A digital archive of human activity in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica from 1902 to present


Over the last half century, the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV) of East Antarctica have become a globally important site for scientific research and environmental monitoring. Historical data can make important contributions to current research activities and environmental management in Antarctica, but tend to be widely scattered and difficult to access. We address this need in the MDV by compiling over 5,000 historical photographs, sketches, maps, oral interviews, publications, and other archival resources into an online digital archive. The data have been digitized and georeferenced using a standardized metadata structure, which enables intuitive searches and data discovery via an online interface. The ultimate aim of the archive is to create as comprehensive as possible a record of human activity in the MDV to support ongoing research, management, and conservation efforts. This is a valuable tool for scientists seeking to understand the dynamics of change in lakes, glaciers, and other physical systems, as well as humanistic inquire into the history of the Southern continent. In addition to providing benchmarks for understanding change over time, the data can help target field sampling for studies working under the assumption of a pristine landscape by enabling researchers to identify the date and extent of past human activities. The full database is accessible via the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long Term Ecological Research site:

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Using bibliographies of MDV publications (including grey literature) (Antarctic Division, D.S.I.R., 1985; Mead, 1978; New Zealand Antarctic Programme, 1995), recommendations from other researchers, and outreach to "Old Antarctic Explorer" organizations, we compiled a list of individuals who have worked in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. We then contacted these individuals with requests for historical photographs and documents related to the MDV (Fig. 1). When we received interested replies, we collected the data using one of the following approaches. If data (especially photographs) were already available in digital format, we arranged for files to be sent to us electronically. When data were not available digitally, we either arranged for the contributors to digitize their documents locally through commercial scanning services, or we visited the researchers in person with a scanner (either a slide scanner or a flatbed scanner depending on the nature of the data). The in-person visits also facilitated oral history interviews with researchers, which we recorded, transcribed, and included in the archive (Fig. 2).In addition to individuals, we also worked with universities, libraries, archives, and national Antarctic programs. Sometimes data were already easily accessible online, such as the Antarctica New Zealand's digital photograph collection (Antarctica New Zealand, 2017). More often, however, data were only available in non-digital formats, in which case we followed a digitization process similar to our work with the individual researchers.


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