Tough Tardigrades


A PDF is now available of Josh Heward's presentation on "Tough Tardigrades". You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives site:

What Are They Doing?

A view looking up Taylor Valley. Lake Hoare, Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Photo by Robin Ellwood.A view looking up Taylor Valley. Lake Hoare, Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Photo by Robin Ellwood. The McMurdo Dry Valleys Long-Term Ecological Research (MCM LTER) Program is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary study of the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in an ice-free region of Antarctica. MCM joined the National Science Foundation's LTER Network in 1993 and is funded through the Office of Polar Programs in six year funding periods. The McMurdo Dry Valleys (77°30'S 163°00'E) on the shore of McMurdo Sound, 2,200 miles (3,500 km) due south of New Zealand, form the largest relatively ice-free area (approximately 4,800 sq km) on the Antarctic continent. These ice-free areas of Antarctica display a sharp contrast to most other ecosystems in the world, which exist under far more moderate environmental conditions. 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. The dry valleys represent a region where life approaches its environmental limits, and is an end-member in the spectrum of environments included in the LTER Network. The overarching goal of MCM LTER research is to document and understand how ecosystems respond to environmental changes.

Where Are They?

Crary Lab at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo by Sarah Diers.Crary Lab at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo by Sarah Diers. We are based out of McMurdo Station and spend time between the Crary Laboratory and the field camps in Taylor Valley. The field camps include F6 camp, Fryxell camp, and Hoare camp.

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are located on the western coast of McMurdo Sound and form the largest relatively ice-free area on the Antarctic continent. The perennially ice-covered lakes, frozen alpine glaciers, and extensive areas of exposed soil and permafrost within the McMurdo Dry Valleys are subject to low temperatures, limited snowfall, and salt accumulation.

Expedition Map


Family Reunion in Christchurch
My PolarTREC adventure is coming to a close. My family flew into Christchurch today and we had a happy reunion at the airport. We are going to spend a few days together in New Zealand before returning to our daily lives at home in Utah. It feels so good to be with them, especially since our typical family time during the holidays was cut so short this year. They have been great at supporting me during this expedition. This is our first time outside of the United States as a family and we are excited for this new adventure. The Heward family is reunited at the Christchurch airport after Josh...
Inside a C-17
Delays? Of course there are. Our plane was scheduled to leave New Zealand this morning at 9:00. In typical Antarctic fashion we woke up to a four hour weather delay. At 1:00 PM there was another delay rumored to be mechanical in nature. Around 2:45 PM we finally received word that the plane had left Christchurch. Four hours later we loaded onto the Kress for the hour-long drive to the new Phoenix Airfield. There was a lot of enthusiasm on board the Kress; people are excited to be going home after a long field season that for many started in October. The Kress is used for transporting large...
Castle Rock and Mount Erebus
The routine has been broken. Our typical McMurdo schedule of long days in the lab has come to a close. We spent a day and a half cleaning up the lab in preparation for lab checkout. The lab is now empty, all of the borrowed equipment has been returned to the stockroom, and the C-507 (C-507 is the soil team's event number) equipment has been placed back in the wood boxes to be transported back up to the "line". The "line" is the place where all of the station supplies and equipment are stored. It consists of many rows of containers on pallets and shipping containers and it is located on the...
Dr. Chu Teaching at Arrival Heights
We were invited to visit the Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) facility on Arrival Heights by Xinzhao Chu today. Arrival Heights is an important place for atmospheric research. LIDAR is just one of the experiments happening there. Dr. Chu and her student Zhengyu (Harry) Hua showed us the LIDAR system that they use to make measurements of the mesosphere. Dr. Xinzhao Chu tells a group of wormherders about the research projects happening at Arrival Heights near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. LIDAR The LIDAR system in McMurdo uses two separate lasers and telescopes to make measurements. Each...
Hello everyone. This is just a quick post about today's PolarConnect event. Byron and I had a great time visiting with you and we were impressed by all of the great questions. I will update this post with all of your unanswered questions from the PolarConnect message thread as soon as I get the transcript from today's session. Our internet connection fell apart right at the end of the session so we didn't hear all of your questions. Please feel free to post questions here and we will answer them. Thank you, -Josh

Expedition Resources

Project Information

26 December 2016 to 12 February 2017
Location: McMurdo Station and Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: Tough Tards: The biodiversity and ecological role of tardigrades in Antarctic soil ecosystems, and how they can serve as a model organism for engaging 7-12 grade science students.

Meet the Team

Joshua Heward's picture
Timpanogos High School
Orem, UT
United States

Josh Heward teaches Zoology, Biotechnology and AP Biology at Timpanogos High School in Orem, Utah, where he shares his passion for biology by involving his students in authentic research experiences. He has helped his students participate in research projects on behavioral ecology of black bears, biodiversity of tardigrades, symbiotic relationships of nitrogen-fixing bacteria and legumes, and sequencing the genome of a halophilic microbe in the Great Salt Lake. He is excited to involve his students in Antarctic research though PolarTREC. In addition to his love for teaching, Josh enjoys backpacking, skiing, bird watching, hunting, playing board games and spending time with his wife and daughter.

Byron Adams's picture
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT
United States

Byron is an evolutionary ecologist in the Department of Biology at Brigham Young University where he teaches Biology, Molecular Biology, and Evolutionary Biology classes. Byron’s approach to understanding biology involves inferring evolutionary and ecological processes from patterns in nature. His most recent projects involve fieldwork in Antarctica, where he and his colleagues on the McMurdo Long Term Ecological Research project are studying the relationship between biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and climate change. Byron gets stoked about science education and loves interacting with K-12 students and teachers. When he’s not freezing his butt off in the McMurdo Dry Valleys or southern Transantarctic Mountains, he likes spending time with his family and friends in Utah’s wild places.

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Latest Comments

Hello, where can I get the counting dish?
Loved the advice! This definitely motivates me to want to peruse a career in science! And what a great final journal entry for an unforgettable experience!
I appreciated reading your fellow arctic adventurers advice. Mr. Heward, do you have any advice for life after graduation?
How closely related are nematodes to tape worms? I would like to know how closely related I am to a nematode.
Do Rotifers and Nematodes survive extreme conditions similarly to how Tardigrades do? Like can they survive years and years and years just being curled up in a little ball and then come back to life...