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McMurdo Dry Valleys Long Term Ecological Research Site

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Increased Connectivity in a Polar Desert Resulting from Climate Warming: McMurdo Dry Valley LTER Program  (University of Colorado at Boulder)

Research Focus & Benefits

The McMurdo Dry Valleys Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site is on McMurdo Sound’s western coast, amid the largest, relatively ice-free area on the Antarctic continent. With its low temperatures, limited precipitation and salt accumulation, the dry valleys region is one where life approaches its environmental limits.

The original objectives of the McMurdo LTER were to understand the influence of physical and biological constraints on the structure and function of dry valley ecosystems and the effects of erosion and other kinds of material transport. As the work evolved, the objectives expanded to include more complex questions about biodiversity, the impact of climatic legacies and ecosystem structure and function.

All ecosystems are dependent upon liquid water and shaped to varying degrees by climate and material transport, but nowhere is this more apparent than in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. In few places on this planet are there environments where minor changes in climate so dramatically affect the capabilities of organisms to grow and reproduce. Indeed, the data LTER researchers collect indicate that the dry valleys are very sensitive to small variations in solar radiation and temperature and that this site may well be an important natural regional-scale laboratory for studying responses to human alterations of climate. While the Antarctic ice sheets respond to climate change on the order of thousands of years, the glaciers, streams and ice-covered lakes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys respond to change almost immediately. Thus, in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, the first effects of climate change in Antarctica should be observable.

Education & Outreach

The McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER engages school groups and the public through a variety of ways to promote learning about long-term ecological processes and the earth's ecosystems. In the McMurdo Dry Valleys Schoolyard LTER, scientists provide technical support and sampling equipment to support ecology lessons at Ohio alternative high school.

As part of the LTER children’s book series, McMurdo scientist Diane McKnight wrote The Lost Seal, the story of one seal's travels in the Antarctic desert. The story provides an engaging framework for conveying how Antarctica and the Dry Valleys are different from the environments children are familiar with. It contains original artwork by children from 19 elementary schools throughout the world. The Lost Seal website contains over 400 pieces of original artwork, photos of the dry valleys and video of the actual lost seal.

In blogs from the field, McMurdo LTER team members share stories about their life and research activities in Antarctica. Seventy-Seven Degrees South, an online educational journal about research and life in Antarctica, contains journals, photos, information about the dry valleys and a glossary of terms.

McMurdo members also present their research at a variety of schools, community groups and public forums, highlighting LTER activities and the importance of long-term ecological data and a multidisciplinary approach.

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  • Photo of field work at McMurdo Station
  • Photo of field work at McMurdo Station
  • Photo of field work at McMurdo Station
  • Photo of field work at McMurdo Station
  • Photo of field work at McMurdo Station
  • Photo of field work at McMurdo Station
McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER site
Amy Chiuchiolo ©2006 McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER
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Scientists at work on the Von Guerard stream.
Barb Woods ©2006 McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER
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Scientists at work on the Von Guerard stream.
Barb Woods ©2006 McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER
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Pulling the sled on the frozen surface of Lake Hoare
Amy Chiuchiolo ©2006 McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER
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Pulling the sled on the ATV over frozen lake ice
Amy Chiuchiolo ©2006 McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER
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Rachael Morgan-Kiss prepares the PNF-300 Profiling Natural Fluorometer for deployment in Lake Hoare.
Amy Chiuchiolo ©2006 McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER
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