Research Funding Updates

Concentration-discharge behavior of dissolved and particulate metals in a mining impacted stream

Investigator: Elizabeth Herndon, 2017-2018, $31,548, Ohio Water Development Authority

Water resources in the United States are degraded by contamination from legacy mining operations. More than 5,000 miles of streams throughout eastern Ohio and the Appalachian coal region contain unnatural concentrations of acid, metals, and other dissolved substances that originate as acid mine drainage (AMD) from legacy mines. The goal of this study is to examine how concentrations of metal and acid contaminants vary as a function of stream discharge in an AMD-impacted stream in northeastern Ohio. In particular, we evaluate the potential for contaminants to be transported as dissolved solutes or as particles.

Acquisition of an X-ray diffractometer for environmental mineralogy and geochemistry

Investigator: David Singer, Co-Directors: Elizabeth Herndon, Jeremy Williams, 2017-2018, $126,459, National Science Foundation

Interactions between minerals, water, and biota shape the “Critical Zone”, the thin surface of the Earth’s crust that extends from groundwater to canopy and supports life. Anthropogenic perturbations of the Critical Zone (e.g., land use, contamination, climate change) impact soil geochemistry and influence the transport of nutrients and contaminants from soils into vegetation and river systems. Our objective is to establish analytical facilities that will support research and education in Environmental Mineralogy and Geochemistry in order to better evaluate human impacts on Critical Zone processes. NSF funds will facilitate ongoing research into 1. mineral weathering and metal cycling in ecosystems developed on coal mine waste and; 2. impacts of permafrost-thaw on metal and nutrient cycling in climate-sensitive tundra and boreal ecosystems.

Iron Geochemistry and Controls on Phosphorus Bioavailability in Northern Peatlands

Investigator: Elizabeth Herndon, 2016-2018, $100,567, National Science Foundation

Arctic and subarctic peatlands are highly sensitive ecosystems that are experiencing rapid changes in plant cover, permafrost thaw, and water saturation due to increasing annual temperatures. These changes are expected to increase organic matter decomposition and release greenhouse gases. Plant growth may sequester carbon in terrestrial ecosystems via photosynthesis and mitigate releases to the atmosphere over short time-scales, but the ability of increased plant growth to offset soil carbon losses is constrained by soil nutrient availability. In particular, the critical nutrient phosphorus may become increasingly limiting to plant growth as demand exceeds current supply; however, non-biological controls on phosphorus bioavailability remain a major knowledge gap for northern peatlands. In this study, we investigate geochemical controls on phosphorus bioavailability in high-latitude soils to evaluate the potential for tundra and boreal ecosystems to act as future sinks for atmospheric greenhouse gases. 

Application of carbide lime to abandoned coal mine spoil for a novel and inexpensive treatment of acid mine drainage

Investigator: David Singer, 2016-2018, $159,997, Ohio Development Services Agency

The proposed research is focused on mineralogical and geochemical transformations that occur when lime-based material interacts with historic coal mine spoil to answer the following hypothesis: application of a carbide lime slurry to historic mine spoil can stabilize soils and prevent leaching of acid and metals by precipitating cement-like solids within soils that sequester metals and neutralize acid. The objectives of the proposed work over the two years of the project are: (1) A laboratory-based study of the interaction of carbide lime slurry with historic coal mine spoil; and (2) A field-based pilot project to apply carbide slurry to two coal mine spoil-impacted hillsides and monitor surface and near-surface water quality. The expected outcome of this research is knowledge to guide coal mine spoil treatment in a cost-effective and efficient manner and to improve water quality in Ohio.  Abandoned mine spoil is often ignored during the treatment of historic AMD sources, however, this material can continue to contribute to the acid and metal loading to impaired waterways counteracting the effects of reclamation projects. The proposed will provide data that can be scaled up to AMD-impacted areas across the state and put into action using low-cost, readily-available materials. Treating non-point source AMD with an inexpensive treatment approach would cut down on the cost of coal-based energy and decrease environmental impact.  This would ultimately allow for using Ohio coal in a more environmentally acceptable manner while decreasing costs.

Impact of Vegetation on Metal Release from Soils Developed on Coal Mine Waste

Investigator: Elizabeth Herndon, 2015-2018, $24,000, Farris Family Innovation Award

This project will investigate how ecosystems can enhance or mitigate leaching of harmful metals from mine waste into surface water. Precipitation that flows through mine waste can interact with remnant sulfide minerals to generate acidity and leach heavy metals from soil minerals, counteracting costly stream restoration. Revegetation is a reclamation technique used to mitigate metal transport from soils developed on mine waste by stabilizing soils against erosion, reducing water infiltration, and storing toxic metals in plant biomass. In order to determine if restoration efforts will be successful, it is necessary to quantify metal loadings leached from refuse piles and evaluate how effectively vegetation sequesters metals within mine soils. This research will be conducted at Huff Run, an AMD-impacted watershed near Mineral City, OH, and is especially pertinent to regions throughout the Appalachians, where centuries of mining operations have left a legacy of mine waste that poses an ongoing hazard to ecosystem health and water quality.

Development of an expanded pigment spectral library for identification of phytoplankton by visible derivative spectroscopy

Investigators: Joseph Ortiz and Sushma Parab, Ohio Sea Grant

Stark Campus Acquisition of an Intuitive Multi-Touch Scanning Electron Microscope to Enhance Research as well as Undergraduate Student Research and Natural Science Courses

Investigators: Matthew Lehnert (Principal Investigator), Eric Taylor (Co-Principal Investigator), Jeremy Green (Co-Principal Investigator), Carrie Schweitzer (Co-Principal Investigator), Kim Finer (Co-Principal Investigator), 09/01/14 - 08/31/17  $161,039.00, Standard Grant NSF Major Research Instrumentation Program

This Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) award will fund the acquisition of a multi-functional scanning electron microscope (SEM) to support research and teaching initiatives at Kent State University at Stark. The JEOL SEM will accommodate innovative faculty research projects that span multiple disciplines, and deliver novel, hands-on research opportunities for the undergraduate students in our expanding science program. Researchers, educators, and students, including those at neighboring K-12 school systems with underrepresented groups, will have the opportunity to explore insect structures, bacteria, fossils, and minerals at the micro-scale with high-resolution, 3D images produced by the SEM. In addition, the remote control capabilities of the SEM will enhance science courses by allowing students to watch SEM usage in real time during lectures, via computers installed in the classroom.

Rock Mass Characterization and Stability Evaluation of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone, South Dakota

Primary Investigator on the project: Abdul Shakoor, 07/01/14 - 09/30/16, $25,000, United States Department of Interior National Park Service

Response of the Harmful Algal Species Microcystis (Cyanophyceae) to Variable Environmental Conditions

Primary Investigator on the project: Joseph Ortiz, Sushma Parab, Geology Department post-doc, 06/01/14 - 01/31/15, $9,999, Subaward Ohio State University /National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Ohio Sea Grant College Program M/D-1 HPLC-measured Pigment and Growth

Characterizing Stream Restoration's Water Quality Improvement Potential Through Hyporheic Enhancement

Primary Investigator on the project: Anne Jefferson, 03/01/14 - 02/28/15, $18,878, Subaward The Ohio State University /U.S. Geological Survey

Assessing the Effects of Green Infrastructure on Metals Concentrations in Stormwater Runoff

Primary Investigator on the project: Anne Jefferson,02/01/14 - 12/31/16, $3,998, Cleveland Metropolitan Park District

Bridging the Conceptual Divide Between Theoretical and Applied Environmental Chemistry

Primary Investigators on the project are Anne Jefferson, Liz Griffith, Joe Ortiz, and David Dees, NSF

We will be developing curriculum that uses water isotope data for several upper level Earth Science classes. We will be developing curriculum that enables students to run the Picarro Water Isotope Analyzer (in Anne Jefferson's lab) and analyze their own data in an effort to improve student understanding of course material. We will also be exploring ways to transfer our curricular activities to institutions that do not have isotope analytical capabilities.

Learn more about the project

Diversity in Fossil Decapod Crustacea Based Upon a Unique Species-Level Database

A 175 million year-old lobster from Arctic Canada. The animal has molted and shows all of the external skeleton as well as the internal skeleton.Dr. Schweitzer and Dr. Feldmann have been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study diversity, evolution and extinction in crabs, lobsters, and shrimps. The grant will fund the study of this economically important, diverse group of animals whose geologic history extends back 400 million years.

Kent State Geology Professor Carrie Schweitzer is the principal investigator on the project. She and co-principal investigator Rodney Feldmann, Professor Emeritus of Geology at Kent State, have worked together for 16 years, examining the evolutionary history of the Decapoda - crabs, lobsters, and shrimps. This study will provide the most comprehensive analysis of macroevolution of these crustaceans yet conducted, according to Schweitzer and Feldmann.

The pair plan to examine questions such as when these creatures first evolved, how have they diversified through time, how extinction events affected their diversity, and how has that impacted on their evolution.  "Looking at what happened to them in the past can help us to interpret what is happening now and what might happen in the future," Schweitzer said. "For example, it seems like lobsters were more diverse at different times in the past than they are now. Crabs predominate now, and we want to know why that is."  

The effect of climate, sea level, the abundance of coral reef, and the interactions between crabs, lobsters, and other animals are some of the issues the two plan to analyze.  "The majority of the grant money will go to paying Kent State undergraduate students to work with us on the project, inputting and analyzing data," Schweitzer explained. "It also will fund some research work in Europe to look at museum collections to gather data about the presence and absence of these animals at different periods of time."

The study has significance beyond classrooms and museums.  "Many of these are food animals, and we eat them as kind of luxuries," Schweitzer said. "But that's not true in other parts of the world, where they are main sources of food."

Photo Caption: Kent State University researchers have received a National Science Foundation grant to study diversity, evolution and extinction in crabs, lobsters and shrimps. Pictured is a 175 million year-old lobster from Arctic Canada. The animal has molted and shows all of the external skeleton as well as the internal skeleton.

Learn more about Kent State University Decapod Research