The McMurdo Dry Valleys Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) project is an interdisciplinary study of the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in a cold desert region of Antarctica. The McMurdo LTER project is one of 21 sites comprising the National Science Foundation’s LTER Network, where scientists conduct long-term ecological research in a broad array of ecosystems. Dr. Doran studies the lakes of the Dry Valleys. His team collects long-term data on the physical and chemical conditions within the lakes and relates them to biological diversity and processes. Ms. Ellwood was part of a SCUBA diving crew working under the lake ice to collect information about the conditions on the bottom of the lake (benthos).
The McMurdo Dry Valleys are located on the western coast of McMurdo Sound (77°00'S 162°52'E) and form the largest relatively ice-free area (approximately 4800 square kilometers) on the Antarctic continent. The perennially ice-covered lakes, ephemeral streams, and extensive areas of exposed soil within the McMurdo Dry Valleys are subject to low temperatures, limited precipitation, and salt accumulation. Thus, the dry valleys represent a region where life approaches its environmental limits. The dry valleys are dominated by microorganisms, mosses, lichens, and relatively few groups of invertebrates; higher forms of life are virtually non-existent.
Robin Ellwood has always had an affinity for the outdoors. Her passion for environmental systems led her to pursue a degree in Zoology from the University of New Hampshire. One of her favorite experiences was participating in a summer program at the Isles of Shoals Marine Laboratory in the Gulf of Maine where she took an Underwater Research course. This experience, coupled with her teaching experience as a SCUBA instructor, sparked a desire to become a science teacher. Upon completing a Masters Degree in Science Education, Ms. Ellwood forged a loyal relationship with Rye Junior High School in the seacoast town of Rye, New Hampshire. She has been teaching 8th grade science there ever since, and is currently working on a Ph.D. in science education. Ms. Ellwood’s goal is to bring the spirit of life-long learning to her students and to create innovative field research opportunities for students.
Peter Doran is an associate professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and active research scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a veteran of numerous expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic studying climate and ecosystem change. Ms. Ellwood worked with Dr. Doran’s Antarctic research team in 2004.