Polar Vortex inspires NSF-funded research idea


For Department of Geology chair Mark Baskaran, Michigan’s recent Polar Vortex brought more than just a couple of welcome days at home — it sparked a research idea. 

Inspired by the frigid weather, Baskaran wondered what environmental secrets lie in the ice coating Lake St. Clair. Specifically, he wanted to know what concentrated materials — atmospheric and sediment — could be found in the ice that forms near the shore of a body of water. 

Baskaran immediately called the National Science Foundation (NSF) and was thrilled when they expressed interest. The next day, Baskaran and a team of students trudged out to a frozen Lake St. Clair to collect ice samples and the rest was history. 

The NSF’s Grants for Rapid Response Research (RAPID) program awarded Baskaran $117,000 for his project titled "RAPID: Investigating the incorporation of elements into ice in Lake St. Clair during extreme weather conditions: an analogy for chemical cycling in the Arctic Ocean.” 

According to Baskaran, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where scientists can use Lake St. Clair as a proxy for the Arctic Ocean. 

“This grant will allow us to get insight on how particle-reactive species such as radioactive lead get incorporated into ice in the Arctic Ocean,” he says. “We found concentrations of radioactive lead to be up to 100 times higher in the Arctic, and we've been investigating how this lead got into the sea ice.” 

WSU researchers will continue to collect snow and atmospheric aerosols throughout the season to better understand deposition of isotopes to ice and lake surfaces.

The award number for this NSF grant is 1923014. For more information about the NSF, visit nsf.gov.

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