Collaborative Research: THE MCMURDO DRY VALLEYS: A landscape on the Threshold of Change
Collaborative Research: THE MCMURDO DRY VALLEYS: A Landscape on the Threshold of Change is supported by the Antarctic Integrated System Science (AISS) program in the Antarctic Sciences Section of the Division of Polar Programs within the Geosciences Directorate of the National Sciences Foundation (NSF). The funds will support the collection of state-of-the-art high resolution LIDAR (combining the terms light and radar) imagery of the Dry Valleys of Antarctica in the 2014/2015 Antarctic field season, with LIDAR data collection and processing being provided by the NSF-supported NCALM (National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping) facility. LIDAR images collected in 2014/2015 will be compared to images from 2001 in order to detect decadal change. Additional fieldwork will look at the distribution of buried massive ice, and the impacts that major changes like slumping are having on the biota. All field data will be used to improve models on energy balance, and hydrology.
Intellectual Merit: There have been dramatic changes over the past decade in the McMurdo Dry Valleys: rivers are incising by more than three meters, and thermokarst slumps are appearing near several streams and lakes. These observations have all been made by researchers in the field, but none of the changes have been mapped on a valley-wide scale. This award will provide a new baseline map for the entire Dry Valley system, with high-resolution imagery provided for the valley floors, and lower resolution imagery available for the higher elevation areas that are undergoing less change. The project will test the idea that sediment-covered ice is associated with the most dramatic changes, due to differential impacts of the increased solar radiation on sediment-covered compared to clean ice, and despite the current trend of slightly cooling air temperatures within the Dry Valleys. Information collected on the topography, coupled with the GPR determined buried ice distributions, will also be incorporated into improved energy and hydrological models. In addition to providing the new high-resolution digital elevation model (DEM), the project will ultimately result in identification of areas that are susceptible to sediment-enhanced melt-driven change, providing a powerful prediction tool for the impacts of climate change.
Broader Impacts: The new DEM will be immediately useful to a wide range of disciplines, and will provide a comprehensive new baseline against which future changes will be compared. The project will provide a tool for the whole community to use, and the investigators will work with the community to make them aware of the new assets via public presentations, and perhaps via a workshop. The map will have international interest, and will also serve as a tool for environmental managers to draw on as they consider conservation plans. Several undergraduate and graduate students will participate in the project, and one of the co-PIs is a new investigator. The imagery collected is expected to be of interest to the general public in addition to scientific researchers, and venues for outreach such as museum exhibits and the internet will be explored. The proposed work is synergistic with 1) the co-located McMurdo LTER program, and 2) the NCALM facility that is also funded by the Geosciences Directorate.
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