Towards an Environmental Classification of Lentic Aquatic Ecosystems in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica

Abstract

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are the largest single ice-free area in Antarctica, and of considerable scientific and conservation value as an extreme polar desert. This is recognised through the McMurdo Dry Valleys Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA), where management’s goals focus on protection of its unique features, while facilitating science access. Using a mix of remote sensing and existing cartography, we have identified over 6000 lakes and ponds in the ASMA. This study develops a classification of those aquatic ecosystems to provide a framework for management. It uses a limited top-down, hierarchical classification to define 13 class separations based on physical attributes that could largely be ascribed from existing databases or remotely sensed information. The first hierarchical level was based on landscape position, separating coastal kettle holes (reflecting recent glacial history), from other “topographic” water bodies. The second level was based on endorheic vs exorheic drainage, the third on mid-summer ice condition (no-ice cap; ice capped; frozen to base) and the fourth on source of inflow (glacial or non-glacial). Kettles were sub-classed by mid-summer ice only. Classes were tested against a set of field observations and an expert workshop validation process considered management implications for the ASMA. This study shows how the classification assists our understanding of Dry Valley landscapes and addresses management issues faced by researchers, environmental managers and policy makers. The approach to classification, rather than the detailed classes that may be specific to the Dry Valleys, has potential for wider use in other polar landscapes.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by New Zealand Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment grant (UOWX1401) that supported the University of Waikato’s DRYVER project (led by Prof. Craig Cary), within which this study was based. The data used in the 100 Ponds data set were accumulated over several years with support of field colleagues too numerous to detail. We thank them all, along with the logistics support of the Antarctica New Zealand and the US Antarctic programme. The authors thank our colleagues in the DryVER Programme and the US-LTER project for many discussions on this topic, and particularly thanks are due to Dr. Ton Snelder (The Water People) for his advice and review on classification systems. We thank Dr. Susie Woods (Cawthron Institute) for coordination of the sequencing for 16S and 18S rRNA amplicons. We acknowledge our collaborator Prof. Craig Cary for access to very high-resolution imagery provided by the Polar Geospatial Center under NSF Grant 1246292 that was used to derive some of the water body attributes presented here. We also thank Planet Explorer Team for free access to high-resolution 3- and 4-band imagery of the ASMA. The 2018 Policy Workshop to evaluate the system included as attendees Rebecca Roper-Gee (Antarctica New Zealand), Ceisha Poirot (Policy, Environment and Safety Team Antarctica New Zealand), Jenny Webster-Brown (Director Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management, New Zealand) and Anne Jungblut (Natural History Museum, London). We are grateful to Michael Gooseff (Principal Investigator, McMurdo Dry Valleys US-LTER programme), Dr. Peter Doran (Louisiana State) and Dr. Polly Penhale (National Science Foundation) for further discussions on the validity of the classification. Finally we wish to thank the editors of Environmental Management and two anonymous reviewers who provided feedback that allowed us to improve greatly the paper.

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All authors contributed to aspects of the study conception and design. Sample and data collection and analysis were performed by IH, CH-W and KJ. The first draft of the paper was written by CH-W and IH and all authors contributed to the final version of paper. The remote sensing and spatial data analysis were undertaken by KJ and IH. Policy issues were the primary focus of NG. All authors read and approved the final paper.

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Correspondence to Ian Hawes.

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Hawes, I., Howard-Williams, C., Gilbert, N. et al. Towards an Environmental Classification of Lentic Aquatic Ecosystems in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Environmental Management (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-021-01438-1

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Keywords

  • Antarctica
  • Lakes
  • Ponds
  • Classification
  • Management