Collaborative Research: Landscape Evolution in the McMurdo Dry Valleys: Erosion Rates and Real-time Monitoring of Rock Breakdown in a Hyperarid, Subzero Environment

Lead PI: Jennifer Lynn Lamp , Dr. Joerg Michael Schaefer

Unit Affiliation: Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

May 2018 - April 2022
Antarctica ; McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: This research seeks to (1) characterize the primary drivers of rock breakdown, (2) better quantify erosion rates, and (3) determine the lithological and environmental factors that influence weathering and erosion in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Rock breakdown (cracking) will be recorded in real-time on in situ boulders using a custom acoustic emission monitoring system. By coupling acoustic emission data with micrometeorological measurements at and near rock surfaces, this study will directly test hypotheses relating to the environmental drivers of rock breakdown under this unique polar desert climate over short (minute to monthly) timescales. Cosmogenic nuclide techniques including a novel combination of 6 isotopes (Be-10, Al-26, He-3, Ne-21, Cl-36, C-14) together with rock property measurements (e.g., strength, elastic moduli, thermal properties) will be used to elucidate the complex relationship between long-term (kyr to Myr) boulder erosion rates, lithology, rock properties, and subaerial exposure duration. By synthesizing these measurements with short-term cracking data from the acoustic emission system, the proposed work will thoroughly examine which lithological and environmental factors and grain-scale processes are driving geomorphic evolution in the Dry Valleys. By constraining boulder erosion rates and determining their sensitivity to rock properties and age, the results will be directly applicable to cosmogenic nuclide exposure age studies in this region.

OUTCOMES: Article: Listening to Rock Music, The Antarctic Sun


National Science Foundation (NSF)




Missy Eppes, Kate Swanger


University of North Carolina - Charlotte, University of Massachusetts - Lowell



erosion acoustic emissions weathering


Earth fundamentals


Jul 12, 2024

A Collaborative Approach To Comprehending Glacial Retreat

Researchers at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Pontificia Universidad Católica in Chile have spent years collaborating to better understand the fluctuations of the Patagonian Ice Sheet and its societal impacts.

Jul 12, 2024

Amid a Sweltering Summer, a New Study Finds Street Trees Thrive in NYC

New research demonstrates trees grow fastest in the neighborhoods that need them the most.

Jul 11, 2024

From ‘Asthma Alley’ to Green Spaces: A Field Trip with South Bronx Unite

MPA-ESP students learned about the complex environmental justice issues at play in the South Bronx, and how community groups are advocating for change.

Jul 10, 2024

New Courses Will Lead the Way on Climate Resilience and Equitable Disaster Response

The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Columbia Climate School will now offer FEMA-certified trainings on climate change, equity and emergency management.

Jul 09, 2024

Beryl Sets off Alarm Bells Among Hurricane Experts

As hurricane frequency and intensity grow, so will death tolls and costly destruction. 

Jul 08, 2024

For Good Measure: Scientists Collaborate to Track Sea Level Rise From Glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica

Scientists who study both the ice sheets and nearby peripheral glaciers are working together to improve the accuracy of estimated sea level rise.

Jul 05, 2024

Daniel Zarrilli Named Columbia’s Inaugural Chief Climate and Sustainability Officer

Zarrilli, who formerly served as the NYC Mayor Office’s chief climate policy advisor, will help the university achieve its climate commitments and reach sustainability goals.

Jul 02, 2024

Scaling the Mountains of Textile Waste in New York City

As the amount of annual textile waste produced reaches new heights, how do we find sustainable solutions?

Jun 27, 2024

Only 270 Million Square Kilometers to Go: The R/V Marcus G. Langseth Helps Map the World’s Oceans

For the first time in almost nine years, the R/V Marcus G. Langseth is back in New York City, stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for some much-needed TLC. State of the Planet got a tour of this impressive seismic vessel, learning how it can help researchers forecast earthquakes and save lives in the process.

Jun 27, 2024

Alumni Spotlight: A Journey From Climate Conservation to Corporate Consulting

Alicia Kurnia Liono talks about her background in wildlife conservation and biology, and why she chose to pursue sustainable finance and consulting.