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: https://www.polartrec.com/polar-connect/archive

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.

Latest Journals

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…
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…
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…
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…
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.
Joshua Heward - Teacher
Timpanogos High School

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 - Researcher
Brigham Young University

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.

Tough Tardigrades Resources


Students will collect soil samples and analyze them with some of the same procedures used by researchers in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Soil microfauna (e.g. nematodes) will be extracted from the samples using a Baermann funnel. Students will compare their own data to published data from researchers working in Antarctica.


  • Collect and analyze soil samples for
About a week
High school and Up
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Students will collect tardigrades from lichen or moss cushions and then use a dichotomous key to identify the tardigrades by family.


Collect, capture, and observe tardigrades found in local lichen or moss cushions. Use a dichotomous key to identify tardigrades by family.

Lesson Preparation

  • Print copies of the Key to Limno-Terrestrial Tardigrade Families and Tardigrade Identification Worksheet in
Less than a week
Middle School and Up
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Benefits of a Field Experience

PolarTREC has been an amazing experience, wow! The heart of the PolarTREC program is the field expedition, which allows the teacher to be embedded in a field research team. STEM educators are passionate about what they teach but often lack access to meaningful opportunities to participate in basic research. Programs like PolarTREC provide that missing

All Aged
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Teacher Josh Heward discusses research with the "Tough Tardigrades Team" in the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica where they search for tardigrades and other microorganisms that live in the soil.