Antarctic Marine and Terrestrial Ecosystem Scientists Meet for the First Time at Colorado State University

Colorado State University researcher Diana Wall, who has spent 15 field seasons in Antarctica, is hosting the first meeting of 25 U.S. Antarctic researchers working at the two Antarctic Long Term Ecological Network, or LTER, research sites. The meeting will be held Sept. 24 at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State.

The Antarctica research experts will address how ocean and terrestrial ecosystems are responding to climate change and other global changes. They will discuss how a majority of the marine salts influence salinity of soils in Antarctica and therefore have a direct impact on the distribution of soil, fauna and flora.

"This first meeting with researchers from the two LTER sites is paramount because it is a stimulus for future collaborations addressing how climate changes influence Antarctic marine and land ecosystems," Wall said.

One of the two LTER sites, the McMurdo Dry Valleys ecosystem, is headed by Berry Lyons of Ohio State University, and the other site, Palmer LTER Station, a marine ecosystem site, is led by Hugh Ducklow of Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The sites are located on opposite sides of Antarctica, nearly 2,500 miles apart.

Due to the distance between the two sites, interactions between the researchers have been limited during field seasons that run from November to February. At this first meeting, researchers will be able to coordinate research agendas for their field seasons and the upcoming International Polar Year, which starts in 2007.

The two ecosystem sites are crucial in understanding regions where life approaches its environmental limits and serve as "end-members" in the spectrum of environments included in the LTER network. Research conducted at these ecosystems has shown the sensitivity of polar regions to global change, especially climate change, despite their physical distance from major population centers.      

The Palmer and McMurdo Dry Valley LTERs are part of the LTER research network, which consists of more than two dozen sites located primarily in the United States. Each site conducts research focused on a specific ecosystem ranging from the Arctic to the Antarctic, encompassing both natural and human dominated environments. The LTER network was established by the National Science Foundation in 1980.

The Palmer LTER research focuses on the Antarctic marine ecosystem, inclusive of marine sea ice habitats, regional oceanography and terrestrial nesting sites of seabird predators. The McMurdo Dry Valleys are located on the western coast of McMurdo Sound and form the largest relatively ice-free area on the Antarctic continent. The Valleys’ perennially ice-covered lakes, ephemeral streams and extensive areas of exposed soil are subject to low temperatures and limited precipitation.

Colorado is home to two LTER research sites, Colorado State’s Shortgrass Steppe LTER on the eastern plains and the University of Colorado’s Niwot Ridge LTER in the mountains west of Boulder.

Wall, a NREL soil ecologist and professor with the Department of Biology at Colorado State, and Bill Hunt, an ecosystem modeler at NREL, are among eight co-investigators including geochemists, glaciologists and ecologists on the McMurdo Dry Valley LTER research team. Other Colorado State scientists leading research teams involved in Antarctic research include Shane Kanatous, assistant professor with the Department of Biology; Glenn Liston, research associate with the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere; and Dave Thompson, assistant professor with the Department of Atmospheric Science.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names recently named a valley in Antarctica after Wall. Wall Valley is east of Priscu Valley in the Olympus Range.