Lake Ecosystems in Antarctica

What Are They Doing?

The McMurdo Dry Valleys Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) project is an interdisciplinary study of the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in a cold desert region of Antarctica. The McMurdo LTER project is one of 21 sites comprising the National Science Foundation’s LTER Network, where scientists conduct long-term ecological research in a broad array of ecosystems. Dr. Doran studies the lakes of the Dry Valleys. His team collects long-term data on the physical and chemical conditions within the lakes and relates them to biological diversity and processes. Ms. Ellwood was part of a SCUBA diving crew working under the lake ice to collect information about the conditions on the bottom of the lake (benthos).

Where Are They?

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are located on the western coast of McMurdo Sound (77°00'S 162°52'E) and form the largest relatively ice-free area (approximately 4800 square kilometers) on the Antarctic continent. The perennially ice-covered lakes, ephemeral streams, and extensive areas of exposed soil within the McMurdo Dry Valleys are subject to low temperatures, limited precipitation, and salt accumulation. Thus, the dry valleys represent a region where life approaches its environmental limits. The dry valleys are dominated by microorganisms, mosses, lichens, and relatively few groups of invertebrates; higher forms of life are virtually non-existent.

Expedition Map


After several days of missed connections and 10 hour layovers before "next available flights," I have landed back in NH! I must say that the dark nights are feeling a bit odd, but it is good to be home! I wish to thank, one more time, Dr. Peter Doran for inviting me to join his team again this season, PolarTREC for selecting me as a representative teacher, ARCUS and NSF for funding and supporting the program, the Rye School District for its continued support, and all my family and friends for their support! It was an amazing season and I look forward to continued collaboration with...
Storms in McMurdo, even mild ones can cause travel problems. I was re-scheduled to leave "The Ice” today. I have, indeed, made it to New Zealand! The plan (plans in Antarctica are always subject to change!) was for a C-17 to fly in from New Zealand, unload the new people arriving in Antarctica, then depart to do an air-drop of fuel to the AGAP project (Antarctica’s Gamburtsev Provence project which is quite close to South Pole), then return to McMurdo to pick-up those departing the continent and return to New Zealand. Weather could change that plan at any moment, and we had weather brewing!...
I am still in McMurdo - this is not a bad place to be! Apparently there is bad weather somewhere because the C-17 that was supposed to land today is not coming due to weather. That means I get an extra day in "town."I walked down to the helo pad to say goodbye to the ENDURANCE team. Although it was sad to see them go, I am very excited to follow along with the project and know that they will have an amazing time out in the field! Everyone but Chris and Shilpa have headed to Lake Bonney. Chris and Shilpa have stayed in McMurdo in order to "escort" the robot out to Lake...
Another phenomenal start to the day! A live chat held via the Internet with folks all over the country including a place special to my heart: Rye Junior High! It was wonderful to hear familiar voices and to "meet" some new folks! Thanks to PolarTREC for organizing the event, to Dr. Peter Doran and Dr. Stacy Kim for participating, to Cameo for being interested in doing a joint presentation, and to all those that "tuned in"! Everyone had great questions; we shared many smiles on this end! The research being done by Stacy and Peter is incredible! ENDURANCE and I are about to...
The theme for the day: Packing! Everything must be packed up and ready to go to the field. The team leaves for the field Wednesday, but everything must basically be packed up today so we can organize helo loads. We also needed to break down the Bot House tent and flooring system so that it can be sent to the helo pad for shipping. The energy and excitement for getting to the field is increasing! 514shilpabobpacking.JPG Bob and Shilpa check over their packing list! 516chrisboxedin.JPG Chris says he needs to start thinking outside the box! 517coverdown.JPG The outer tent cover, or...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

13 October 2008 to 25 November 2008
Location: Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER

Meet the Team

Robin Ellwood's picture
Rye Junior High
Rye, NH
United States

Robin Ellwood has always had an affinity for the outdoors. Her passion for environmental systems led her to pursue a degree in Zoology from the University of New Hampshire. One of her favorite experiences was participating in a summer program at the Isles of Shoals Marine Laboratory in the Gulf of Maine where she took an Underwater Research course. This experience, coupled with her teaching experience as a SCUBA instructor, sparked a desire to become a science teacher. Upon completing a Masters Degree in Science Education, Ms. Ellwood forged a loyal relationship with Rye Junior High School in the seacoast town of Rye, New Hampshire. She has been teaching 8th grade science there ever since, and is currently working on a Ph.D. in science education. Ms. Ellwood’s goal is to bring the spirit of life-long learning to her students and to create innovative field research opportunities for students.

Peter Doran's picture
University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, IL
United States

Peter Doran is an associate professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and active research scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a veteran of numerous expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic studying climate and ecosystem change. Ms. Ellwood worked with Dr. Doran’s Antarctic research team in 2004.