The Lake Erie shore is a very dynamic area with waves, water, ice and gravity continually reshaping the land-water interface. Erosion – the wearing away of rock, soil and other material – is a natural process that continually occurs in coastal areas when sediment is moved downdrift and, in some cases, is not replaced by other sediments.
Erosion rates vary over time and space. These variations occur in response to many factors, including:
- erodibility of material
- soil slope and composition
- water level fluctuations
- nearshore lakebed shoals and slopes
- storm wave energy and duration
- ground water and soil conditions
- ice cover
- shoreline orientation
- beach composition, width and slope
- shore protection structures
Along Lake Erie, shore erosion is very site-specific depending on local conditions and weather patterns. Erosion can occur within the bluff, along the shore and underwater in nearshore areas. These distinct zones of the coast are impacted by different erosion processes and rates.
The bluff is mainly the section of land that usually does not directly interact with the lake except during storm events or extended periods of high lake levels. Bluffs can reach heights of sixty feet on Lake Erie and can be extremely erodible, as the base is constantly being pounded and washed away by waves while the tops face threats such as the weight of structures on them, removal of native vegetation and stormwater run-off from impervious surfaces.
The area between the bluff and lake is an area referred to as the shore. The shore is essentially where the land meets the lake, and is often the site of the most visible erosion. A shore zone with unconsolidated (loose) material, such as sand or gravel, is called a beach.
A dune is typically found in areas with sandy materials and is located at the landward side of a beach. Dunes are simply mounds of sand or other noncohesive (loose) sediment that are formed through waves and winds. Dunes protect the upland by limiting the number and force of waves reaching inland, while also providing protection from storms and strong winds. Over time, grasses will naturally grow on a dune, but artificially transplanted plants will also thrive should the vegetation be left untouched.
The nearshore is the area typically under water, extending offshore from the shore zone until the point at which the lakebed flattens and sediment is no longer able to move with the currents to deeper water depths. This zone can extend to roughly 60 feet or more offshore depending on the slope of the lake bottom. Erosion within the nearshore is often unnoticed since it occurs under the surface of the water, but it can be a significant cause of major erosive events along Ohio's coast.
Erosion cannot be completely stopped but can be managed through a variety of methods. The Office of Coastal Management recommends the use of nature-based shorelines whenever feasible. Prior to attempting to address erosion on Lake Erie, please contact the Office of Coastal Management for information on permitting requirements and time frames. Our staff may also be able to provide technical assistance regarding erosion issues at your specific site on Lake Erie.