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Geology faculty member studying climate change through National Science Foundation grant

  • Ian Winkelstern, affiliate professor of geology

Posted on July 10, 2019

A Grand Valley faculty member is part of a team of researchers receiving a National Science Foundation grant to study climate change by examining warm climates in the geologic past.

Ian Winkelstern, affiliate professor of geology, and a group of students are joining researchers from the University of Michigan to study fossils from areas along the East Coast, Bermuda and the Bahamas to help gauge the potential warming of ocean temperatures and potential outcomes. The combined award for the collaborative grant is nearly $450,000.

The group will examine well-preserved mollusks from a period that ended about 116,000 years ago when sea surface temperatures were slightly warmer than today and sea levels were higher, Winkelstern said. Studying the rings of growth of snails, for instance, gives insight into the temperature and chemistry of the water they inhabited.

"When you really want to understand long-term patterns and outcomes you have to go back in the geologic record," Winkelstern said.

In geologic terms, this time period is recent — given that scientists work with dinosaur fossils that are at least 65 million years old — so the shells should be in good enough shape to even pinpoint temperature variations in seasons, he said. He and the students he brings on expeditions will likely only need a pick and hammer to unearth their samples.

Besides taking undergraduate students on trips to collect the mollusks, Winkelstern will also offer students an opportunity to clean and prepare for research the shells, rocks and other materials obtained from the field.

Showing the opportunities that Grand Valley would provide for undergraduate research was an important part of applying for the grant, Winkelstern noted.