National Research Program


Long-term Ecological Research

Hydrology in Antarctica

Diver USGS hydrologist from Wisconsin explaining stream gaging network to visiting dignitaries.

In FY 1986, USGS proposed an interdisciplinary study to chemically characterize the dissolved organic material in ice-covered Antarctic desert lakes. The purpose of the original study was to obtain information on dissolved organic material derived solely from microbial productivity and provide baseline data against which aquatic environments that received organic material from soils and plants could be compared. In 1990, an expanded study that focused on biogeochemical and hydrologic processes became part of the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long Term Ecological Research Project, one of a network of 18 long-term ecological research sites supported by the National Science Foundation. USGS efforts include studies of glaciers, glacial meltwater streams and hydrologic response to climate. This field site provides an ideal setting to study basic processes in the absence of some of the complexities present in more temperate climates. For example, sediments decrease in size as they move downstream in temperate streams, in the absence of local sources, due to both geochemical breakdown and physical sorting. In the dry valleys of Antarctica, where cold temperatures reduce geochemical reactions, sediment size decrease is primarily due to physical sorting. Similarly, weathering and resulting changes in stream chemistry can be studied under conditions where organic material will have little or no effect.

For additional information contact Edmund D. Andrews, eandrews@usgs.gov

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