Using historical airphotos and maps, we measured amounts of bluff-top retreat at 300 locations along 30 km of the Lake Michigan shoreline from Wilmette to Waukegan, Illinois. For two time periods, 1872–1937 and 1937–1987, rates of retreat vary from 10 to 75 cm/yr between discrete segments of bluffs (defined by lithology) and between time periods for a given bluff segment. The average retreat rates for the entire area, however, do not vary significantly between the two time periods and are approximately 20–25 cm/yr. Long-term average and short-term extreme lake levels and precipitation also do not vary significantly between the two periods, and thus local temporal variations in retreat rate cannot be attributed to these factors. Shore protection built to date may have altered the spatial distribution of retreat rates in the area but has had little overall effect on the average regional retreat rates. Local rate variations correlate closely with lithologic variations of the glacial materials exposed in the bluff, which consist of clay tills and outwash silts, sands, and gravels. The temporally constant regional retreat rates and the regular shape of the local shoreline indicate that a long-term uniform rate of retreat prevails and that local variations in rates balance out through time to produce long-term parallel (in map view) bluff retreat in the area. This parallel retreat probably is controlled by the uniform retreat rate of the lithologically homogeneous shoreface in front of the bluff.

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