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Spaceward Bound Expedition: Arctic 2008

 

field photo of Dr. Pollard

Prof. Wayne Pollard
Associate Professor, Geography, McGill University
Associate Member of the McGill School of the Environment
For more detailed information see: http://www.geog.mcgill.ca/faculty/pollard/index.html

Extreme environments like the Arctic and Antarctic are important scientific frontiers that help define the limits of Earth’s physical and biological processes. In particular extreme cold temperatures and the general lack of liquid water create a system where mechanical processes predominate and biological and chemical processes are confined to niche environments or are limited to brief periods when small amounts of water are available. The limiting nature of these environments reduce biophysical complexity thereby readily allowing the integrated investigation of climatic, geologic/geomorphic and biologic systems in a true Earth System Science framework. Arctic and Antarctic environments have many physical similarities, including seasonal patterns of daylight and temperature, the pervasive occurrence of glaciers, ice sheets and permafrost, and the strong environmental control on biological systems. However, the geographic position of the Antarctic continent, the vast extent of the East and West Antarctic Ice Sheets and the small isolated nature of ice-free areas (<2% of the landscape) tend to amplify many of the environmental extremes. The extreme cold and hyper-arid conditions of Antarctica and the high Arctic provide insight into conditions that may have existed on Mars 2-3 billion years ago (and to a lesser degree today) and thus are useful analogues in our search for evidence of Martian life.

My research centers upon the field investigation of water and ice in cold polar desert environments. My long-term goals are to understand and explain the hydrological and physical processes that shape and define cold dry landscapes and to identify niche environments in permafrost that are capable of harboring microbial life at or near the limit of its habitability. My research ranges from the field observation and measurement of natural processes at the landform and landscape scales to the microscopic examination of soil pores, ice crystals and intra crystalline brine films. My work incorporates a combination of traditional geologic, hydrogeologic, geomorphic and stratigraphic field approaches together with precision instrumentation to measure and map climatologic, hydrologic and geomorphic processes and patterns and microbial habitats. Laboratory and statistical analyses together with numerical modeling are undertaken to test and verify hypotheses.

Central to my research are: (a) the investigation of the dynamic interaction between water and cryotic ground, (b) the formation and degradation of surface and subsurface ice and (c) the interpretation of the environmental significance of landforms related to permafrost, ground ice and ground water. Over the last 6-7 years my science has evolved by focusing on progressively more complex questions and looking at progressively more extreme environments (the Arctic, Antarctica and Mars). Details on projects in which I am currently active may be found at: http://www.geog.mcgill.ca/faculty/pollard/index.html

 

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Editor: Linda Conrad
NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated: April 2007
Teachers Contact: Liza Coe
  (Lizabeth.K.Coe@nasa.gov)