The Distribution of Surface Soil Moisture over Space and Time in Eastern Taylor Valley, Antarctica

Mark R. Salvatore, John E. Barrett, Laura E. Fackrell, Eric R. Sokol, Joseph S. Levy, Lily C. Kuentz, Michael N. Gooseff, Byron J. Adams, Sarah N. Power, J. Paul Knightly, Haley M. Matul, Brian Szutu, Peter T. Doran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Available soil moisture is thought to be the limiting factor for most ecosystem processes in the cold polar desert of the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDVs) of Antarctica. Previous studies have shown that microfauna throughout the MDVs are capable of biological activity when sufficient soil moisture is available (~2–10% gravimetric water content), but few studies have attempted to quantify the distribution, abundance, and frequency of soil moisture on scales beyond that of traditional field work or local field investigations. In this study, we present our work to quantify the soil moisture content of soils throughout the Fryxell basin using multispectral satellite remote sensing techniques. Our efforts demonstrate that ecologically relevant abundances of liquid water are common across the landscape throughout the austral summer. On average, the Fryxell basin of Taylor Valley is modeled as containing 1.5 ± 0.5% gravimetric water content (GWC) across its non-fluvial landscape with ~23% of the landscape experiencing an average GWC > 2% throughout the study period, which is the observed limit of soil nematode activity. These results indicate that liquid water in the soils of the MDVs may be more abundant than previously thought, and that the distribution and availability of liquid water is dependent on both soil properties and the distribution of water sources. These results can also help to identify ecological hotspots in the harsh polar Antarctic environment and serve as a baseline for detecting future changes in the soil hydrological regime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3170
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • dry valleys
  • ecology
  • hydrology
  • remote sensing
  • soil moisture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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