“On 12 July 2013, a six-year-old boy disappeared into an enormous sand dune in the US to find himself buried alive for hours inside its shifting network of holes and chasms. Geologists are now scrambling to figure out why,” according to sciencealert.com.
Image via 5W Infographics/EPA
Mount Baldy just happens to be the tallest sand dune on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, and until recently, it was deemed the most popular attraction in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore national park. It is now closed indefinitely. But why, you ask? Well, first, here is a little more about the attraction: the sand dune was formed around 4,500 years ago as the water level in Lake Michigan dropped to expose bare sand that was now “free to move and stack as the relentless winds dictated”.
Even though the thought of a hole being in sand, that is definitely not quicksand, that could swallow a person defies the laws of physics, there is even more to Mount Baldy than just a 126 feet-tall sand dune. “While many of the dunes surrounding Lake Michigan are anchored down by trees and shrubbery, it’s said that a severe storm rid Mount Baldy of its ties and rendered it a ‘wandering’, or ‘living’ dune, able to shift its mass in ways that scientists don’t yet fully understand.” With this information scientists and geographers were still stumped stating that it doesn’t make much sense for there to be any holes in the “live” sand dune. However, thankfully, they did end up finding six year-old Nathan 3.5 hours after he was “swallowed” by Mount Baldy.
Here is the excerpt from sciencealert.com:
(Courtesy of Woessner Family/AP Images)
Back in 2007, <geologist at Indiana University Northwest> Erin Argyilan’s colleague Zoran Kilibarda had taken scores of measurements across Mount Baldy and compared these to several aerial photographs to discover that the entire dune had shifted 134 metres away from the lakefront between 1938 and 2007, swallowing up long-forgotten trees, trails and stairs along the way.
Four years later, it was revealed that the dune was flattening out, and the sand that facilitated its movement was coming from inside its inland slope – the area that was open to the public. The slope that swallowed Nathan. Essentially, says Sabar, a void had been opening up inside Mount Baldy.
“The age of the materials and the wet conditions during the spring of 2013 may have forced these materials to become unstable, collapsing and creating openings to the surface,” the National Parks Service announced in a press release earlier this year.
Trying to dig Nathan out did no good – fresh sand would just take the place of anything that was pushed away. It took 3.5 hours of excavation, with robotic probes and giant digging vehicles, to get him out. About 2.5 metres down, Sabar says the rescue team started seeing “pipe-like cylinders” – great, winding holes that filled up with sand as quickly as they were uncovered.
Eventually though, through brute machine force, Nathan was uncovered just after 8pm that night, huddled unconscious in one of the winding holes. Somehow, he’d end up surviving the ordeal, and two weeks later, walked out of the hospital. Sabar reports that the doctors suspect either an air pocket in the sand hole saved him, or perhaps his body had reacted to the lack of oxygen by drastically slowing down the operation of his vital organs.
Having spent a huge portion of my life as a child playing on sand dunes off of Lake Michigan, including Sleeping Bear Dunes, it is slightly unnerving to think that this was even in the realm of a possibility. I suppose a good lesson to learn is don’t go in it or near any possible “holes” you see, and keep a good eye on your surroundings. I know there is more than that, but it is a good place to start.
You can check out the full Smithsonian article and the ongoing study by Ariel Sabar about the mysterious Mount Baldy sand dune here.
(Feature photo courtesy of Indiana Dunes National Park)