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Predicting Water Availability in the Antarctic Dry Valleys using Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing

Water is one of the most important ingredients for life on Earth. The presence or absence of biologically available water determines whether or not life will exist. Antarctica is an environment where abiotic constraints, particularly water, strongly influence the distribution and diversity of biota. As Antarctic biology is relatively simple when compared to more temperate climates, it is a prime location for researching constraints on biodiversity, and what may be the impacts of changes to these constraints resulting from climate change and human disturbance. This research uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing to develop a relative water availability index of three Dry Valleys in Southern Victoria Land, Antarctica. This study area is being used for the IPY Terrestrial Biocomplexity project, an international collaboration researching the distribution, diversity and complexity of biology in the Dry Valleys. The development of a predictive water availability model will contribute greatly to their research goals. This thesis describes the sources of biologically available water in the Dry Valleys and its interaction with biota. Remotely sensed data of these sources is gathered and various methods of analysing the data are explored. This includes creating a mean snow cover distribution model from MODIS data over 4 summer seasons, and Landsat7 ETM+ surface temperature data. These data sets, combined with a high resolution LIDAR Digital Elevation Model and glacier and lake locations, are then analysed with GIS to produce a Compound Topographic Index (CTI), a model showing the likely accumulation and dispersal of liquid water given the spatial distribution of water sources and the flow of water over the terrain according to the influence of gravity. Visualisation techniques are used to validate the resulting model, including the use of 3D visualisation and comparison of drainage patterns using overlays of a high resolution ALOS image. This research concludes that GIS and remote sensing are valuable tools for predicting water distribution in Antarctica. Although cloud cover, varied illumination and differing spatial resolutions can create limitations, remote sensing's cost effective and environmentally sound method of data capture and the computational and spatial modelling capabilities of GIS make their use well suited to the Antarctic environment.
Type of thesis
Stichbury, G. (2009). Predicting Water Availability in the Antarctic Dry Valleys using Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/3945
The University of Waikato
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