Investigators: Michael Gooseff (U Colorado), Diane McKnight (U Colorado), Peter Doran (Louisiana State U), John Priscu (U Montana), Christina Takacs-Vesbach (U New Mexico), Jeb Barrett (Virginia Tech), Byron Adams (Brigham Young U), Adrian Howkins (Bristol U), Shawn Devlin (Flathead Lake Research I)
Participants: Shasten Sherwell (MSc in progress), Parnell Sheldon (MSc in progress)
The McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV) is a polar desert on the coast of East Antarctica, a region that has not yet experienced climate warming. The McMurdo Dry Valleys Long Term Ecological Research (MCMLTER) project has documented the ecological responses of the glacier, soil, stream and lake ecosystems in the MDV during a cooling trend (from 1986 to 2000) which was associated with the depletion of atmospheric ozone. In the past decade, warming events with strong katabatic winds occurred during two summers and the resulting high streamflows and sediment deposition changed the dry valley landscape, possibly presaging conditions that will occur when the ozone hole recovers. In anticipation of future warming in Antarctica, the overarching hypothesis of the proposed project is: Climate warming in the McMurdo Dry Valley ecosystem will amplify connectivity among landscape units leading to enhanced coupling of nutrient cycles across landscapes, and increased biodiversity and productivity within the ecosystem. Warming in the MDV is hypothesized to act as a slowly developing, long-term press of warmer summers, upon which transient pulse events of high summer flows and strong katabatic winds will be overprinted. Four specific hypotheses address the ways in which pulses of water and wind will influence contemporary and future ecosystem structure, function and connectivity. Because windborne transport of biota is a key aspect of enhanced connectivity from katabatic winds, new monitoring will include high-resolution measurements of aeolian particle flux. Importantly, integrative genomics will be employed to understand the responses of specific organisms to the increased connectivity. The project will also include a novel social science component that will use environmental history to examine interactions between human activity, scientific research, and environmental change in the MDV over the past 100 years.