The role of water tracks in altering biotic and abiotic soil properties and processes in a polar desert in Antarctica

Rebecca Ball, Joseph Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Groundwater discharge via water tracks is a largely unexplored passageway routing salts and moisture from high elevations to valley floors in the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV) of Antarctica. Given the influence that water tracks have on the distribution of liquid water in seasonally thawed Antarctic soils, it is surprising how little is known about their role in structuring biotic and abiotic processes this cold desert ecosystem. Particularly, it is unclear how soil biota will respond to the activation of new water tracks resulting from enhanced active layer thickening or enhanced regional snowmelt. In the MDV, water tracks are both wetter and more saline than the surrounding soils, constituting a change in soil habitat suitability for soil biology and therefore the ecological processes they carry out. To investigate the net impact that water tracks have on Dry Valley soil biology, and therefore the ecosystem processes for which they are responsible, we analyzed microbial biomass and activity in soils inside and outside of three water tracks and relate this to the physical soil characteristics. Overall, our results suggest that water tracks can significantly influence soil properties, which can further impact biological biovolume and both biotic and abiotic fluxes of CO2. However, the nature of its impact differs with water track, further suggesting that not all water tracks can be regarded the same.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)270-279
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • C cycle
  • McMurdo Dry Valleys
  • groundwater seeps
  • polar soils
  • soil respiration
  • water tracks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Forestry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Palaeontology
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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