Characterizing Microbial Mat Morphology with Structure from Motion Techniques in Ice-Covered Lake Joyce, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Abstract:Structure from Motion (SFM) techniques can provide quantitative morphological documentation of otherwise inaccessible benthic ecosystems such as microbial mats in Lake Joyce, a perennially ice-covered lake of the Antarctic McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV). Microbial mats are a key ecosystem of MDV lakes, and diverse mat morphologies like pinnacles emerge from interactions among microbial behavior, mineralization, and environmental conditions. Environmental gradients can be isolated to test mat growth models, but assessment of mat morphology along these gradients is complicated by their inaccessibility: the Lake Joyce ice cover is 4-5 m thick, water depths containing diverse pinnacle morphologies are 9-14 m, and relevant mat features are cm-scale.
In order to map mat pinnacle morphology in different sedimentary settings, we deployed drop cameras (SeaViewer and GoPro) through 29 GPS referenced drill holes clustered into six stations along a transect spanning 880 m. Once under the ice cover, a boom containing a second GoPro camera was unfurled and rotated to collect oblique images of the benthic mats within dm of the mat-water interface. This setup allowed imaging from all sides over a ~1.5 m diameter area of the lake bottom. Underwater lens parameters were determined for each camera in Agisoft Lens; images were reconstructed and oriented in space with the SFM software Agisoft Photoscan, using the drop camera axis of rotation as up. The reconstructions were compared to downward facing images to assess accuracy, and similar images of an object with known geometry provided a test for expected error in reconstructions. Downward facing images identify decreasing pinnacle abundance in higher sedimentation settings, and quantitative measurements of 3D reconstructions in KeckCAVES LidarViewer supplement these mat morphological facies with measurements of pinnacle height and orientation. Reconstructions also help isolate confounding variables for mat facies trends with measurements of lake bottom slope and underlying relief that could influence pinnacle growth. Comparison of 3D reconstructions to downward-facing drop camera images demonstrate that SFM is a powerful tool for documenting diverse mat morphologies across environmental gradients in ice-covered lakes.