Intro to the Dry Valleys
October 29, 2013
This year I’m headed to the McMurdo Dry Valleys, a remote and protected area of the Transantarctic mountain range in Antarctica where I’ll live out of a tent and collect samples for my research. The Dry Valleys are the largest ice-free area of Antarctica, because 98% of the continent is covered by the Antarctic Ice Sheet (which contains 70% of the planet’s fresh water as ice) while the Valleys consist of exposed earth and mountains mostly uncovered by ice. The interesting thing about this area is that due to the glaciers that surround that valleys and temperatures that can rise above freezing during the austral summer months, seasonal rivers and streams are created by the glacial melt that run through the valleys and deposit meltwater into various lakes. The streams only flow when the weather is warm enough for glacial melt, so from late November to the end of January (austral summer in Antarctica), water trickles out of the ice and my team is here to study the hydrology and chemistry of these seasonal streams. In addition to this research, my particular interest will be measuring the contaminant load from atmospheric pollution that deposits into meltwater pools.
A map of Antarctica (courtesy of exploratorium.edu) marking the Dry Valleys withing the longer
stretch of the Transantarctic Mountains
The most exciting part about this research is that since it’s farther away from research stations, my team of three will be living out of tents in this beautiful part of the continent for three months this November- mid February. We’ll fly to Christchurch, New Zealand, then board a US Air Force plane to McMurdo Station. McMurdo is sort of like the ‘base of operations’ for Antarctica, and is the main jumping off point for other research farther away from the coast. (For more information about McMurdo, check out my older articles here and videos here.) Once we’ve arrived in Antarctica we’ll get our tents and gear together, then a helicopter will fly us out to the Dry Valleys with all of the food and supplies we’ll need to survive out in the Antarctic wild for a few months. It’s always hard to convey emotions over something like a blog, but I’m just so excited to be going out into the mountains this year. I leave in just a few days!