EAGER: Are the Dry Valleys Getting Wetter? A Preliminary Assessment of Wetness Across the McMurdo Dry Valleys Landscape
Until recently, wetted soils in the Dry Valleys were generally only found adjacent to streams and lakes. Since the warm austral summer of 2002, numerous ?wet spots? have been observed far from shorelines on relatively flat valley floor locations and as downslope fingers of flow on valley walls. The source of the water to wet these soils is unclear, as is the spatial and temporal pattern of occurrence from year to year. Their significance is potentially great as enhanced soil moisture may change the thermodynamics, hydrology, and erosion rate of surface soils, and facilitate transport of materials that had previously been stable. These changes to the soil active layer could significantly modify permafrost and ground ice stability within the Dry Valleys. The PIs seek to investigate these changes to address two competing hypotheses: that the source of water to these ?wet spots? is ground ice melt and that the source of this water is snowmelt. The PIs will document the spatiotemporal dynamics of these wet areas using high frequency remote sensing data from Quickbird and Wordview satellites to document the occurrence, dimensions, and growth of wet spots during the 2010-Â11 and 2011-Â12 austral summers. They will test their hypotheses by determining whether wet spots recur in the same locations in each season, and they will compare present to past distribution using archived imagery. They will also determine whether spatial snow accumulation patterns and temporal ablation patterns are coincident with wet spot formation.
One graduate student will be trained on this project. Findings will be reported at scientific meetings and published in peer reviewed journals. They will also develop a teaching module on remote sensing applications to hydrology for the Modular Curriculum for Hydrologic Advancement and an innovative prototype project designed to leverage public participation in mapping wet spots and snow patches across the Dry Valleys through the use of social media and mobile computing applications.
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