$1.6 Million Keck Foundation Grant to Fund UMaine Climate Change Research Advances

Contact: Joe Carr at (207) 581-3571

ORONO, Me. — The William M. Keck Foundation will provide a $1.6 million grant to fund continued groundbreaking scientific research in the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. The funds will support a project, “Major Advances in the Field of Climate Change Reconstruction Using Ice Cores,” which will revolutionize climate science. The project will build on UMaine’s ongoing research aimed at developing a global array of ice cores for use in studying historical climate change, in better understanding the Earth’s environment and in creating sound hypotheses related to the planet’s climate future. Prof. Paul Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute, is the project leader.

Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company.  The Foundation’s grantmaking is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research, science and engineering.  The Foundation also maintains a program to support undergraduate science and humanities education and a Southern California Grant Program that provides support in the areas of healthcare, civic and community services, education and the arts, with a special emphasis on children and youth. 

“The William M. Keck Foundation has a 54-year history of supporting the kinds of high-quality scientific inquiries that revolutionize the ways in which we view the world around us,” says UMaine President Robert Kennedy. “We are honored to be associated with the Foundation and we are most appreciative of the faith the foundation’s staff and leadership have shown in the ability of Prof. Mayewski and his colleagues to advance scientific knowledge in this critical field of study.”

Kennedy also noted that faculty researchers from several UMaine academic areas, including Laboratory for Surface Science Technology (LASST) director Prof. Robert Lad, will play important roles in the project.

UMaine scientists have been involved in ice core research for decades. Their work, funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, involves the extraction of ice from polar regions around the world. By examining the chemical composition at intervals along the ice core, scientists can reconstruct climate history over centuries and they can monitor current climate conditions in critical regions. In this work, UMaine scientists have leadership roles in collaborative projects involving researchers from around the U.S. and countries throughout Europe, South America and Asia.

“This research is both critical and time-sensitive,” Mayewski says. “In some regions, these invaluable records are literally melting away. Because of this generous grant from the Keck Foundation, we will be able to accelerate this research and move toward realizing our vision of establishing the complete and robust record necessary to gain a thorough understanding of the Earth’s climate history. Ice cores are the only means by which we can study climate history on a meaningful scale, looking at thousands of years of verifiable records. They are essential to understanding the past and applying its lessons to the examination of issues related to the contemporary environment and society’s future.”

Because of 30-plus years of ice core research, Mayewski notes, scientists have a dramatically improved understanding of climate systems and the impact of human behavior on our environment.

The Keck Foundation funding will allow the UMaine scientists to expand their research capabilities in two specific ways:

  • through the purchase and adaptation of a laser ablation inductively coupled plasma spectrometer (LA-ICP-MS), technology that allows for “rapid, continuous, high resolution sampling of ice core chemistry,” increasing the scientists’ capabilities with regard to chemical sampling and core assessment;
  • through the development of new ice core measuring capability by developing prototype chemical sensors to be embedded in an ice core drill, along with a “disposable” GPS system that will allow for on-site sampling in hazardous environments and for monitoring changes in glaciers.

Scientists in UMaine’s LASST laboratory will lead the development of the sensor technology. Some 13 UMaine academic personnel, representing CCI, LASST and several academic departments, will participate in the project.