Wayne State University
Back to Top

News and Announcements Archive

Krupp conducts research on, around, North Pole

December 8, 2015

Honors transfer student Katie Krupp got to experience a research opportunity so unique this fall that she needed to pack her warmest hat, gloves, scarf, and winter coat in order to do it.

Krupp, a Geology major, spent 10 weeks during the Fall 2015 semester aboard the United State Coastguard icebreaker USCGC Healy conducting research at the North Pole and in the Bering and Artic Seas with a team of scientists from US GEOTRACES. Her research included collecting water samples from the Bering and Artic Seas in order to measure the level of radioactive lead and polonium.

Krupp spent her time measuring the level of in-situ-lead-210 and polonium-210 in each of the 200 water samples she processed.

“Because they are a grandparent-granddaughter pair, we can find the ratio of the two and use their disequilibria to gain insight on physical or biogeochemical processes that may be responsible for the addition or reduction of one of these isotopes from the sample in question,” she said. “For example, a reduction in polonium-210 could result from particle scavenging by sediments or plankton in the water column.”

The team used a CTD rosette (see picture at left) to capture water samples from specific sampling stations from around the Bering and Artic sea. Samples were also taken from ice cores, snow, melted pond water, and from beneath the ice. “In terms of lab work, the isotopes are removed from dissolved water samples using a ferric chloride precipitation reaction, and from particulate matter and sediments using acid leaching methods. The final processed samples are electroplated onto silver planchets, which are then put into an alpha counter to measure polonium activity,” she explained.

“To measure the lead activity we removed the polonium from the samples using ion exchange columns and let the samples sit for six to twelve months before re-measuring the polonium in them, which allows for the polonium to decay from the lead in the sample,” she added.

She further explained her work.

“The overall mission of the GEOTRACES organization that I am working with is to understand the distribution and cycling of trace metals and isotopes in the World Ocean,” she explained. “So my part was to gather data on polonium and lead (in the Arctic and Bering Seas) so that we have a better understanding of their distribution in the Arctic, and consequently to contribute to the overall characterization of oceanographic and environmental process of the Arctic. This database that GEOTRACES is creating has applications related to climate science as well as anthropogenic (man-made) influences on the environment.”

Samples were gathered as soon as the USCGC Healy would arrive at the predetermined stations located in the Bering and Artic Seas. According to Krupp, sample gathering was at random times throughout the day. For example, samples at were gathered at 2 a.m. one day, and the next day would be at 5 p.m.

“Needless to say no one had a regular sleep schedule,” she said. “This wasn’t as bad as it sounds because we were also working under 24 hours of daylight for most of the trip, so it never seemed like we were working through the night even when we were.”  

While her visit to the actual North Pole was brief (they only spent a few days there because a full sampling location was stationed there), her team did make history by becoming the first ice breaker from the United States to go to the North Pole unaccompanied by an escorting icebreaker.

Krupp said living aboard the USCGC Healy was a “really interesting experience.” In addition to the outstanding food that was provided by the cooks, Krupp said there were special events to keep up the crew’s morale, including an open mic night, talent show, sumo wrestling competition, and a trivia night. She also said it was nice be to “unplugged” from social media and the internet, which was lost for a majority of the trip.

This wasn’t the first research she has done during her time at Wayne State. As an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Mark Baskaran’s lab in the Geology Department, Krupp determined the carbon footprint of Wayne State’s campus for an honors project, studied the population dynamics of a late successional forest in Southeast Michigan for her honors thesis, and measured the radon emanation of a suite of natural minerals and studied this emanation as a function of specific physical and mineralogical features of the minerals.

“I think the most valuable aspect of being an Honors Transfer Student has been the extra research projects required,” Krupp said about her time in the Honors College. “I was able to learn a great deal about this field of work by conducting my own research, and the experiences I have gained has definitely helped prepare me for my graduate research work.”