When thinking of Michigan, one might think of pristine blue water in the form of lakes, rivers and streams. Michigan boasts not only bordering four of the five great lakes but it also contains more than 11,000 inland lakes and more than 12,000 miles of rivers and streams (Michigan). Throughout history, water has played a key role in not only the settlements and economies of civilizations in Michigan, but it has also physically shaped the state in more ways than most people realize. The water cycle contains all of the water that exists in, on, or above the earth.
It is constantly moving and has been for billions of years. The earth used to be a large sphere made of magma, the water that was inside of the magma was set free when it began to cool due to a decrease in the atmospheric temperature. This marks the start of the water cycle that has formed the earth as we know it today ( Water Cycle). We can see that water plays a pivotal role in determining where groups of people live or have lived in the past. Looking at Michigan alone, it is easy to see that most of our key cities and towns throughout our history and still today are located on the water.
Water not only brings sustainability to a community, but in more recent times it also brings power. Having access to a river, a lake or an ocean lets a group of people have access to trade in ways that land hasn’t always allowed. But of course water hasn’t only played a key part in human history, but human history has also played a key part in our water cycle and the land of Michigan. We have both consciously and carelessly changed the landscape and the natural layout of our state. This is done in many ways and is often irreversible. So if we take a step back and look at it, we affect the water, the land, the environment and atmosphere.
But water also affects the land, the environment the atmosphere and us. It is not a pyramid where humans have more power than the elements, it is instead an intricate web of causes and effects, where humans are a piece of the puzzle. We have a fluid and ongoing relationship with water and to understand where we fit in the puzzle we must first understand how water has shaped and will continue to shape the planet we live on. The iconic mitten that is often used to describe the shape of Michigan, was shaped in large part due to glacial activity.
About two million years ago we entered into the Pleistocene Epoch, an ice age that lasted until about 12,000 years ago and covered all of North America in over 6,000 feet of snow and ice. During this time, the temperatures went up and down causing the glaciers to melt or to expand, often times causing them to move. This carved the landscape of Michigan (Why). Glacial erosion can happen in two primary ways, the first is called plucking, and this happens when rocks and debris stick to the underside of a glacier and then are carried off with it.
The second is called abrasion, this is more of what we might think on when we think of erosion, it’s what happens when two pieces of hard material scrape against each other. It is described almost as sanding the earth with a very large piece of sandpaper. When glaciers pick up a boulders or other debris and move it to another place, this is called glacial transportation. Often this transported debris has a different make up than the bedrock on which it has been distributed (Glacial erosion). These accumulations of glacial debris are called a moraines.
Moraines are fairly common in Michigan and they are formed when a glacier either pauses for a good amount of time or begins to retreat. One remarkable moraine in Michigan is the Port Huron Moraine that is pictured below. Of course moraines are not the only landform in Michigan that has been shaped by glaciers (Moraines). There are many more landforms that are formed by glaciers. One in particular are drumlins. Drumlins are long features that can be up to 5 kilometers long and 50 meters high. One end usually has a very steep incline while the other end tapers off in an easy incline .
The main theory on exactly how drumlins are formed is essentially that when a glacier becomes too overloaded with sediment and debris, that is deposits it in the form of a drumlin. There are a few areas in Michigan where drumlins are present. It is clear that not only the major landscapes and formations that make up Michigan have been formed by water in the form of glaciers. But also, smaller and less obvious formations are also formed by glaciers (Glacial Depostition). Glaciers are not however the only way that water has shaped our earth and our state.
Water in the form of lakes, rivers and rain have made and altered many landforms in Michigan. It does so in many ways. One common way that water affects our land is by means of erosion. Water erosion is a process that includes weathering, dissolution, abrasion, corrosion, and transportation of sediments. When it comes to lakes and rivers, some common landforms that form over time due to erosion, are cliffs, arches and caves. Wonderful examples of all of these can all be found on Mackinac Island.
Once getting past the quaint and picturesque downtown, this island that is located in the Straits of Mackinac is a treasure trove of natural formations. Most notably, Arch Rock is a popular tourist destination. Pictured to the left, it is a large limestone arch that rises up 146 feet above the water and is 50 feet across at its widest point. This was formed due to thousands of years of erosion from Lake Huron. There are also many sea caves that scatter the North side of the island, these too are formed from the constant erosion from the great lakes. Also on the North side of the island are many notable cliffs.
All of these beautiful and often breathtaking landforms have all formed because of water (Mackinac). But erosion doesn’t just form these seemingly uncommon landforms. It also erodes rivers and streams, something we see happening all of the time, but many of us would not notice what was happening. Just as water changes the earth, so do people; but at a much faster pace. It is easy to look around and see all of the ways in which the world would be different if humans didn’t exist, but there are several main ways in which we have dramatically changed our planet.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has been known for being rich in copper and iron ore. Many towns in the Upper Peninsula were founded on mining and their livelihood depended on it. One such town is Ontonagon, a small mining town in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Located in this town is a copper mine called the Caledonia Native Copper Mine as pictured above. Its mining operations began in 1863 and have been on and off since. When it comes to mining, no matter how many cautious efforts are taken, the earth will still be changed.
If protective efforts are taken, then it will prevent extreme cases of damage to the earth and environment; these include erosion, water pollution, contamination of soil, and loss of biodiversity (Bornhorst). But copper and iron aren’t the only things that we change the earth for. Using water as a source of energy is a clean and effective way to power our lives. That being said, it is still something that requires a human made transformation of the earth. This can be seen in Marquette, MI. where a dam has been placed on Dead River as part of the Dead River Hydroelectric Project run by the Upper Peninsula Power Company.
In 1997 the powerhouse failed and the soil and sand around the powerhouse was eroded and carried into Dead River. The dam was researched, re-planned and restored. To the left is a picture of the drained channel that was completely filled with sand in 1997 (Dead River. ) This is just one example of how harnessing energy, even clean energy can affect the earth and the environment. Another obvious way that humans affect the earth is be means of roads and highway systems. In a state that was previously covered almost completely by dense forests, the formation of many roads and highways have fueled to the deforestation in our tate.
In the map of Michigan to the left we can see that in the more highly populated areas, where there are more highway systems, there is a lower percentage of forest cover. This of course is not all due to the fact that there are more highway systems in these areas, but it is also due to the fact that there are more people in these areas, requiring space which fuels deforestation (Michigan Forest) If we look at the drawing below of Detroit in the early 1700’s compared to a picture of Detroit today, we can see that a huge loss of natural environment has taken place
People change the environment incredibly, and most of the changes we have done in the past 200 year alone. Water changes the environment, it changes it at a slower and steadier rate than humans do. Despite years of trying to be in control, the land and the water have still have control over us as well. We live in a world that has an interconnectedness of causes and effects, manipulations and controls. To know exactly where we fit into the puzzle, we need to first understand our world and what is happening in it.