The vision of the Cold Dirt lab is to explore three critical, future-looking questions in Earth and planetary science

1) How does Antarctica fit into global biogeochemical processes in a post-glacial world? 

2) How are the oldest ice-bearing landforms on Earth preserved, how are they rapidly lost through positive melting feedbacks, and how do we prioritize figuring out which is the most important to extract climate change histories from before they turn to mud? 

3) How does the architecture of ice-dominated landscapes drive surface evolution in permafrost environments on Earth and other rocky worlds?

The lab employs a rapidly-deployable toolset for monitoring the movement of soil, rock, heat, water, and solutes through changing polar/alpine landscapes and terrestrial analog environments. The Cold Dirt lab focuses on soil biogeochemical analyses, remote sensing from UAVs and satellites, and networked arrays of micrometeorological sensors. 

A Cold Dirt lab field team might include visible and hyperspectral mapping UAVs (Matrice 600 Pro, Matrice 210-RTK, and an assortment of small photogrammetry quadcopters), 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

CAREER: Linking Antarctic Cold Desert Groundwater to Thermokarst & Chemical Weathering in Partnership with the Geoscience UAV Academy. This NSF Office of Polar Programs CAREER award is working to unravel the role of seasonal wetland processes in Antarctica using drone-based moisture mapping, geochemical analyses of soil, and hydrological sensors. The project just completed its first field season in Antarctica, bringing two recent post-bac Colgate students to the ice to help map soil moisture using drone-borne sensors. Videos above show overflights from the Howard Glacier watershed and testing of a new PolRa radiometer for microwave measurement of soil moisture in Antarctic wetlands.

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). GIFs show landscape change from ground-based and airborne laser scanners. 

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

Matrice 600 Pro UAV with Headwall Photonics Ext.-VNIR pushbroom imaging spectrometer + Matrice 210 RTK photogrammetry system. These 4-rotor multicopters are used for mapping soil biogeochemical parameters (soil moisture, biomass, etc.) and making digital elevation models (DEMs) from airborne photogrammetric measurements. They are capable of ~10-30 minute surveys and can capture landscape change over centimeter lengths scales. 

Metrohm 930 IC. This single-channel ion chromatograph is used for major ions analysis of active layer fluids, surface water, and precipitation. It is housed in Colgate's Environmental Geochemistry clean lab. 

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.

Recent Publications (* indicated undergraduate author, *C indicates Colgate student author)

Levy, J.S. (2021) Episodic basin-scale soil moisture anomalies associated with high relative humidity events in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Antarctic Science, DOI: 

Diniega, S., Bramson, A.M., Burattia, B. Buhler, P., Burr, D.M., Chojnacki, M., Conway, S.J., Dundas, C.M., Hansen, C.J., McEwen, A.S., Lapôtre, M.G.A., Levy, J., McKeown, L., Piqueux, S., Portyankina, G., Swann, C., Titus, T.N., Widmer, J.M. (2021) Geomorphology, 380, 1,

Levy, J.S., Fassett, C.I., Holt, J.W., Parsons, R., Cipolli, W., Goudge, T.A., Tebolt, M.C.*C, Kuentz, L.*C, Johnson, J.*C, Ishraque, F.*C, Cvijanovich, B.*C, Armstrong, I.*C (2021) Surface boulder banding indicates martian debris-covered glaciers formed over multiple glaciations. Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, 118 (4) e2015971118,

Levy, J.S. and Johnson, J.*C (2021) Remote soil moisture measurement from drone-borne reflectance spectroscopy: Applications to hydroperiod measurement in desert playas. Remote Sensing, 13(5), 1035;

George, S. F., Fierer, N., Levy, J. S., & Adams, B. (2021). Antarctic Water Tracks: Microbial Community Responses to Variation in Soil Moisture, pH, and Salinity. Frontiers in Microbiology, 12, doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2021.616730. 

Cardenas, B.T., Mohrig, D., Goudge, T.A., Hughes, C.M., Levy, J.S., Swanson, T., Mason, J., and Zhao, F. (2020) The anatomy of exhumed river-channel belts: Bedform- to belt-scale river kinematics of the Ruby Ranch Member, Cretaceous Cedar Mountain Formation, Utah, USA. Sedimentology, doi: 10.1111/sed.12765

Levy, J.S., Cary, S.C., Joy, K., and Lee, C. (2020) Detection and community-level identification of microbial mats in the McMurdo Dry Valleys using drone-based hyperspectral reflectance imaging. Antarctic Science, doi:10.1017/S0954102020000243

Tebolt, M.*C, J. S. Levy, T. A. Goudge, and N. Schorghofer (2019) Slope, elevation, and thermal inertia trends of martian recurring slope lineae initiation and termination points: multiple possible processes occurring on coarse, sandy slopes. Icarus, 338,

Schorghofer, N., Levy, J. S., & Goudge, T. A. (2019). High‐Resolution Thermal Environment of Recurring Slope Lineae in Palikir Crater, Mars, and Its Implications for Volatiles. Journal of Geophysical Research Planets, 124(11), 2852–2862.

Lim, Y., Levy, J. S., Goudge, T. A., & Kim, W. (2019). Ice cover as a control on the morphodynamics and stratigraphy of Arctic deltas. Geology, 47(5), 399–402.

Linhardt, T.*, Levy, J. S., & Thomas, C. K. (2019). Water tracks intensify surface energy and mass exchange in the Antarctic McMurdo Dry Valleys. The Cryosphere, 13(8), 2203–2219.

Aylward, D. S., Schmidt*, L., & Levy, J. S. (2019). Formation of coarse sediment lags in ice-sediment mixtures: A geomorphic signature of sublimation on regolith surfaces. Planetary and Space Science, 174, 8–13.

Dickson, J. L., Head, J. W., Levy, J. S., Morgan, G. A., & Marchant, D. R. (2019). Gully formation in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica: multiple sources of water, temporal sequence and relative importance in gully erosion and deposition processes. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 467(1), 289–314.

de Haas, T., Conway, S. J., Butcher, F. E. G., Levy, J., Grindrod, P. M., Goudge, T. A., & Balme, M. R. (2017). Time will tell: temporal evolution of Martian gullies and palaeoclimatic implications. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, SP467.1–22. pdf

Dickson, J.L., Head, J.W., Levy, J.S., Morgan, G.A., & Marchant, D.R. (2017) Gully formation in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica: multiple sources of water, temporal sequence and relative importance in gully erosion and deposition processes. In: Conway, S. J., Carrivick, J. L., Carling, P. A., de Haas, T. & Harrison, T. N. (eds) Martian Gullies and their Earth Analogues. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 467. doi=10.1144=SP467.4 

Gough, R. V., Wong, J., Dickson, J. L., Levy, J. S., Head, J. W., Marchant, D. R., & Tolbert, M. A. (2017). Brine formation via deliquescence by salts found near Don Juan Pond, Antarctica: Laboratory experiments and field observational results. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 476, 189–198. pdf

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 pdf

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. pdf

*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. pdf

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. pdf

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. pdf

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. pdf

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. pdf

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). pdf

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

For a full list of citations, visit my Google Scholar profile.