energy resources. At the 35th Annual Meeting of the North-Central Section of the Geological Society of America next week, geoscientists will explore issues related to the Great Lakes, groundwater supply and contamination, and the potential for new energy resources in the area.

Attendees will answer the following pertinent questions: Are we losing the Great Lakes' sand dunes? Will there be enough water for Chicago's growing population? Are the two closed-down Nike missile base sites along Lake Shore Drive threatening our health? Is there a new source of gas and oil hidden in the Illinois Basin? And what are the dangers of those newly discovered contaminated areas along the O'Hare corridor?

The meeting takes place April 23-24, 2001, at the Bone Student Center (BSC), Illinois State University, Normal, IL. Geologists from Illinois State University and the Illinois Geological Survey will host the meeting. Registration is complimentary for media representatives who wish to attend these or other sessions. If you are interested but unable to attend, we encourage you to conduct advance interviews with scientists on an embargoed basis, with release dates coinciding with their presentation dates.


Presentations are approximately 20 minutes in length. The start times listed may vary slightly.


"A History of Michigan's Sand Dune Protect Act." Christy Fox, Coastal Programs, Land and Water Management Division, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Lansing, MI, 517-335-3452, (Monday, April 23, BSC Founders Suite, 11:00 a.m.)

Great Lakes sand dunes, considered one of Michigan's most unique and spectacular natural resources, span 270 miles of the Lake Michigan and Superior shoreline. These dunes face intense development pressures ranging from sand mining and housing construction to recreational vehicle use. Concern for the future of these fragile geomorphic features led to the passage of state laws to regulate sand mining and development in designated critical dune areas. Fox will provide an overview of the history of sand dune protection in Michigan. She will also explain the process of identifying and selecting dune areas to be protected and how the state is managing these coastal areas.

"Monitoring Sand Movement by Wind on the East Shore of Lake Michigan." Kristen H. Van Kley and Deanna Van Dijk, Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI, 616-957-5410, (Monday, April 23, BSC Ballroom, 1:00 p.m.)

Freshwater coastal dunes along the east shore of Lake Michigan are known for their size, beauty, and widespread occurrence, but few researchers have considered how much sand is moved by wind over the dunes during the year. This study monitored wind erosion and deposition on Lake Michigan coastal dunes from October 2000 to March 2001--a period when the winds are usually strongest. The research in P.J. Hoffmaster State Park (near Muskegon, MI) focused on a foredune, a relatively low (1-3 meter high) dune that forms immediately inland of the beach during periods of low lake levels. Foredune growth is important because, during periods of high lake levels, the foredune protects inland dunes from erosion until all the foredune sediments are eroded by wave activity.

"Dynamics of Coastal Wetlands Relative to Late Holocene Lake Level Change." Douglas Wilcox, Great Lakes Science Center, US Geological Survey, Ann Arbor, MI, 734-214-7256, (Monday, April 23, BSC Old Main Room, 11:20 a.m.)

Lake-level changes are the driving force behind Great Lakes wetland dynamics. High water levels periodically kill large, canopy-dominating plant species, and low water levels expose sediments to allow revegetation from the seed bank. However, some wetlands along the shore also respond to ground water influences, and differences in the role of ground water in local hydrology may explain vegetational differences among wetlands. Thus, wetland response to climate change may be site-specific and dependent on the combined role of ground-water hydrology and lake level, as well as the type of plant community associated with the climatic region.

"Holocene Lake-Level Changes and Human History Along Lake Michigan and Lake Superior." John B. Anderton, Dept. of Geography, Northern Michigan University, Marquette, MI, 906-227-1140, (Monday, April 23, BSC Old Main Room, 11:20 a.m.)

Anderton will look at the relationship between shoreline environments and prehistoric people in the northern Great Lakes, particularly along the shores of northern Lake Michigan and the south shore of Lake Superior. As early as 8000 years ago, people depended on these shorelines and lakes for their survival. Archaeological evidence of these prehistoric inhabitants includes fishing spears, copper fishhooks and gaffs, and notched stones that were used to weight nets. Changes in the level of the lakes obviously affected where they would live and what plants and animals they could find. Archaeologists suggest that these first coastally adapted people lived in shore areas close to shallow waters such as river mouths and lagoons. By reconstructing the configuration of past shorelines using aerial photographs and other tools, Anderton has been able to test these ideas about prehistoric settlement at about 5000 years ago. People seemed to have preferred to live along sandy barriers near quiet water lagoons where they likely fished for spring spawning fish such as sturgeon.


"Temporal Changes in Shallow Groundwater Quality in Northeastern Illinois: Preliminary Results." Walton R. Kelly, Illinois State Water Survey, Champaign, IL, 217-333-3729, (Tuesday, April 24, BSC Old Main Room, 9:20 a.m.)

The Chicago metropolitan area is rapidly growing in population and more areas of land are being developed. This growth is also stressing the drinking water supply. The traditional sources of water, Lake Michigan and the deep bedrock aquifer, are at their legally-mandated and sustainable limits, respectively. Shallow aquifers in the region are an abundant and presently underutilized source of water, but these aquifers are susceptible to surface contamination. Preliminary evaluations of historic water quality data suggest that the quality of some of these aquifers has been degrading for over 20 years, especially in the collar counties.

"From Missile Bases to Public Places - Conducting Environmental Assessments of City Parks." C. Brian Trask, Center for Transportation and the Environment, Illinois State Geological Survey, Champaign, IL, 217-244-2421, (Illinois State University Bowling and Billiards Center, BBC Activity Room, 2:00 p.m.)

Though surrounded by park environments with minor commercial and residential activity along adjacent properties, previous land use along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago has embraced other man-made hazards, including two railroad roundhouses, two Nike missile bases, and two world's fairs. Activities at the roundhouses included extensive servicing of steam and diesel locomotives which employed large quantities of petroleum compounds. Numerous underground storage tanks had been installed for space heating and vehicle fueling at the missile bases, and not all of them had been removed when the bases were closed in 1971. Activities at one of the world's fairs had included storing petroleum compounds to generate electrical power. Fibrous asbestos-containing building materials may have been present in buildings at both world's fairs, the roundhouses, and the missile bases. During a limited subsurface investigation, volatile organic compounds indicative of petroleum and limited heavy metals were detected at several sites.

"An Environmental Assessment of the I-190 Corridor and Areas Supporting the Chicago-O'Hare International Airport." Mark R. Collier, Environmental Site Assessment, Illinois State Geological Survey, Chicago, IL, 312-793-7384, (BSC Bowling and Billiards Center Activity Room, 3:00 p.m.)

To link the City of Chicago with the Chicago-O'Hare International Airport, the City of Chicago annexed roughly five miles of road in 1955, creating the controversial "O'Hare corridor." This corridor once again became a focal point of controversy in 1999 when the Illinois Department of Transportation proposed a major reconstruction of I-190, located within the corridor, to alleviate the ever-increasing traffic demands to the Chicago-O'Hare International Airport. The Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) conducted a Preliminary Environmental Site Assessment (PESA) of potential hazardous sites along I-190, its various interchanges, and roads servicing the Chicago-O'Hare International Airport and the surrounding communities. The ISGS concluded that due to the consolidation and redevelopment of parcels along the I-190 corridor, and the rapid expansion of the Chicago-O'Hare International Airport between 1955 and the late 1990s, significant areas of contamination (that had not been documented before) had impacted the proposed project area.

"Mass Flux of Nitrogen in Shallow Groundwater of an Agricultural Watershed in Central Illinois." Edward Mehnert, Groundwater Geology Section, Illinois State Geological Survey, Champaign, IL, 217-244-2765,; et al. (Monday, April 23, BSC Ballroom, 1:00 p.m.)

Nitrogen is a common contaminant in Illinois' surface water and groundwater. With the emergence of hypoxia as a national concern, there is renewed attention on the fate and transport of nitrogen in the environment. To address this problem, a multidisciplinary team is investigating the fate and transport of nitrogen in an agricultural watershed. One component of this investigation includes field sampling and laboratory studies to estimate the flux of nitrogen in shallow groundwater to the stream that drains the watershed. Because many researchers consider nitrogen loss via denitrification to be among the most uncertain of all estimates in the nitrogen mass balance, denitrification rates will be quantified by microbial and isotopic methods.


"A New Pre-Cambrian Geologic Province Beneath the Illinois Basin, USA." John McBride and Dennis Kolata, Illinois State Geological Survey, Champaign, IL, 217-333-5107, (Monday, April 23, BSC Circus Room, 10:40 a.m.)

The Illinois Basin, centered over the state of Illinois, is one of the world's oldest petroleum provinces where oil was first discovered in 1886. The major oil companies have basically abandoned the basin for easier profits elsewhere, but they have left us with tens of thousands of miles of seismic reflection exploration data. (Seismic reflection profiling is a exploration method that uses an energy source that generates sound waves which pass through and reflect off rock layers and fault surfaces and are recorded back at the surface on an array of geophones.) Researchers at the Illinois State Geological Survey and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have been studying this profile data, kindly supplied by the petroleum industry, which are revealing new information on the structure of the earth down to almost 30 miles. One of the most exciting results is the discovery of a deeply buried bowl-shaped deposit of rock layers that underlies a large area of Illinois and Indiana and that may contain sedimentary strata capable of hosting oil and gas.


We invite journalists and public information officers (PIOs) from geoscience and other related organizations to attend any scientific session of interest visit the exhibition area. Advance interviews with scientists can also be arranged and conducted on an embargoed basis, with release dates coinciding with presentation dates.

Registration is complimentary if you are one or more of the following:
  • Working press representing bona fide news media with a press card, letter, or business card from the publication.
  • Freelance science writer, presenting a current membership card from NASW, ISWA, regional affiliates of NASW, or evidence of work pertaining to science published in 1999 or 2000.
  • Public Information Officer of a scientific society, educational institution or government agency.
Representatives of the business side of news media, publishing houses, and for-profit corporations must pay the appropriate fees.

Register at the meeting registration desk in the Bone Student Center where you will receive a name badge and the program/abstract book.

Registration hours are: Sunday, April 22, 3:00-8:30 p.m.; Monday, April 23, 7:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Tuesday, April 24, 7:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
For additional information prior to the meeting, contact Ann Cairns, GSA Director of Communications, at 303-447-2020 ext. 156; During the meeting, Dr. Gail Corbett will provide on-site assistance for journalists beginning Monday, April 23. She can be reached by calling the GSA Registration Desk at 309-438-5178.

Geological Society of America

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