2018-2019 Science Planning Summaries
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2018-2019 USAP Field Season
Project Detail

Project Title

Landscape evolution in the McMurdo Dry Valleys: Erosion rates and real-time monitoring of rock breakdown in a hyper-arid, sub-zero environment

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G-055-M Research Location(s): Beacon Valley


Event Number:
NSF/OPP Award 1744895

Program Manager:
Dr. Michael Jackson

ASC POC/Implementer:
Jenny Cunningham / Bija Sass

Principal Investigator(s)

Dr. Jennifer L Lamp
Columbia University
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Palisades, New York


Supporting Stations: McMurdo Station
Research Locations: Beacon Valley


Moisture plays a part in the erosion of rocks, but in the ice-free Dry Valleys region of Antarctica – one of the driest places on the planet – little is known about the rates and causes of rock erosion. To better understand them, researchers will instrument boulders with sensors that act as miniature seismographs, recording even the smallest microcracking on and within the rocks. They will also monitor the weather and environment around the rocks to record the conditions that trigger cracking events and will collect a variety of rock samples to study how quickly rocks break down and how their characteristics change over geologic time. The combined datasets will allow future scientists to more accurately understand the paleoclimates and landscapes of Antarctica, and possibly even Mars.

Field Season Overview

A research team of three participants will travel by helicopter from McMurdo Station to a field camp in the Beacon Valley. Near the campsite, they will deploy an acoustic emission (AE) monitoring system and will instrument four boulders with AE sensors, micrometeorological sensors (surface temperature, surface moisture), and will construct a full meteorological station (wind speed/direction, air temperature/relative humidity, solar irradiance, and air pressure). A helicopter-supported day trip will drop off the research team near the headwall of Mullins Glacier; they will hike back down to their campsite, collecting rock and sediment samples while hiking, and caching their samples along the way to be retrieved by helicopter later in the season.

Deploying Team Members

  • Martha Eppes (Co-PI)
  • Jennifer Lamp (PI)
  • Kate Swanger