Ask Ellen: How did these sand pillars form?

Ask Ellen

Local photographers hit the jackpot last week when harsh winds and cold conditions worked together to sculpt the sand. Hundreds of miniature pillars ranging in size from a foot and a half to only a few inches emerged out of the shoreline, each carrying an entirely unique shape.

Local photographer Joshua Nowicki has thousands of followers on social media for his stunning lakeshore photography and videography. He captured these images in St. Joseph during the first week of January when temperatures dipped well below freezing for several days.

These miniature sand structures resemble the geography found in National Parks like Utah and Arizona. They are incredibly fragile, but are formed by the same processes that carved out canyons in the Western U.S.: erosion.

For these to form the ground must be frozen with the permafrost extending at least a foot into the ground. Steady wind will then act to begin eating away at the sand as it blows. The sand isn’t swept away in a single sheet, rather due to inconsistencies in the sand, the extent of the freeze, the sand will erode differently.

Wind eddies also act to carve out the sculptures in unique ways as every micro current of wind swoops in a little differently onshore.

Big temperature swings, especially ones that launch highs above freezing are quick to destroy these sand pillars. January is likely to continue colder than average for the Great Lakes which means area beaches will have more opportunities for more erosion castles to form.

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