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Great Sands Bay

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Hidden : 10/27/2011
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Geocache Description:

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Connection to the Earth Science Curriculum

Essential Lessons:

Why does Great Sand Bay look the way it does?


Earth Science Literacy Principles-

Big Idea 3.  Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life.

3.2  All Earth’s processes are the result of energy flowing and mass cycling within and between Earth’s systems.

Common misconceptions 

The atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere do not cause changes in one another; these systems operate independently on Earth.

 Michigan State Science Content Expectations Addressed:

  • S.IP.M.1 Inquiry involves generating questions, conducting investigations, and developing solutions to problems through reasoning and observation.
  • S.IA.M.1 Inquiry includes an analysis and presentation of findings that lead to future questions, research, and investigations.
  • P.EN.M.3 Waves and Energy-Waves have energy and transfer energy when they interact with matter. Examples of waves include sound waves, seismic waves, waves on water, and light waves.
  • S.RS.M.1 Reflecting on knowledge is the application of scientific knowledge to new and different situations. Reflecting on knowledge requires careful analysis of evidence that guides decision-making and the application of science throughout history and within society.


Longshore drift: The transport of sediment (sand and sometimes coarser materials like pebbles or gravel) at an angle to the shoreline

Fetch : the distance the winds blows over open water

Access Information:

This is a public beach owned and operated by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Date Visited:

Visited July 11, 2011.

Great Sands Bay


Great Sands Bay is a beautiful white sands beach on the Keweenaw Peninsula.  It rests between Eagle Harbor and Eagle Bay and is a great place for swimming and enjoying an expansive shoreline.  It is also a perfect stop to observe the geological phenomenon of longshore drift. 

Stop 1:  N 47 °26.822'   W 088 °12.988’

Stop 2:  N 47 °26.538'   W 088 °13.086'

Sediment erodes by natural forces like wind and water.  The material that erodes ends up someplace else based on its weight, size, and make-up and also by the amount of energy the wind and water carrying it.  At Great Sand Bay, there is a longshore drift where sediment is carried by wave energy from one area of the beach to another.   Lighter sediments, such as sand, need less wave energy to move and therefore drift father alongText Box: Figure 1. Google Map of Great Sand Bay with longitudinal and latitudinal lines the beach than heavier sediments, such as pebbles, which need much stronger waves to move them. 

This bay’s sandy shore is between two large ‘arms’ called rocky headlands.    These jut into the water and are exposed to constant waves and wind.  The sediment erodes based on the strength, direction, and the fetch of the wind.  Also, the direction and strength of the water current make Great Sand Bay have its unique shape and make-up.  Since this sediment is then made up of smaller particles, or soft rock, it is easily transported with the currents.

Figure  2.  Great Sands Bay Shoreline by Katie Kay
.  Longshore Drift Diagram. Notice how the direction of the drift is dependent on of the prevailing wind.

Figure 4. Student digging for sample by Katie Kay

Materials Needed for your Visit:



Go to stop 1 and 2 and describe the sediment found at each location.  Record your findings.


General shape



Other observations

Stop 1





Stop 2






Logging Question:

In which direction do you think the longshore drift would carry particles?

Optional lesson for school group:


GPS, tape measure, rabbit wire, enough string for a square meter, 4 popsicle sticks, or small sticks to hold string in place, shovel, cloth weighing bag, and postal scale


Before leaving make sure that you know how to use your GPS to navigate to waypoints. 

At each given location, use the 1 meter square string and sticks to mark off a square meter of beach.  Dig approximately 1” deep, shoveling the sand and sediment onto the rabbit wire to create a sieve.  Count the pebbles that are left on the screen and weigh them.


# of pebbles

Mass of pebbles (grams)

Stop 1



Stop 2



Logging Question:
Describe the relationship of the number and mass of the pebbles found at each waypoint.  Using this information, then predict about how many pebbles you would find at:  47° 25’ 30”N  88° 15’26”W.





 GoogleEarth. (2009) Great Sand Bay[Image], Retrieved July 26th, 2001, from:

 Information Management Branch of The Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.  (n.d.) Retrived from

McGraw-Hill Higher Education (Publisher).  (2003). Longshore Drift of Sand [Animation], Retrieved July 26, 2011, from: (2009). Retrieved from

Schaetzl, Randell J., Darden, Joe T., and Brandt, Danita S. Michigan Geography and Geology.

                New York; Custom, 2009. Print.

 Yefi (Author).  (2009). A diagram of longshore drift [Diagram], Retrieved July 26, 2001, from:

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43 Logged Visits

Found it 41     Write note 1     Publish Listing 1     

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Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum

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