What Are They Doing?
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).
Where Are They?
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.
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.