McMurdo Dry Valleys Long term Ecological Research Project
Project DescriptionThe 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 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. 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. Thus, 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 dry valleys, unlike most other ecosystems, are dominated by microorganisms, mosses, lichens, and relatively few groups of invertebrates; higher forms of life are virtually non-existent. The original objectives of the McMurdo LTER were to understand the influence of physical and biological constraints on the structure and function of dry valley ecosystems and to understand the modifying effects of material transport on these ecosystems. Now in the third funding cycle, we are poised to answer more complex questions about biodiversity, the impact of climatic legacies, and ecosystem structure and function.
Areas of research covered are meteorology, glaciology, streams, limnology and soil ecology.