Local meteorology drives and shapes all ecological systems. One of the first objectives of the McMurdo LTER was to establish a meteorological network that would gather representative weather data year-round from the dry valleys. The McMurdo LTER Automatic Weather Network (LAWN) now consists of 14 permanent stations.
Glaciers cover about one third of the McMurdo Dry Valleys. These large reservoirs of water can be released through melting by relatively minor climatic changes, and they and are fundamental to the hydrology and biology of the valleys because they are the only significant source of water to the valley streams and lakes.
Numerous ephemeral streams link the glaciers and lakes within the dry valleys for 6 to 14 weeks during the austral summer. These glacial meltwater streams recharge the dry valley lakes and are important sources of nutrients to the lakes. The McMurdo LTER has in place an extensive network of gauging stations where streamflow is continuously measured throughout the austral summer.
The MCM lakes program is focused on understanding the ecosystem structure and function of the microbe-dominated lakes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, where few metazoans exist within the water columns. Specifically, this project collects long-term data on the physical and chemical conditions within the lakes and relates them to biological diversity and rate processes.
The Dry Valley soils account for the majority of the valley surface area. Although the soils are up to five million years old, profiles are generally poorly developed. Despite a general appearance of uniformity, Antarctic soils have a high degree of spatial and temporal heterogeneity in soil properties, hydrologic regimes, and biological composition, which we are relating to the general biological productivity of the dry valleys.
The McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV), Antarctica experience extreme environmental conditions including low temperatures, minimal available water, and intense ultraviolet radiation inputs. As a consequence, this is a microbially dominated ecosystem; higher plants and animals are absent.
Numerical models are used extensively in studies of natural systems for a variety of reasons – for example, to determine rates of biogeochemical processes, or to predict runoff from storm or snowmelt events.
Overview: Integrating Science and Society. In 1903, Captain Scott and his two companions became the first humans ever to see the McMurdo Dry Valleys in East Antarctica. Since then, relatively few people have ever visited the region, and the majority of these visitors have been involved in scientific activity.