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Several IPY projects study water within the Land system. Here are some examples profiling
in the Antarctic:
• Antarctic Peninsula
• Dry Valleys
in the Arctic:
• Soil Moisture
• Arctic Char
Hydrology in the Antarctic Peninsula
Unlike in other parts of Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula is considered a humid polar region in which precipitation may reach values close to 800 mm per year. This relatively high precipitation regime influences enormously the non-marine biological activity, such that in this region the limiting factor might not be the liquid water availability, but temperature.
The abundant liquid water during Austral summer is organized in a complex drainage network, in which numerous lakes, ponds, and streams cover the land surface. An example of this typical landscape is Byers Peninsula (Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands) in which over a hundred water bodies can be found in the largest ice-free area in the maritime Antarctica (over 60 km2):
The LIMNOPOLAR programme is an international project aimed to study Byers Peninsula from a multidisciplinary point of view, with particular reference to the non-marine aquatic ecosystems. The high precipitation regime in Byers Peninsula makes life quite prominent and in some areas green felts of mosses, vascular plants and cyanobacterial mats cover most of the available surface:
In the same way, the biological diversity in the area is probably the largest in all the White Continent, including the two dipteran species, the two vascular plants and numerous mosses and lichens species.
One of the objectives of our work is to study the hydrology of the area, which appears to be quite different to the hydrology of other areas in Antarctica, such as the McMurdo Dry Valleys (described above). The Antarctic Peninsula is, together with some areas of the Arctic, one of the regions on Earth where climate change is more intense. If Climate Change modifies the precipitation regime, as is forecast, this variation will modify the hydrological dynamics of the whole ecosystem, including both surface and groundwater, in very intimate relationship, since water availability and freeze-thawing cycles and depth of the permafrost’s active layer will be altered. This alteration will modify with no doubt the ecological characteristics and functioning of the different aquatic ecosystems.
Many thanks to Antonio Quesada, from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, for text and images (including main image).
Hydrology in the Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Courtesy of the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long Term Ecological Research Program
The McMurdo Dry Valleys are the coldest and driest desert system in the world and represent 2% of the Antarctic Continent that is free of ice. This polar desert is a configuration of barren ground, alpine, terminal, and piedmont glaciers, and ephemeral streams. The high winds and bitter cold (average air temperature of -20ºC) extremely dry climate, and seasons of complete darkness or complete light create a harsh environment for life. In 1903 when Robert Falcon Scott and his party from the Discovery Expedition discovered the Dry Valleys, they referred to them as the “Valley of the Dead.” Of course now, thanks to some dedicated researchers, we know that the Dry Valleys are full of life, its just really little.
"We have seen no living thing, not even a moss or lichen."
- Robert F. Scott, 1903
"On first inspection the habitat seems as sterile as the surface of autoclaved glassware... but the trained eye, aided by a microscope, sees otherwise."
- E.O. Wilson, The Future of Life, 2002
Numerous ephemeral streams link the glaciers and lakes within the dry valleys for 6 to 14 weeks during the austral summer. These glacial meltwater streams recharge the dry valley lakes and are important sources of nutrients to the lakes. The McMurdo LTER has in place an extensive network of gauging stations where streamflow is continuously measured throughout the austral summer. To quantitatively describe the relationship between climate and flow in the glacial meltwater streams that feed the lakes, streamflow measurements are being used in conjunction with data on climatic conditions to develop a watershed scale model of ecological dynamics in Taylor Valley. Additionally, detailed ecological and geomorphological characteristics of 16 stream sites have been mapped using a total station and GPS equipment, establishing permanent stream sites at which the ecological responses to increased streamflow can be monitored over long time scales.
Microbial mat and moss communities are often found within and along the margins of streams in the dry valleys. Of primary interest is determining the processes that control distribution, biomass, and productivity of these communities. Despite the extreme harshness of the environment, a total of 30 taxa of cyanobacteria and chlorophytes and 45 species of diatoms are present in dry valleys streams. Diatom communities are monitored in many dry valley streams to determine ecosystem responses to seasonal and annual environmental changes.
The “Stream Team” as they are called has been actively keeping a blog and website for the past several seasons. You can also learn more about the amazing diatoms in these streams.
You can also read a great story about a seal that got lost in the Dry Valleys.
For more information contact Diane McKnight.
Go to Meet The Scientist pages for contact details.
Soil Moisture: (in the Arctic)
Researcher Anna Liljedahl and colleague installing soil moisture sensors, Barrow Environmental Observatory, Alaska:
Anna Liljedahl, a research assistant at IARC, is working on a project that combines measurements and modeling to study the hydrological regime on a watershed scale. Soil moisture is of particular interest, especially for future scenarios. The study requires an exchange of data between snow, soil thermal regime, vegetation, and hydrology models. Liljedahl is also collecting field measurements to test the accuracy of geographical representations in model simulations.
Read more about Soil Moisture Measurement and Monitoring in Northern Alaska
Image: Installation of liquid water content reflectometer and a single measurement of soil thermal properties.
Chantelle Sawatzky, Jim Reist and colleagues are studying the Arctic Biodiversity of Char (ABC-Net). Read more on their ABC-Net project page.
Climate Variability and Change (CVC) Effects on Char in the Arctic: Project Fact Sheet
Large form Arctic Char from Lake Hazen, Quttinirpaaq National Park, Nunavut, Canada (photo by Jim Reist):
More on Climate Variability and Change (CVC) Effects on Char in the Arctic:
Project Fact Sheet:
Selected Project Components: Summaries and Recent Progress:
• Describing the trophic ecology of Arctic char in multiple dimensions
• The Use of Oxygen Stable Isotopes in Otolith Thermometry An overview and application
• Transients in the north an examination of the ecology and life history tactics of anadromous salmonids in coastal Arctic lakes
Photo: Lake Hazen, Quttinnirpaaq National Park, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Thanks to Jim Reist
What is IPY
Wednesday, 14 May 2008 00:55
Polar HydrologyWritten by Rhian Salmon
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