The vision of the Cold Dirt lab is to provide a rapidly-deployable toolset for monitoring the movement of soil, rock, heat, water, and solutes through rapidly changing polar/alpine landscapes and through terrestrial analog environments. The Cold Dirt equipment list includes visible and hyperspectral mapping UAVs (3 drones), state of the art wired and wireless environmental sensors, thermal imagers, photogrammetry equipment, and laboratory instruments for sediment analysis. Field installations are anchored on wireless receiver bases located at the sites of custom-built, infrared/visible time lapse camera systems that integrate wireless sensor data with change detection in the landscape, in order to link fundamental physical parameters to planetary and polar landscape processes.

Active Projects

Hydrological and Geological Controls on Microbial Mat Distribution in Antarctica (In collaboration with University of Waikato Environmental Research Institute). I am working with New Zealander microbiologists and ecologists to map the connections between microbial mats and changing hydro-climatic conditions in Antarctica using drone-based hyperspectal mapping. These "sentinel species" serve as an early warning system for local climate change in one of the Earth's harshest deserts.

The McMurdo Dry Valleys: A landscape on the threshold of change (NSF Office of Polar Programs Antarctic Integrated Systems Science Division). This project is working to measure the rates of melting and landscape change (thermokarst) in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica by mapping glaciers, streams, lakes, and soil surfaces using a high-resolution airborne LiDAR (laser scanner).

Past Projects

Rapid Landscape Change in Garwood Valley: Monitoring Buried Glacier Melt and Exploring ‘Péwé’s Lost Lake’ (NSF Office of Polar Programs, Antarctic Earth Science Division). We are working with glaciologists and geochemists to understand the rates of landscape change during the last glaciation and how these paleoclimate records are being lost as Antarctic permafrost melts.

Glacial Ice Contribution to Global Martian Water Budgets (NASA Mars Data Analysis Program ). We are mapping the extent, thickness, and geological history of the tens of thousands of debris-covered glaciers on Mars. We have shown that martian glaciers store enough water to cover the planet in a 2 m deep sea.

Airborne Radar Sounding of Debris-Covered Glaciers. We're working with shallow geophysics team to understand the relationships between debris covered glacier morphology and internal structure. Above is s drone-captured image of the debris layer atop the Galena Creek Rock Glacier.

Notable Equipment

Geonics EM-38 Shallow Induction Probe. This system is used in concert with a bluetooth-enabled, GPS-equipped field computer to map the distribution of soil electrical conductivity in polar and alpine environments through electromagnetic induction measurements. It has been field tested in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, where it is used to trace the flowpaths of shallow groundwater features called water tracks.

Decagon Devices KD2 Pro. This kit is used to measure the thermal properties of soil in situ (conductivity, heat capacity, thermal diffusivity).

Field Sediments Lab. This instrument suite includes the following tools: Decagon Devices ProCheck datalogger, Decagon Devices 5TE soil moisture/conductivity/temperature probe, Decagon Devices ECH2O soil moisture/temperature probe, Dynamax TH2O soil moisture probe, IQ Scientific soil pH meter, Decagon Devices Minidisk Infiltrometer, tile probe, bulk density samplers, hole saw for permafrost sampling, Canon Digital Rebel stereo camera, Fujifilm stereo camera, instrument cleaning and sterilization wipes, and Asus Eee PC for datalogger download and automated data collection.

Aqualab 4TE Water Activity Meter. The latest addition to the Cold Dirt is a benchtop water activity meter. This device measures how chemically active water is in Mars-analog groundwater systems, which helps determine what geological processes are driving the formation of unusual groundwater flows in Antarctica.

3DR 8X-M and DJI Phantom4 Pro Mapping Drones. These 4-rotor and 8-rotor multicopters are used for making digital elevation models (DEMs) from airborne photogrammetric measurements. They are capable of ~20-30 minute surveys and can capture landscape change over centimeter lengths scales.

Recent Publications (* indicated undergraduate author)

Levy, J.S., Rittenour, T.M., Fountain, A.G., and O’Connor, J.E. (2017) Luminescence dating of paleolake deltas and glacial deposits in Garwood Valley, Antarctica: Implications for climate, Ross ice sheet dynamics, and paleolake duration. GSA Bulletin, doi: 10.1130/B31539.1

Sudman, Z., Gooseff, M., Fountain, A.G., Levy, J.S., Obryk, M., and Van Horn, D. Impacts of permafrost degradation on a stream in Taylor Valley, Antarctica. Geomorphology, 285, 205-213.

*Schmidt, L.S. and Levy, J.S. (2017) Hydraulic conductivity of active layer soils in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica: Geological legacy controls modern hillslope connectivity. Geomorphology, 283, 61-71.

Levy, J.S., Goudge, T., Head, J.W., and Fassett, C.I. (2016) Candidate Volcanic and Impact-Induced Ice Depressions on Mars, Icarus, 285, 185-194.

Levy, J.S. and *Schmidt, L.M. (2016) Thermal properties of Antarctic soils: wetting controls subsurface thermal state. Antarctic Science, 28, 5, 361-370, doi: 10.1017/S0954102016000201

Stuurman, C.M., Osinksi, G.R., Holt, J.W., Levy, J.S., Brothers, T.C., Kerrigan, M., and Campbell, B.A. (2016) SHARAD Detection and Characterization of Subsurface Water Ice Deposits in Utopia Planitia, Mars, Geophysical Research Letters, 43, 9484-9491.

Levy, J.S., Fassett, C.I., and Head, J.W. (2016) Enhanced erosion rates on Mars during Amazonian glaciation. Icarus, 264, 213–219, doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2015.09.037.

Levy, J.S. (2015) A hydrological continuum in permafrost environments: the morphological signatures of melt-driven hydrology on Earth and Mars. Geomorphology, 240, 70-82. DOI:10.1016/ j.geomorph.2014.02.03. (submitted as invited paper to the 2014 Binghampton Geomorphology Symposium).

Ball, B. and Levy, J.S. (2015) The role of water tracks in altering biotic and abiotic soil properties and processes in a polar desert in Antarctica, JGR-Biogeosciences, 120, 2, 270-279.

*Bisson, K.M., Welch, K.A., A, W.S., Sheets, J.M., Lyons, W.B., Levy, J.S., and Fountain, A.G., 2015, Patterns and processes of salt efflorescences in the McMurdo Dry Valleys region, Antarctica: Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, v. 47, no. 3, p. 1–34.

Levy, J.S., Fountain, A., Lyons, W.B., and Welch, K.A. (2015) Experimental formation of pore fluids in McMurdo Dry Valleys soils, Antarctic Science, doi: 10.1017/S0954102014000479.

Levy, J.S., Fassett, C.I., Head, J.W., *Schwartz, C., and *Watters, J.L. (2014) Sequestered glacial ice contribution to the global martian water budget: Geometric constraints on the volume of remnant, mid‐latitude debris covered glaciers, JGR-Planets, 119, 10, 2188-2196.

All Publications: