The NMU Forensic Research Outdoor Station (FROST) is one of nine outdoor forensic anthropology research facilities in the world. The first facility like FROST was founded at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, TN, in 1981, by Forensic Anthropologist Dr. William Bass. Since then, other facilities have been established at Western Carolina University (Cullowhee, NC), Colorado Mesa University (Grand Junction, CO), Texas State University (San Marcos, TX), Sam Houston State University (Huntsville, TX), Southern Illinois State University (Carbondale, IL), and the University of South Florida (Tampa, FL). There is also a similar facility at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.
All of these facilities are primarily associated with forensic anthropology, but in reality their purpose is twofold: 1) to provide outdoor, climate-specific research and educational facilities to advance forensic science and related disciplines, and 2) to build modern, fully documented skeletal samples for the advancement of methods related to forensic anthropology. Each facility operates as a body donation program, meaning all of the human remains that are studied at these facilities have been specifically donated to the individual programs by the donors themselves or by their next-of-kin for this type of research. All of the facilities curate permanent skeletal collections that are used to train aspiring forensic anthropologists.
Research on human taphonomy (the study of all of the processes that affect a human body after death, including insects and other scavengers, temperature, moisture, etc.) has demonstrated that the condition of human remains be greatly affected by environmental conditions. For that reason, it is important for forensic scientists who study the postmortem interval and human taphonomy to have access to facilities that represent different climates.
FROST is the first outdoor research facility to be located at a northern latitude, which makes it unique. At FROST, scientists and students will have the opportunity to conduct research on the effects of cold temperatures, significant snow accumulation, and the freeze-thaw cycle on human decomposition and taphonomy.
Research conducted at FROST and similar facilities is important to forensic science because it helps scientists develop methods for determining the postmortem interval (time since death) and analyzing the effects of the local environment on the taphonomic factors mentioned above. Knowledge generated from this research helps law enforcement, medical examiners/coroners, the legal community, and other scientists in their efforts to solve crimes. Many crimes would go unsolved without the involvement of forensic scientists who analyze evidence that leads to the identification of victims or suspects.