The Past as a Window to the Future - What Does Long Term Research in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica Tell Us About the Trajectory of Polar Ecosystems?
Monday, 14 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica represent the largest ice-free area of the continent. The landscape is dominated by glaciers, exposed soils, streams, and ice-covered lakes, and hosts an incredible ecosystem that is largely driven by microbes and some invertebrates. Given the low air temperatures (-18C annual mean), little precipitation (<10 cm water equivalent/yr), and lack of vegetation cover, the Dry Valleys ecosystem is strongly influenced by physical processes. In the past two decades, summer conditions have been observed to fluctuate significantly. From 1986-2001, the area experienced a cooling trend and the ecosystem responded with decreasing soil invertebrate populations, decreased streamflow, decreased primary productivity in lakes, and decreased algal biomass in streams. Since 2001, 3 very high glacial melt years have occurred producing record stream flows and extensive wetted soils. During this most recent decade, the levels of closed-basin lakes have risen substantially, with increasing heat contents, and we have observed increased permafrost degradation along streambanks. Here we assess the ecosystem responses of the cooling 'press' that occurred from 1986-2001 and the more most recent decade that has had several strong pulses of energy driving the system to develop expectations for the future state and function of this polar desert ecosystem. We propose that the future trajectory of climate and energy input to the region will likely be more inconsistent than the cooling period was. Hence, the ecosystem will be consistently responding to pulses of change over varying time periods. We also expect that recovery of the ozone layer over Antarctica may play an important role in modifying both regional climate and the Dry Valleys ecosystem.