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Students get down to earth with response to erosion

Illinois State Park Beach

Five UIC students are using their senior design project to investigate a solution for a creeping crisis: the disappearing shoreline around Lake Michigan.

The team, made up of civil engineering majors Bryanna Bourelle, Allyson Boyle, Boston Kuchar, Temuulen Shinezorig, and Dena Youssefnia, is exploring the use of the Dutch Sand Motor process as an answer to the ongoing erosion problem of Lake Michigan’s Illinois State Beach Park.

The Dutch Sand Motor, developed in the Netherlands in 2011, is a nature-based alternative touted for its low cost, safety, and ecological soundness. The process provides a mega-nourishment of material that relies on natural forces to distribute the materials along an eroding shoreline.

“While many projects claim to be sustainable, the Dutch Sand Motor’s build-with-nature approach truly walks the walk,” Kuchar said. She was drawn to the project because of his interest in using civil engineering for ecological restoration, particularly in wetlands and along coasts. “I believe the Sand Motor and the philosophies behind its construction are the future of erosion management,” she said.

Their sponsor Steven Rienks, director of engineering at American Surveying & Engineering, agrees. Rienks had prior knowledge of the original pilot project constructed in the Netherlands and proposed that a similar process could be adapted for Lake Michigan’s needs, which is how the team’s project came to be.

The team chose the Illinois State Beach Park based on environmental factors, the erosional state of the surrounding shoreline, and the size, shape, and purpose of the strip of shoreline in question.

Their methodology included investigating a number of environmentally friendly materials that can be used in a motor design and selecting the best material based on the cost, gradation, availability, and acquisition.

While there are no plans for the project to implemented, the students are optimistic their work could be used as a solution. “Implementing a mega sand nourishment, rather than smaller sand nourishments every two to three years or hardscapes such as rip-rap, would save time and money in the long run,” Bourelle said.

Aside from the specifics of their project, the team sees the need for more ideas for tackling the problem of shoreline erosion. “I always knew [it] was becoming an increasingly worrying issue due to global warming,” added Youssefnia. “This project is a solution to such an important issue and can be an option for the protection of coastlines around the world.”

Learn more about the project at Lake Michigan Costal Erosion Response.