GV professor receives grant to study climate change


Ian Winkelstern’s research revealed what historic temperatures were like around the world. The grant study provides an idea of what global climate may become. COURTESY | GVSU

Sarah Edgecomb, News Editor

When not teaching classes, Grand Valley State University professors often delve into projects, from writing books to creating new art. For affiliate professor of geology Ian Winkelstern, these projects involve traveling to collect and test fossil samples. Winkelstern and a team of Michigan State University researchers recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study climate change on the east coast. This fall, Winkelstern and two to three students will travel to the Carolinas to collect, prepare and test fossils.

Winkelstern said his latest study in Bermuda produced data suggesting historically cold temperatures, which the current climate may reflect. These studies in Bermuda inspired the upcoming research to further dig into how the global climate may be affected in the future. The NSF grant study aims to predict climate change compared to historical climate patterns.

“It will allow us to… put real numbers on how global climate change in the past has affected regions,” Winkelstern said. “That can kind of help us make more informed decisions in the future and also can help folks that make climate models, for example.”

Winkelstern elaborated that in order to fully understand historic climate change, climate models are necessary — but with temperature records only dating back to about 1850, these models need even older temperatures to be accurate. His studies aim to complete these records and lead to more precise models.

MSU doctorate student Jade Zhang joined Winkelstern on the Bermuda study, supplementing her studies into the region’s climate. Her experience may reflect the educational enrichment that GVSU students can get from participating in the study.

Zhang emphasized that Winkelstern’s knowledge of the geography of Bermuda was a “great help,” and that one of their analyses is the first to be done.

While there is no current application process, Winkelstern said he will be looking for geology students who are willing to dig into the field and wade through river banks to find samples. After collection, students may also be involved in testing.

“Students could potentially be involved in all three phases there,” Winkelstern said. “The collection of it, the actual preparing and cleaning up of the samples and then also even the chemical analysis.”

The application process for the grant was submitted in Oct. 2018, involving a “lengthy and complicated” 15-page research proposal detailing funding and how the study will create a broader impact, including how participating students may be benefited. 

“The grant that we got funded is kind of a way to learn more about how the East Coast of the United States — the Atlantic Ocean — has responded to climate change in the past, and then that can inform us about what we might be about to experience in the future,” Winkelstern said. 

“I hope it’s exciting for the campus community at large, it’s an opportunity for students to kind of engage with hopefully some cutting-edge climate change work,” he said. “We should get some really interesting data out of it, too.”

Students interested in participating in the study should reach out to Winkelstern for more information.