Antarctic Dry Valleys Snow Project

Project Title:Collaborative Research: The Role of Snow Patches on the Spatial Distribution of Soil Microbial Communities and Biogeochemical Cycling in the Antarctic Dry Valleys
Project Duration: 15-Aug-2009 - 31-Jul-2012

Principal Investigators:
John E. Barrett (Virginia Tech)
Michael Gooseff (Penn State University)
Cristina Takacs-Vesbach (University of New Mexico)
  • May 2010 - webinar given through NTSA
  • Feb 2010 - First field season web page
  • Nov 2009 - First field season under way in the Dry Valleys
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Overview: It is generally held that "where there is water, there is life". We are investigating the control of discontinuous seasonal snow cover on microbial structure and biogeochemical cycling in soils across the valley bottoms of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Very little snow falls in the Dry Valleys during the summer.  In the winter, snow is blown in from the polar plateau, and it collects in topographic low points (behind ridges, in streambeds, etc.). We expect that these snow packs are important local controls of soil microbiology and biogeochemical cycling because they occupy approximately the same locations each year.  These snow packs then slowly ablate during the austral spring and summer.  Most snow appears to be lost to sublimation, and some lost to melt that infiltrates the underlying soils. 

Subnivian soils (soils under the snow pack) are likely influenced in several ways by the presence of the snow pack: 1) potential moisture source, 2) insulation during the winter and spring, 3) disconnection from the atmosphere during the winter.  We expect that these factors influence the microbial communities under these snow packs, possibly selecting for specfic species, and that the associated biogeochemical cycles within the soils are different than in adjacent soils that are rarely covered by snow.

Location: Our field sites will be within Taylor Valley and Wright Valley, Antarctica.

Project Links: (links will be come live as we generate these products)

Published Results from this Project:  (* indicates student lead author; I indicates invited talk)


Conference Presentations:
*Altrichter, AE, KM Geyer, JE Barrett, MN Gooseff, and C Takacs-Vesbach. 2010. Influence of snow packs on soil biota and biogeochemical cycling in polar desert soils. 95th Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting, Pittsburgh, PA.

*Geyer, KM, JE Barrett, MN Gooseff, and C Takacs-Vesbach. 2010. Geochemical controls over biotic communities in melt-water ponds of Wright Valley, Antarctica. 95th Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting, Pittsburgh, PA.

*Eveland, JW, MN Gooseff, DJ Lampkin, JE Barrett, and CD Takacs-Vesbach. 2010. Snow Dynamics in a Polar Desert, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica.
American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA (C33C-0542).


Postdoctoral Scholars:
  • David Van Horn (UMN)
Graduate Students:
  • Adam Altrichter (VT)
  • Kevin Geyer (VT)
  • Jeff Eveland (PSU)

Related Links:
Images from a previous study of snow distribution on soil biology and biogeochemistry.  This is a discontinuous snow pack studied on the south shore of Lake Hoare.

22-Oct-1999:south shore lake hoare snow pack
07-Nov-1999:south shore lake hoare
22-Nov-1999:south shore lake hoare
07-Dec-1999:south shore lake hoare
25-Dec-1999:south shore lake hoare
04-Jan-2000:south shore lake hoare

Current weather at McMurdo, Antarctica:
Click for McMurdo, Antarctica Forecast
If this is blank, the weather station is not responding.

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This project is funded through the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 0830050, 0838879, and 0838922. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation

This page was created on 17-Aug-2009.
This page was last updated on 07-Nov-2011.