The McMurdo Dry Valleys: A landscape on the threshold of change

TitleThe McMurdo Dry Valleys: A landscape on the threshold of change
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsFountain, AG, Levy, JS, Gooseff, MN, Van Horn, DJ
Pagination25 - 35
Date Published11/2014

Field observations of coastal and lowland regions in the McMurdo Dry Valleys suggest they are on the threshold of rapid topographic change, in contrast to the high elevation upland landscape that represents some of the lowest rates of surface change on Earth. A number of landscapes have undergone dramatic and unprecedented landscape changes over the past decade including, the Wright Lower Glacier (Wright Valley) — ablated several tens of meters, the Garwood River (Garwood Valley) has incised > 3 m into massive ice permafrost, smaller streams in Taylor Valley (Crescent, Lawson, and Lost Seal Streams) have experienced extensive down-cutting and/or bank undercutting, and Canada Glacier (Taylor Valley) has formed sheer, > 4 meter deep canyons. The commonality between all these landscape changes appears to be sediment on ice acting as a catalyst for melting, including ice-cement permafrost thaw. We attribute these changes to increasing solar radiation over the past decade despite no significant trend in summer air temperature. To infer possible future landscape changes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, due to anticipated climate warming, we map ‘at risk’ landscapes defined as those with buried massive ice in relative warm regions of the valleys. Results show that large regions of the valley bottoms are ‘at risk’. Changes in surface topography will trigger important responses in hydrology, geochemistry, and biological community structure and function.

Short TitleGeomorphology