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

Affiliation

Hawes I(1), Howard-Williams C(2), Gilbert N(3), Joy K(4)(5).
Author information:
(1)Coastal Marine Field Station, University of Waikato, 58 Cross Road, Sulphur Point, Tauranga, 3110, New Zealand. [Email]
(2)National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Lt Box 8602, Christchurch, New Zealand.
(3)Constantia Consulting Ltd, 310 Papanui Road, Christchurch, 8052, New Zealand.
(4)Department of Biological Science, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.
(5)Orbica Ltd, 128 Litchfield St., Christchurch, 8011, New Zealand.

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.