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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Taylor's Valley: What the History of Antarctica's 'Heroic Era' Can Contribute to Contemporary Ecological Research in the McMurdo Dry Valleys

Adrian Howkins

Environment and History 22 (2016): 3-28. doi: 10.3197/096734016X14497391602125

With a particular focus on ecosystem response to climate change, this paper investigates how a study of Griffith Taylor's 1911 expedition into the McMurdo Dry Valleys in East Antarctica might contribute to contemporary ecological research in the region. As the location of a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, the McMurdo Dry Valleys offer an excellent location for thinking about the integration of history and ecology. Following a brief description of the environment of this uniquely ice-free region of Antarctica as it is understood today, this paper presents a three-dimensional model for using historical research to contribute to ecological research. The paper then follows this model to examine what the Taylor expedition did in the Dry Valleys, how its participants sought to make sense of the environment and what the environment was like one hundred years ago. Significant lake-level rise in the McMurdo Dry Valleys since the Taylor expedition suggests quite dramatic environmental change over the course of the twentieth century. The conclusion suggests that a model for integrating history and ecology in the McMurdo Dry Valleys might productively be applied to other parts of the world with more complex ecosystems and much longer human histories.

KEYWORDS: Antarctica, history and ecology, historical methods

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