September 26, 2005 | Myrna Anderson

When Calvin College junior Melinda Campbell recently presented the results of her summer research on West Michigan sand dunes, it was something of a warm-up exercise.

Campbell will be giving the same presentation, "Communicating to the Public the Results of a Study of Contemporary Lake Michigan Dune Activity," at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA), to be held October 16 to 19 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

"This is the premiere conference for geology," says Deanna van Dijk, the Calvin professor of geology who mentored Campbell's research. "There are thousands of people attending."

Though she confesses to some nerves, Campbell is looking forward to her part in the GSA gathering.

Van Dijk, who will also attend, lauds the benefits of the experience.

"Going to a conference for a student is about more than just the presentation," she says. "It's a chance to attend the other sessions, to meet up with other students in the same field, to check out grad schools and to find out what's going on in geology."

Campbell, a Saginaw, Mich., native, will report on how she spent the summer months of 2005.

Her project: studying the parabolic sand dunes (dunes blown into a crescent shape by wind) at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park.

The assignment was an enjoyable one for the Saginaw native.

"It (Hoffmaster) hosts prime examples of parabolic dunes," she says. "They're big and glorious."

Using erosion pins, ground surveys and surface condition observations, Campbell studied how the wind affects the growth and erosion of the dunes.

Her research, part of a year-long study funded by a $12,500 grant from the Michigan Coastal Management Program, will produce two tangible results, and both will benefit a wide audience.

The first is an interpretive panel which will be built at Hoffmaster Park as an educational tool for the public.

The second result is the Lake Michigan Coastal Dune Web site, which will be hosted and maintained on Calvin's geology department server and likely launched in mid-October.

Both projects held unexpected challenges, Campbell admits.

She struggled with balancing the text and graphics for the interpretive panel, and came to the conclusion that, when dealing with public signage, concision is a virtue.

"Being able to use a lot of words to say something is a big luxury," she says.

Her finished panel will present the types of dunes and illustrate the effects of wind and seasonal factors over many years in shaping dunes.

One gratifying outcome of creating these two learning tools, she says, is that both of them are bringing fresh information to the public. While there are websites and other resources dealing with the ecology of the dunes, there is none dealing with what Campbell calls "the mechanics of the dunes."

Says Campbell: "The ways the dunes grow and change over the years are very unknown by the general public. What Professor van Dijk is doing is pretty revolutionary."

Van Dijk, who has done dune research in West Michigan since she came to Calvin six years ago, adds: "It is surprising that this stuff hadn't been studied before."

Campbell is interested in pursuing a master's degree in hydrogeology after graduation, studying groundwater which she calls an up-and-coming problem for the world.

She hopes to give a missions emphasis to her scholarly pursuit, either in the U.S. or abroad.

And she will continue to visit the dunes.

"I'd say I'm pretty entranced by them," she says. "My family does a lot of vacationing around dune environments, and I love telling them all about it. I look at them differently now."

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